Running and abs workouts together are an effective way to lose some of that extra belly fat that you picked up over the winter. But, when to do which? Should you do run first and then exercise your abs? Or the other way around?
You should run before you do your ab workout because you don’t want to be fatigued before running, which could compromise your form and add stress to your joints. You want to start with the primary exercise that you’re prioritizing because you want your core to be in optimal condition.
Despite that, the answer to whether you should run or do abs first is ultimately a matter of personal preference and there are a number of conflicting opinions on the matter. I’ll try and navigate both sides of the argument so you can make your own decision.
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Why You Should Run Before Exercising Your Abs
Opinions are divided over the pre-run ab workout and the post-run. Some people prefer to get their cardio out of the way beforehand as a warm-up, or they may prioritize running with good form over weightlifting with good form.
If you are training to run as fast as possible with as much endurance as possible, you shouldn’t tire out your body before running and instead should run first.
Here are some other reasons why you should run before doing ab exercises:
Additionally, resistance training can impact the way that your muscles contract, which is vital for running movement. It can therefore hamper your goals of improving your endurance and could even lead to injuries, which are obviously counterproductive.
[…] continually experiencing strength training-induced fatigueKenji Doma
during subsequent endurance training sessions may impair the quality of endurance
training sessions and possibly lead to a state of over-reaching, overtraining, or injuries [17, 18], all of which are not beneficial in optimising endurance development.
Additionally, in this study, they found that runners activate their back and trunk muscles while running. I’ve found this even personally to be true. Running helps me with my lower back pain. –You want those muscles to be fresh while you’re running so they can support your back and avoid fatigue.
Lastly, if you’re here to lose weight, the truth is that running first will be the best thing to do for your abs. After all, for those abs to be visible, you need to cut out that body fat.
So if you want to get fit, if you’re preparing for a marathon or you have any other goals that are more closely tied to running than your ab workout, run first. And whatever you do, do not run after leg day. The soreness that you feel every time your feet hit the ground is absolute torture.
However, this all depends on your goals. If you want to run far and run fast, then running first is your priority. If however, you have other goals, then you might want to consider the alternative.
Why You Should Do Abs Before You Run
If your priority for running is mainly just cardio and you are not concerned about your running speed or running endurance then you can run after your ab workout without impacting your performance.
To get the most out of any abs workout, you need great form. A run would tire you out and you wouldn’t be able to hold a plank position for very long, for example. The same applies to your other workouts, like deadlifts, leg presses, chest presses, etc.
Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove’s book The New Rules of Lifting for Abs (Amazon) goes into detail about how you get better results on workouts when you do core exercises at the beginning of your workout rather than at the end.
Considering that you use your core for any exercise, both running and abs – but the former to a lesser extent. You can also lift heavier weights at the beginning of your session than at the end.
Others believe that abs, whether you do them at the beginning or end of your session, should simply not be the focal point of your workout. Endless situps and crunches can only take you so far, but if you build the muscles around your core, the abs will follow. Training your torso is the best way to achieve the fastest gains.
Deadlifts and squats, for example, engage your core anyways and will improve your strength dramatically, which improves future ab workout and your running form.
But if you really, really want a six-pack, your workout is merely one facet of your commitment. Nutrition, intervals, sprints, and weight training all go a long way towards getting the most out of every day spent at the gym. What you need to be aware of, however, is that if you’re looking to lose fat on your stomach, there’s no guarantee that it’ll taper off in the places you want it to.
Our bodies don’t choose which parts to burn fat and the only truly effective way to burn fat in your stomach specifically is by changing the way that you eat and following a balanced, nutritional diet.
If your goal is to build muscle, though, working out your abs before a run will yield the optimal results for you.
Do Ab Workouts Help Running
Some studies suggest that ab workouts improve your running performance, but not necessarily lower leg stability.
When you’re figuring out the best training regime for your goals, you need to pay close attention to how it’s going to affect your core and whether you want to build muscle, lose weight or improve your endurance.
Getting the right balance is important. Additional exercises that strengthen your core and body are also really helpful and they can go a long way towards realizing your fitness goals in a less obvious manner. (source)
Your muscles, joints, and tendons are all interconnected – they don’t exist in a bubble. There are countless muscles being used in both your runs and your abs workouts; pay attention to them. It’s worth trying your hardest to avoid tiring one group out at the expense of the other.
How To Boost Your Running Performance
One school of thought is to mix your ab workouts with your running--you can step off the side of the road or the treadmill or the track every couple of minutes and do a 30-second plank – it’ll not only engage your abs, but it’s also a really welcome break if you’re starting to get tired.
Furthermore, it is essential that you remain hydrated throughout the entire process. There isn’t any definitive proof (source) that over-hydrating makes any difference in performance, but being dehydrated definitely affects long run performance (source).
How Long Should Your Run/Workout Last
This is one of the most important questions you need to address, especially if you’ve only recently started running/working out. Professionals suggest that a 30-minute ab workout won’t kill you and is enough to make gains during a short-ish workout that is combined with a run (before or after).
I’ve also read about some trainers suggesting that an ab workout should only take about nine minutes if done in conjunction with other forms of strength and endurance training, but the trick is to listen to your own body and figure out when you’ll be reaching your breaking point and where you’ll get enough of a workout in, but still have energy for or after the run.
It’s also advisable that you don’t do consecutive abs days, because your abs are such a unique muscle that you’re using every time you stand up, sit down, bend over, etc. Going too hard for too long will make workouts way harder and less effective. Furthermore, I’ve noticed my lower back experiences pain if I do too many ab workouts and my body isn’t able to stabilize itself as well.
In terms of running, you should always start off running one to three miles (1.6 to 4.8km) at a comfortable pace. Once you’re comfortable at running that distance without getting fatigued, you can start to increase your mileage one mile at a time. It’s also important to increase the distance that you run every second week, unlike the weekly frequency proposed in the 10% rule. Your body may struggle to handle the extra distance, so try to taper your way up the endurance ladder.
What’s The Best Time To Run/Work Out?
For you to prevent fatigue, which is your goal, you also need to be running and working out at the right time of day. It may not seem like an important point, but it really is. If you’re road running at the hottest time of day, you’re going to tire yourself out.
Studies suggest that your performance might be slightly higher if you exercise in the afternoon (perhaps because our body temperature is highest then)–but the best time of day to exercise is when you feel motivated. The more motivated you are to exercise, the less difficult the exercise feels.
Much like the pre or post-run ab debate, however, this is a contentious subject. Some people prefer to go for a morning run because it’s the coldest time of day and their bodies don’t overheat and it kickstarts their day. I’m definitely in the prefer-to-exercise-in-the-morning camp.
One perk of early morning running is that the roads are empty, and it’s a lot less stressful to run when it’s quiet and less crowded. And, if you’re trying to lose weight, our bodies burn the most calories on an empty stomach (if you run before breakfast). Beyond this, people who run in the morning are more likely to stay committed to it.
In the winter, though, roads are often slippery and this increases your chances of getting injured. The fact that your muscles are rigid and your body temperature is low also means that your risk of injury is higher if you run in the morning.
Running in the late evening has similar advantages and drawbacks, but might be preferable to morning runs. Depending on where you are, you could be running with a lower body temperature, but not rigid muscles. However, visibility is a problem and one misstep could lead to a bad injury. It’s quite nice because you can relax and relieve stress after a long day at work. There are also no time constraints and all you need to do after your run is fall into bed, where you’ll find it’s easier to fall asleep.
All that to say, the most important time to run is when it works for your schedule. There are potential performance benefits, but usually not the kind of benefits that would affect a casual runner.
Running is simple enough to do, and you can tailor your routines at whatever pace you please, running faster or further (fast improves strength, further improves endurance). Putting together a good routine for your ab workout, on the other hand, is a bit more challenging. So, if you’re just starting out, give this easy program a try:
Crunches (20 seconds)
Leg raises (30 seconds)
Flutter kicks (25 seconds)
Raised leg rotations (25 seconds)
Abdominal twists (25 seconds)
Side-plank dips (20 seconds per side)
Hold a plank position for as long as possible
Take a short break and do another 3 sets
You should be able to get through this in about 15 minutes. It targets all of the muscle groups that work your core and will ensure that you build muscles all over your torso, not just the front of your abs. This is important if you’re looking to get your body into shape. Focusing on a single group of muscles, as crunches do, is not going to get you to where you want to be.
I’d also like to introduce you to a little bit of a hack that has really helped me get the most out of my workouts, that takes very little time and gives me the benefits of both running (cardio) and ab workouts (strength).
The Nike Training Club app has a bunch of amazing training programs that are used by professional athletes and movie stars, all packed into an easy video format and it’s totally free! Many of the workouts are High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which really make you sweat and burns your core like crazy, along with a pretty decent workout for other equally important muscle groups. The best part of the app is someone is telling you what to do so you don’t have to wander around the gym trying to figure it out as you go.
Figuring out the right way to balance your workout, whether you should run or do abs first, is a balancing act that very much depends on your personal goals and where you want to get the most out of your workout. The best rule of thumb is to start with the activity that you want to get the most out of.
But it is also important to take into account what time of day you’re exercising, how long or intense your workout is, and how often you need to take breaks to allow your body to recover.
The most important thing, however, as is the case with any workout, is consistency. You need to design a training regime for yourself that is sustainable, that’ll motivate you and that will ensure that you keep up the frequency of your exercise. Be it three or four days a week or twice a day, do what works for you and you’ll never go wrong.