If we want to make the most of our runs, we have to be conscious of the muscles used in running.
Knowing what actually happens in our body when we run helps us improve our running form and performance, get healthier with stronger muscles and get fitter.
The Most Important Muscles Used in Running
The first step to achieve our running goals is learning the anatomy of running. These muscles push our legs forward, bring our leg back. Hold our body steady so it doesn’t trip.
Quadriceps are the large muscles in the front of our thigh. As we run more, we will see them bulging when we run. And we will feel great.
They’re some of the main muscles used in running. Quads power our body up hills and launch our step forward. They propel a bigger stride, which makes us faster and helps strengthen our other running muscles.
The quads make our knees stronger. Runner’s knee is often a direct result of weak quads.
When the quads aren’t doing as much as they should be, that pressure and stress goes to the knee, which can affect our running for weeks or months.
Strong quads prevent dead legs or heavy legs. When we run long distances, we start to feel our legs getting heavier and heavier. If we have to make it up a hill, we might collapse.
But if our quads are strong and healthy, our legs will keep moving the body steadily forward, even when we reach hills or stairs.
These large muscles in our bum are usually associated with squats. But the gluteus maximus plays a huge part in running too.
Where the quad pushes our legs forward, the glutes raise our leg from behind the thigh. They lift the knee behind the leg after we’ve already pushed off.
The main role of the glutes is stability for our pelvis and knees. They reduce side to side motion while we’re running, and help us push forward instead of swaying through the movement.
If the glutes are weak, the pressure of running spreads to other areas of the body and creates an imbalance.
Any time we have imbalanced muscles throughout our body, we increase the chances of an injury.
- HIP FLEXORS
Normally, we don’t give a thought of taking a step forward, but so many muscle groups are involved in making that happen. We wouldn’t be able to do it without our hip flexors.
They help bring our thigh toward the stomach. Hip flexors are responsible for the energy of our leg swing. They create forward and upward motion during the run. A powerful stride and speed come with strong hip flexors.
But on the other spectrum, weakness or tightness in that area causes an intense pelvic anterior tilt. It means we arch our back and stick our butt out. Again, that strains areas that should be protected and prevents us from making progress in our training program and strength exercises.
Gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are our calves. They’re smaller than other muscles in the legs but they also support the burden of lifting the leg and carrying bodyweight. They work lower in the leg, lifting the heels up and shifting our weight onto our toes.
During running, walking, and climbing up steps or hills, calves push our legs upward.
If we ever experienced swollen ankles or legs, that’s because our calves play a bit part in blood circulation.
They pump blood from the lower legs back up to the heart. So if we’re dealing with swelling, that means our calves aren’t strong enough to circulate the blood.
Because the calves are smaller than the glutes or quads, they tire out faster than other leg muscles. That can be dangerous because the calves take pressure off our Achilles tendon.
If they’re not strong enough, more stress and pressure hit the tendons, causing Achilles tendonitis.
Everyone wants a strong core because everyone wants a 6-pack. Or even a 4-pack.
But strong abs or core are so much more important than a common 6-pack. Abdominals keep our posture straight. They’re the foundation of strength for our entire body.
Strong abs allow our pelvis, hips, back, and legs all to work together smoothly. They keep us stable, preventing the body from jiggling.
When we’re running and we hit a rock, a bump, or a small hole, our abs keep our balance, allowing us to recover from the bump in the road and keep on running.
A strong core is essential when you’re running long distances, or on the trail. If we trip and fall on the trail, having a strong core we’ll save us from getting intense injuries. Good posture means good running form.
If our core is weak, it won’t keep our running form strong. That means we’ll end up pulling on our back and neck to keep us going.
When we pull strength from the wrong places during a run, we lose muscle where it should get stronger. We put unwanted strain on areas that need to be protected.
Located on the back of our thigh, hamstrings are the force behind pushing our leg off the ground. They also control the slowing of the leg when we’re about to stop.
Hamstrings are involved in the beginning and the end of every step of our run.
They also keep our knee from collapsing when the foot hits the ground. When our reflexes are caught off guard, and we fall quickly without warning, that’s because our hamstrings didn’t get the chance to back up the knee and hold it steady.
As the biggest muscle in the back of our thigh, they’re responsible for energy transfer to our calf.
That is the muscle pattern, every leg muscle is connected to another leg muscle. If one muscle group is weak, it weakens them all.
Type of Runs to Increase Muscle Strength
- Run Faster
High-intensity runs or speedwork sessions always burn more calories than low-intensity.
To perform some speedwork sessions with a proper running form, it will activate our nice fast twitch muscles.
- Run With Resistance
To run up some stairs, or uphill will provide some good resistance training sessions. Every uphill challenge is an opportunity to build muscle and add resistance to our workout, and get stronger while running.
Strength Training Exercises
Running, is mainly a cardio exercise. But to perform strength training exercise sessions weekly, we will burn more fat and build more muscle and core.
Here is a sample strength training session using bodyweight exercises. It targets full body strength and core.
Do three sets of each exercise and take 30 seconds-1 minute rest in between each exercise.
- Air squat (10-12 reps)
- Forward lunge (10-12 reps)
- Hip bridge (10-12 reps)
- Plank (hold for 30 seconds)
- Push up (10 reps)
- Russian twist (10 reps)
Bodyweight Exercises Video: https://vimeo.com/471281597
Here is a sample strength training session using added weight in the form of dumbbells using your desired weight. The goal is full body strength and core.
Do three sets of each exercise and take 30 secs- 1 minute rest in between each exercise.
- Deadlift (10 reps)
- Weighted squat and press up(10 reps)
- Weighted lunge forward step up (10 reps)
- Weighted hip bridge (10 reps)
- Bent over row (10 reps)
- Side plank with weight (5 reps each side, 10 reps total)
Dumbbell Exercises Video: https://vimeo.com/471282212
It’s best to complete a strength training session before or after a rest day. Some runners can perform them after an easy run, but it depends on your preferences and schedule.
Strengthen Your Muscles, Run Better, Stronger and Faster!