Why can’t I run my way to great abs?

Running is great.  It is a natural form of locomotion.  It helps improve cardiovascular function, increases endurance, promotes the flow of endorphins and generally makes you feel better and think better.  As a coach, I commonly tell my clients to add some distance running to their repertoire, and races from 5Ks to marathons and beyond are commonly available, easy to find, and fun to do.  However, if your goal is body composition, running alone is probably not going to get you there.

Hold on right there.  I have seen many runners who are lean.  

Yes, but they run a lot, and they run fast.  

In order to get abs…or just improve body composition, we want to do two things, increase muscle and decrease fat.  Pretty simple on the surface. We will try to keep it simple and say that in order to burn fat we need to use more calories than we take in on a daily basis.  It really is more complicated than that, but that is a great place to start.

So, running should be great huh? 

The problem is that for most recreational runners we won’t run far enough, fast enough, or long enough to burn a significant number of calories.  The number of calories that are used in running depends on our body weight, time, and how fast we run. According to the Harvard Medical School, a 155 lb person will use about 300 calories in a half-hour of running at a 12 min pace while that same person will burn about 615 calories in the same half-hour at a 6 min/mile pace (and covering 2x the distance).

Yes,  a 300 calorie deficit is a great start.  Especially if you are maintaining a good nutrition plan, (bagel = 250 calories) however the calorie burn caused by the exercise at a low intensity stops almost as soon as you stop running.  In order to increase the calorie burn with running alone you either need to increase the intensity or the time and distance. The downside to this is that rapidly increasing distance and intensity can lead to injury and most recreational runners have significant time constraints.

So what does this mean for our recreational runner?  

Someone starting a running program or running recreationally should expect to see gains in endurance, body composition, and speed. However, running alone will probably help someone lose weight over the long term only when it is accompanied by a solid nutrition plan.  Running by itself will likely fail to achieve significant long term goals of body composition beyond initial weight loss. Or, better said…You aren’t going to get great abs by just running. You need a better plan that is going to develop muscle and continue to burn calories when you are not working out. While running will help your quest for a nice six-pack, in order to get a defined midsection you will need to add strength training, interval training,  a strong nutrition plan, and lifestyle.  

We specialize in helping people achieve their body composition goals. If you want to work on a better plan schedule a free fitness consultation at


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