You're on a quest for the flat, washboard abdomen of a fitness magazine cover model, and you're willing to put in the miles to get it.
While running is a fantastic cardiovascular exercise that burns calories and can help you manage your weight, it's no guarantee of a six-pack. Toning implies stronger, more sculpted musculature — and that's not going to happen without serious attention to ab exercises and a lower body fat level. Running can't directly target your ab muscles, but it can help you peel off the layers of fat that are covering your ab muscles.
Manage Your Expectations
You may see Olympic sprinters with sculpted, lean abs or the waif-thin elite marathon runners with a flat middle and conclude that running was the key. Running does contribute to their physiques, but it alone doesn't give them toned abs. Running, along with diet, strength training and good genes, helps runners achieve a low body fat level that reveals those enviably sculpted middles.
Read More: Body Fat Percentage for Abs
The Steps to Achieving Toned Abs
There's no single strategy for a toned midsection. Combine various steps to lower your body fat and reveal your ab muscles.
Step 1: Eat Less
Getting toned abs requires as much work in the kitchen as it does on the treadmill. If you have excess pounds, you'll first need to lose some fat by decreasing your caloric intake below your burn rate. Use a calorie estimator, such as the one found at Livestrong's MyPlate, to help you create at least a 500-calorie deficit per day to lose 1 pound of fat per week.
Step 2: Refine Your Nutrition
Eating fewer calories helps, but if those calories still consist of sugary foods, refined grains and fatty snacks, a svelte tum may still stay hidden. The vast majority of your food choices should be quality proteins — eggs, lean chicken or turkey and fish –— along with green vegetables and healthy fats like nuts, olive oil and avocados. Small servings of whole grains, low-fat dairy and fruit may also be included.
Step 3: Running and Other Cardio
Run to help burn off additional calories, and subsequently excess fat. About 250 minutes per week of moderate-intensity cardio, such as brisk walking, or 125 minutes of vigorous cardio, such as running, can help you lose clinically significant amounts of weight, says the American College of Sports Medicine.
Step 4: Strength Training
Use resistance bands, free weights or weight machines to help you build lean muscle mass. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest and during exercise to reveal a slimmer, svelter you. Train all of your major muscles, not just your abs — even though that's where you really want to see tone.
Step 5: Work Your Abs
You may have heard that ab-specific workouts don't guarantee you a toned stomach, and that's right. However, if you combine ab work with the above steps, you'll create ab muscles that look sculpted when you lose the fat. Bicycle crunches, hanging leg raises and stability ball crunches are some quality moves to include in your ab routine.
Read More: The 10 Most Effective Ab Workouts