Should You Do Ab Workouts Before or After Running? Here's What Experts Say

If your goal is to build a stronger core, doing ab work is pretty much always a good idea. "Like just about everything else in exercise, the 'best' time to do abdominal exercises is whenever you can," says Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist and fitness adviser for Bowflex.

But if you just started running regularly or you like to hit the gym for a treadmill strut workout or indoor cycling class, you might be wondering whether it's better to do abs before or after cardio. Among other things, that depends on personal preference; I, for example, always used to do abs after a run. I switched to a pre-run ab workout, frankly, because I wanted to get it out of the way. (Yes, that was my extremely scientific reasoning.)

But when it comes to doing abs before or after cardio, there is some actual science that goes into it. Here's what experts have to say about the best time to do abs.

When to Do Abs For the Best Results

If you like doing ab workouts after cardio or running and that's what works for you, then keep on keeping on. But if you could go either way or are trying to develop the most efficient routine possible, Holland says pre-cardio ab work is the way to go.

"If you wait until after your workout, you will be fatigued with less energy to perform your ab moves," he tells POPSUGAR. Your form might suffer, and you may not be able to get in as many reps or hold isometric positions, like a plank, for as long. All of which translates, potentially, to less-than-optimal results. Working your abs when you're still fresh may allow you to push your intensity more while keeping up your proper form, Holland explains.

Doing some dynamic warmup exercises — including ab moves — ahead of a run or cardio workout can also help activate or "turn on" those muscles, making it easier for you to engage your core during whatever workout you're doing. This can help improve your movement pattern so you have better form while you're running. "By being in tune with the core musculature, including the abdominals, obliques, back, and glutes, you will place your body in a better position to transfer energy," Niraj Vora, DPT, cofounder of The Stride Shop, previously told POPSUGAR. What that means is your body will be working more efficiently, helping you run safer and stronger.

Switch Up Your Timing to Challenge Your Body

All that said, Holland says the overall best approach might actually be to switch between doing abs before and after cardio. This gives you "maximum variation and muscular stimulus," he explains, challenging your muscles and keeping your body from getting used to one approach. However, if your primary goal is to build ab strength, Holland still recommends going with the pre-run option.

If you want to get really wild with your core work, you can even do ab exercises during a run, which might mean pulling over on the side of the track for a plank or hopping off the treadmill for a quick ab circuit. This less-traditional approach has its advantages. If you intersperse ab moves throughout your cardio, "your body will be warmed up yet not too fatigued," Holland explains, helping your body to get more out of the exercises.

Whatever you choose, doing core work along with your cardio is a good habit to maintain, and the benefits go far beyond aesthetics. "Having a strong core will maximize your running performance as well as enjoyment," Holland says. A strong, stable core lessens your risk of injury while doing any kind of workout and helps you feel better doing it.

And fun fact: running helps you build strong abs in return. Talk about a win-win.

— Additional reporting by Lauren Mazzo