People have been doing crunches and sit-ups with the hope of getting a six-pack – the Holy Grail of fitness. However, they are not as effective as previous thought and many doctors don’t recommend them at all because they can hurt the back if done wrong (which happens very often).
There is good news for people who don’t have time to go to the gym and can’t do planks, knee raises, rollbacks or other abs moves that really strengthen the core. “A major weapon to defined abs is in fact cardio,” according to Dr. David Neuman, an orthopedic surgeon, founder of Pop-Doc, and Dr. Karena Wu, owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy.
The abs are, unfortunately, some of the hardest muscles to tone in the body because when it is stressed, it tends to store fat in the midsection, Dr. Wu says. Also, posture-wise, she adds, people don’t hold themselves in the right position. “The muscles get lazy and the body takes the path of least resistance.”
Any continuous activity that increases your heart rate is considered a cardiovascular exercise, and running is the perfect go-to option because it’s one of the most accessible. Anytime and anywhere you can walk, you can run.
Some of the benefits of running include increasing your lung capacity and your heart muscle strength, burning fat, reducing weight, and making you feel good. But that core benefit that we don’t think about with jogging is toned abs.
Running strengthens the bones on the back, Dr. Neuman says. They help you stay stable when you do why kind of physical activity.
There are four types of abdominal muscles – the rectus abdominis (the 6-pack muscle), the internal obliques (inner sides), external obliques (outer sides) and the transverse abdominis. All four muscles need to be worked in order to reach peak abdominal strength, and they are all activated at the same time when you’re running.
The transverse abdominis is the deepest of the four. It is located around the abdominal region like a corset. Nothing targets that muscle like running – it is then when “it’s actively recruited,” Dr. Wu says. This is the muscle that creates the lines of definition on the side of your core. “It is the stabilizing muscle that helps you control the motion.”
If you choose running as your cardio exercise, you’re able to engage your transverse abdominis, which also helps reduce the impact forces that occur in your joints.
To strengthen the core even more while running, hold your bully button into your spine, without holding your breath. This will keep the core tighter and power up the limbs. It will also give you that nice side definition on your abdominals.
Do boxing moves, Dr. Wu recommends. You are throwing punches in the air but also twisting your upper torso, which puts the oblique muscles hard at work.
Slightly turn your body to the each side as you run. “This causes a contraction that helps the oblique muscles as well, Dr. Neuman adds.
You burn excess fat
Increased circulation, which is the result of running, helps burn fat. Blood flow in the abdomen helps break down fat cells, Dr. Neuman says.
The truth is that everybody has a six-pack; it’s just underneath all the fat. Cardio must be implemented in order to eliminate excess fat around the abdomen. There really is no way around it. You have to sweat.
You can do all the exercises in the world, but if you’re not burning fat, you won’t get those flat abs. If you don’t burn the calories you consume, they will be stored as fat. Don’t forget that the abdominals include many interconnected muscles that run up the back and stretch down to the glutes (strengthen those muscles) and the thighs.
“I am a firm believer in listening to your body,” Dr. Wu says. But you can’t stay constant all the time. You have to incorporate intervals, especially if you don’t have great endurance.
Go from short to high intensity drills. More speed requires more stability to not fall, which means your abs muscles are working extra hard, she adds.
If people want toned abs, they need to run at least 3-5 times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes, Dr. Wu says. You can do 2 miles in that amount of time as long as you play around with intervals.
Dr. Neuman adds that running for about 10-15 minutes is a “safe approach” for the abs. “Running is the conditioning aspect of toning.” Supplement with exercises that help increase core strength.
All muscles are worked
When all muscles are targeted at the same time, fat is burned. They get a strength and endurance workout. With this, your abs are able to look defined faster.
Because of the high impact nature of running, the spine will naturally flex (or bend forward slightly) which means with each step, you will have a small contraction of your abdominal muscles. To offset too much of the forward bending nature in the spine, it is best to engage the transverse abdominis so that the spinal column does not get injured.
Arms and abs
You need to swing the opposite arms and legs in sync while running for balance. The abs get a good workout during the rotation of the pelvis, Dr. Wu says. “This is the biomechanical aspect of running.” The abs have to contract to get the body moving forward.
According to Dr. Neuman, joint health is the first thing to keep in mind before going on runs, because without it, you could have bone bruising, joint damage or fatigue. Before running to your core, he recommends to keep the joints mobile and flexible.
People should be stretching for 5-10 minutes every day regardless of whether they are about to head out for a long run, he adds. If you don’t have time, do about 5 minutes on a bicycle or jumping jacks to get the blood flowing. Then stretch.