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Cross Training For Runners

What Muscles Does Running Work? (2023 Update)

36 Mins read

Ready to embark on an exhilarating journey into the world of running muscles? Well, you’ve come to the perfect place! Get ready to discover the powerhouse players that propel your body forward, the unsung heroes of your running endeavors.

Picture this: with every stride you take, a symphony of muscles springs into action, working harmoniously to push you closer to your goals. It’s like a grand collaboration where hundreds of muscles join forces, united by a common mission: to unleash your running prowess.

But not all muscles are created equal in this magnificent ensemble. Some steal the spotlight with their pivotal roles, their contributions unmatched in significance. These are the muscle groups that take center stage during your running workout, have the most impact on your running performance.

The muscle groups that command attention include:

  • Quadriceps: The mighty front thigh muscles that power your knee extension and propel you forward.
  • Hamstrings: The dynamic duo at the back of your thighs, responsible for knee flexion and assisting in hip extension.
  • Gluteals: The kings and queens of the posterior chain, driving hip extension and providing stability and power.
  • Hip Flexors: The flexible warriors that help lift your knees and initiate each stride.
  • Calves: The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles that aid in ankle plantar flexion, pushing off the ground with every step.
  •  Thoracic Diaphragm: The unsung hero beneath your lungs, responsible for efficient breathing and oxygen intake during your run.
  • Tensor Fascia Latae: The small but mighty muscle that assists in hip flexion and stabilizes the pelvis.
  • Flexor Hallucis Brevis or Longus: The intricate muscles that contribute to toe flexion and support the arch of your foot.
  • Tibialis Anterior: The muscle along the front of your shin that aids in ankle dorsiflexion, lifting your foot off the ground.
  • Peroneals: The group of muscles on the outer side of your lower leg, helping with ankle stabilization and balance.
  • Core Muscles: The powerhouse ensemble of abdominal, back, and pelvic muscles that provide stability, maintain posture, and transfer force between your upper and lower body.
  • Upper Body Muscles: The unsung heroes of your torso and limbs—chest, back, shoulders, and more—that provide balance, stability, and contribute to efficient arm swing.

Now that we’ve met our star-studded cast, let’s dig deeper.

We’ll explore the importance of each muscle group, shed light on potential pitfalls and challenges, and most importantly, equip you with the tools to strengthen and condition these running muscles.

Are you ready?

Let’s dive in.

Muscle Anatomy – An Introduction

Welcome to the incredible world of muscles, the powerhouses that drive our bodies like well-oiled machinery! They may seem like simple tissues, but trust me, they are capable of extraordinary feats.

Picture this: within your muscle tissue, a dynamic dance unfolds between two protein filaments called actin and myosin. These tiny performers slide and intertwine, creating a mesmerizing symphony of contractions. This, in turn, helps generate the motion, force, and torque needed to propel us through life.

But let’s not stop there! Muscles are not just for show; they have an array of functions that keep our bodies running smoothly.

Here are just a few of the primary ones:

  • Moving your body: With every step, jump, or leap, your muscles are the driving force behind your graceful (or not-so-graceful) movements. They work tirelessly, contracting and relaxing to create the motion that allows you to dance, run, or even wiggle your toes.
  • Keeping you upright: Have you ever wondered how you maintain your balance and stand tall? It’s all thanks to your muscles. They provide the support and stability needed to keep you on your feet, defying gravity and preventing you from toppling over.
  • Protecting internal organs: Beneath the surface, your muscles act as bodyguards, surrounding and protecting your precious internal organs. They create a cushioning effect, absorbing impact and minimizing the risk of injury.
  • Generating heat: Did you know that your muscles are like little internal heaters? When they contract, they produce heat, helping to regulate your body temperature. So, the next time you feel warm and cozy during a workout, thank your hardworking muscles for their natural heating abilities.
  • Supporting organ functions: Muscles aren’t just focused on external movements; they also play a vital role in supporting internal organ functions. From the rhythmic contractions of your heart to the smooth movements of your digestive system, muscles ensure that everything is operating smoothly behind the scenes.

And these are just a few highlights from the extensive repertoire of our muscle marvels! They are involved in countless processes within our bodies, contributing to our overall health, strength, and vitality.

The Main Muscle Tissue

There are three distinct types: cardiac, smooth, and skeletal.

Each type serves a specific role in the body, with a particular structure and a definite function.

Let’s break down each.

The Cardiac Muscles

Let’s talk about the extraordinary cardiac muscles that make our hearts beat with rhythm and passion. Nestled within the walls of our powerful hearts, these muscles are truly remarkable.

If you were to take a closer look at cardiac muscles under a microscope, you’d be greeted by a fascinating sight. The muscle fibers exhibit distinct light and dark bands, creating a beautiful striated pattern.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. Unlike the muscles we can consciously control, such as those in our arms and legs, cardiac muscles are governed by the autonomic nervous system.

In simpler terms, you can’t just decide to make your heart beat faster or slower at will. Imagine if we had that power! It would be like playing the role of a divine conductor, orchestrating the rhythm of our own hearts.

But what makes cardiac muscles even more impressive is their astonishing endurance. They possess a remarkable resistance to fatigue, allowing them to tirelessly pump blood throughout our bodies day in and day out. This endurance is due to a variety of factors. For starters, cardiac muscles boast a high concentration of mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells. These mitochondria provide a constant supply of energy, keeping our hearts pumping without skipping a beat.

Additionally, cardiac muscles are equipped with an abundance of myoglobin, a protein that helps facilitate the efficient delivery of oxygen to the muscle fibers. This ensures that our hearts receive the necessary oxygen for continuous aerobic metabolism, sustaining their relentless activity.

But that’s not all. Cardiac muscles are also blessed with a robust blood supply, ensuring a steady flow of oxygenated blood to fuel their tireless efforts. It’s like having a never-ending stream of inspiration and vitality flowing through the very essence of our hearts.

Smooth Muscles

Unlike the striated muscles we’re more familiar with, smooth muscles are like the shape-shifters of the body, adapting to the needs of various vital functions.

Smooth muscles possess an inherent flexibility that allows them to change shape and size, like a master contortionist, to regulate a multitude of bodily functions. They are the maestros of our internal symphony, orchestrating a delicate dance of control and coordination.

One of their remarkable capabilities is controlling blood pressure. When our body requires an adjustment in blood flow, such as during exercise or times of stress, smooth muscles in our blood vessels constrict or relax, modulating the pressure with remarkable precision. It’s like a skilled conductor, finely tuning the tempo of our cardiovascular system to maintain equilibrium.

But that’s not all these versatile muscles can do. Imagine enjoying a delicious meal, and as you take each bite, your digestive system springs into action. Smooth muscles in your stomach and intestines contract rhythmically, guiding the food along its journey through the digestive tract. They squeeze and relax, working harmoniously to break down the nutrients and extract the energy your body needs to thrive.

Smooth muscles also play a role in our respiratory system, aiding in the expansion and contraction of the airways. When you take a deep breath, these muscles adjust the diameter of your air passages, ensuring an efficient flow of oxygen to your lungs. They are the unseen architects of your breath, silently supporting each inhale and exhale.

And let’s not forget the tiny but mighty smooth muscles that control our bodily hairs. When we experience a chill or a surge of emotions, these muscles contract, causing our hair follicles to stand on end, creating the familiar sensation we call “goosebumps.” It’s a remarkable reminder of the intricate ways in which our body responds to its environment.

Smooth muscles even lend a helping hand to our eyes. When we need to focus on a specific object, the muscles within our eyes adjust the shape of our lenses, allowing us to bring things into clear view. They are the diligent artisans behind the scenes, ensuring our eyes capture every intricate detail of the world around us.

Skeletal muscles

Skeletal muscles are the true powerhouses behind our every move! Picture them as the sturdy ropes that connect our bones, enabling us to perform a breathtaking array of physical feats.

Stretching across our body like an intricate network of elastic fibers, these skeletal muscles are not to be underestimated. With over 650 named muscles, they collectively account for a whopping one-third of our body mass. Talk about muscle power!

When it comes to movement, these dynamic muscles take center stage. Whether you’re lacing up your running shoes, dancing to your favorite tune, or simply reaching for that tantalizing slice of pizza, it’s the skeletal muscles that answer the call. They are what propel us forward, allowing us to conquer physical challenges.

In the realm of running, these muscular marvels are especially crucial. As you embark on a jog through the park or sprint towards the finish line, your skeletal muscles come to life. They contract and relax, generating the force needed to propel your body forward with each stride.

But skeletal muscles do much more than just move our limbs. They are the silent guardians of stability and posture, keeping us upright and aligned. Think of them as the architectural pillars that support our skeletal structure, preventing us from crumbling like a house of cards. Without them, maintaining balance and standing tall would be a formidable task.

These remarkable muscles are also highly adaptable. Through training and conditioning, we can enhance their strength, endurance, and flexibility.

Research studies have shown that targeted exercises and resistance training can lead to significant improvements in skeletal muscle performance, enabling us to push our physical limits and achieve new milestones.

What Muscles Does Running Work

Now that you understand a bit what muscles are all about, let’s look into the main muscles that running works the most.

The Quadriceps

The quads, consisting of the Vastus Medialis, Vastus Intermedius, Vastus Lateralis, and Rectus Femoris, form a united front from your hips down to the patella—the kneecap. Together, they create a force to be reckoned with, allowing you to conquer any physical challenge that comes your way.

One of their key roles is knee extension, particularly during the explosive “drive” phase. It’s like they’re powering up a rocket, pushing your leg forward and propelling you towards your goals. But that’s not all—they also have a secret talent: hip flexion. The Rectus Femoris, in particular, takes charge of bending your hips, making it possible to lift your feet off the ground and take those glorious strides.

But it doesn’t stop there. Your quadriceps are not just active participants in the running show; they are also the guardians of stability and knee support. As the four heads of the quad connect to the patella, they play a crucial role in straightening and stabilizing your knees during the dynamic motion of running. They are like the trusty lighthouses, guiding your knees through the twists and turns of your gait, ensuring a smooth and secure journey.

And let’s not forget about the shock absorbers of the body. When you land with a powerful thud, it’s your quadriceps that spring into action, absorbing the impact and dispersing it throughout the rest of your body. They are like the cushioned springs beneath your feet, protecting your joints and softening the blow, allowing you to keep moving with grace and agility.

Research studies have highlighted the importance of quadriceps strength and function in running performance and injury prevention. Building and conditioning these muscles can enhance your running efficiency, reduce the risk of knee injuries, and improve overall athletic performance. So, don’t neglect your quad squad—give them the attention they deserve through targeted exercises and strength training.

 Downsides of Weakness

Picture this: your running journey is like a delicate balance beam, and your quadriceps and hamstrings are the skilled acrobats, performing their aerial act. But here’s the twist: sometimes, one of the acrobats becomes overpowering, stealing the spotlight and throwing off the entire routine.

Meet the quadriceps and hamstrings, the dynamic duo that should work in harmony. Unfortunately, many runners face a common challenge—a quadriceps dominance. It’s like having a superstar quadriceps that hog the spotlight while leaving the hamstrings in the shadows.

Now, why is this a concern? Well, imagine a seesaw with one side much heavier than the other. It throws off the equilibrium, making it difficult to maintain proper leg posture and positioning. Similarly, when your quadriceps overpower your hamstrings, it can wreak havoc on your running form and increase the risk of overuse injuries in various areas, including the lower back, pelvis, hips, and knees.

The Exercises You Need

One exercise that targets the quadriceps while also engaging the hamstrings is the leg extension. This move focuses on extending the knee, activating the quads, but it also recruits the hamstrings as supporting players. It’s like a perfectly choreographed dance routine, where both muscle groups work together in sync.

To give your hamstrings a chance to shine, leg lifts are a fantastic choice. As you lift your leg off the ground, your hamstrings take center stage, showcasing their strength and stability. It’s like watching a graceful ballet performance, where the hamstrings play the role of the elegant ballerina, showcasing their flexibility and power.

But we don’t stop there! Weighted lunges are another great exercise that targets both the quadriceps and hamstrings. As you step forward and lower your body, your quadriceps work to propel you forward, while the hamstrings engage to stabilize your hips and control the descent. It’s like a synchronized swimming routine, where both muscle groups work in harmony, creating beautiful movements in the water.

Last but not least, we have squats—a classic exercise that hits multiple muscle groups, including the quadriceps and hamstrings. As you squat down and rise back up, your quadriceps take charge of the descent and ascent, while the hamstrings provide crucial support and balance. It’s like a team sport, where each player has a role to play, and together they achieve greatness.

The Hamstrings

As you stride forward, the spotlight shifts from the quadriceps to the mighty hamstrings, the unsung heroes working behind the scenes.

This is the group of muscles that bridge two important joints—the hips and knees. Picture them as a squad of four superheroes, ready to unleash their power and propel you forward.

First up, we have the biceps femoris, a muscle with two parts: the long head and the short head. They work together like a dynamic duo, bringing strength and stability to your lower body. Think of them as the Batman and Robin of the hamstrings, always there to save the day.

Next, we have the Semitendinosus, a muscle that adds depth to the team. It’s like the magician who adds a touch of mystique to the performance, contributing to the flexibility and agility of your movements.

Lastly, we have the Semimembranosus, the muscle that completes the quartet. It’s the powerhouse, the Hulk of the hamstrings, responsible for generating force and assisting in the extension of your thighs. When this muscle kicks into action, it’s like an explosion of strength, propelling you forward with each stride.

But what exactly do these hamstrings do? Well, they have quite a few tricks up their sleeves:

  1. Firstly, they initiate knee bending as your body moves forward. It’s like a graceful dancer taking the lead, bending the knees with precision and elegance.
  2. Then, they flex your knees, causing your feet to move back toward your butt. This powerful movement adds the necessary propulsion, like a catapult launching you forward with each step. It’s like a coiled spring ready to unleash its energy.
  3. And let’s not forget their role in assisting the extension of your thighs. As the upper leg moves backward, the hamstrings provide the driving force, working in perfect harmony with the other muscles to create fluid and powerful movements.

Research studies have shown that the hamstrings play a crucial role in optimizing running performance and reducing the risk of injuries. When they’re strong and flexible, they provide stability, power, and balance to your running stride.

Downsides of Weakness

It’s a common challenge among runners, with research studies highlighting the prevalence of hamstring imbalances in comparison to their quadriceps counterparts. Picture it as a tug-of-war between two opposing forces, where the quads often have the upper hand.

But that’s not all. Another factor that comes into play is the sedentary lifestyle that many runners lead when they’re not hitting the pavement. This lifestyle can contribute to chronic hamstring inflexibility, creating a domino effect of issues within the kinetic chain.

The consequences of these imbalances and limitations are not to be taken lightly. They can significantly impact your running performance and put you at a higher risk of pain and injury. Let’s delve into the reasons why:

Firstly, hamstring strain and tears become a looming threat when the muscles are unable to withstand the load generated by the contracting quadriceps. It’s like a battle between David and Goliath, and unfortunately, the hamstrings are often left vulnerable to injury.

Additionally, limited range of motion (ROM) becomes a roadblock to your running potential. The diminished power from the knee extensors and hip flexors, which rely on the proper functioning of the hamstrings, hinders your ability to reach your peak performance. It’s like driving a car with the handbrake on—your legs are capable of more, but restrictions hold you back.

So, what can you do to give your hamstrings the attention they deserve and overcome these limitations? Enter a repertoire of exercises designed to strengthen and lengthen these vital muscles:

First up, we have deadlifts, a classic exercise that targets the posterior chain, including the hamstrings. It’s like a full-body symphony, activating multiple muscle groups and challenging your strength and stability.

Lying leg curls are another weapon in your arsenal, isolating the hamstrings and providing a focused workout. It’s like giving your hamstrings a personalized training session, helping them regain their strength and flexibility.

But let’s not forget the power of dynamic stretches, such as those found in yoga. These flowing movements not only improve flexibility but also enhance the mind-body connection, allowing you to tap into the full potential of your hamstrings.

Research papers have shown the benefits of targeted exercises for improving hamstring flexibility and strength, leading to enhanced running performance and reduced injury risk. So, don’t neglect these exercises—they hold the key to unlocking your running prowess.

The Gluteal

The glutes are true powerhouse muscles, consisting of the Gluteus Maximus, medius, and minimus, are nestled in your buttocks, and they play a crucial role in powering your runs.

Think of your glutes as the engine that drives your running performance. They’re not just there for looks; they have a job to do. So, let’s explore the fascinating functions of these mighty muscles:

First off, they serve as stabilizers, ensuring that your hips and legs stay aligned and supported during each stride. They’re like the foundation of a sturdy house, keeping everything in place as you hit the pavement.

But that’s not all—your glutes excel in hip extension, allowing you to propel yourself forward by straightening your hip beneath you. It’s like a powerful thrust, giving you the forward momentum you need to conquer those miles.

And let’s not forget about the lateral hip rotation. As you swing your leg outward, your glutes come into play, ensuring smooth and controlled movement. It’s like a graceful dance step, guiding your leg to the outer part of your body with precision.

But the glutes have even more on their plate. They contribute to maintaining proper posture, keeping your trunk stable and upright as you conquer the terrain. Think of them as the guardians of your form, ensuring you maintain an optimal position throughout your run.

Last but certainly not least, your glutes play a crucial role in knee alignment. By engaging these muscles, you can help prevent any misalignment or excessive stress on your knees, reducing the risk of injury. They act as the vigilant protectors of your joints, keeping them in harmony with the rest of your body.

Downsides of Weakness

When you spend too much time sitting, your glutes can tighten up and weaken, throwing your posture off balance and diminishing your power output. It’s like having a pair of deflated balloons instead of a well-toned, dynamic force. And trust me, the effects go beyond just appearances.

Think of it this way: when your glutes aren’t firing on all cylinders, the burden of movement and support falls on other areas, such as your lower back and knees. It’s like an unbalanced see-saw, with excessive stress and strain placed on the wrong places.

Here’s where the trouble begins: tight and weak glutes contribute to all sorts of running injuries. You may experience nagging knee pain, commonly known as “patellofemoral pain” in scientific terms.

But fear not, for research studies have shed light on the link between this knee pain and weakened hip abductor and external rotator muscles. In fact, a study conducted with Div. III collegiate athletes revealed that those suffering from knee pain exhibited drastically weaker muscles in their affected limb. It’s a wake-up call to give your glutes the attention they deserve.

So, let’s dive into the solution. You need exercises that target those slumbering glute muscles and reawaken their strength. Get ready for a glute-awakening routine that will have you feeling the burn in all the right places.

Squats, the classic powerhouse move, are a must-have in your glute-training arsenal. They engage your glutes, thighs, and even your core, helping you build strength and stability from head to toe. And if you’re up for a challenge, why not try sumo squats? They take the traditional squat and give it a spicy twist, targeting those glutes from a different angle.

Lunges are another fantastic exercise to activate your glutes. Take it up a notch by incorporating walking lunges into your routine. With each step, you’ll feel your glutes firing up, helping you power through your runs with renewed strength.

For a little extra oomph, grab a resistance band and get ready for some clamshells. This exercise targets your gluteus medius, which plays a vital role in hip stability and knee alignment. It’s like giving your glutes a friendly wake-up call, reminding them of their duty to support your body and keep you injury-free.

Last but not least, let’s not forget about glute bridges. This exercise not only strengthens your glutes but also helps improve your hip mobility and activation. It’s like building a solid bridge of strength, ensuring that your glutes are actively involved in every step you take.

Hip Flexors

Imagine your hip flexors as the bridge connecting your upper and lower body. They work hand in hand with your hamstrings and quadriceps, coordinating a synchronized effort to move your legs forward and backward. It’s like a well-choreographed dance where every muscle knows its part.

But their responsibilities don’t end there. The hip flexors are also master stabilizers of the hip joint. They provide the necessary support to keep everything in place as you navigate the twists and turns of your runs. They’re like the strong pillars that hold your hip joint steady, ensuring smooth and fluid movement.

And here’s a little secret: good running posture and form are closely tied to your hip flexors. When these muscles are strong and flexible, they contribute to a more upright and efficient running posture. It’s like having your own personal running coach, guiding you towards optimal form and helping you unleash your full potential.

But wait, there’s more. Your hip flexors play a crucial role in maintaining a standing position. They team up with the lower leg muscles, core, neck, and shoulders to keep you steady and balanced. It’s like a synchronized effort of muscles working together to keep you upright and ready to take on the world.

Lastly, let’s not forget about their role in stabilizing the pelvic region. Your hip flexors work tirelessly to keep your hips level, maintaining a harmonious balance as you move. They’re like the guardians of your pelvic region, ensuring stability and preventing any unnecessary tilting or rotation. 

Downsides of Weakness

Did you know that your hip flexors can make or break your running game? Recent study conducted at Stanford University shed some light on the link between hip strength and knee pain in runners. The findings revealed that runners prone to knee pain had relatively weaker hip muscles compared to their injury-free counterparts. But fear not, because there’s good news on the horizon.

Researchers discovered that most of the runners who experienced knee pain were able to bounce back and return to training after completing a six-week hip strengthening program. It’s like giving your hips a power boost to overcome any hurdles in your running journey. So, if you’ve been dealing with recurring hip pain, it might be time to show those hip flexors some extra love.

The mighty iliopsoas, a key player in hip flexion, often takes the blame for hip pain. But don’t worry, there are ways to address this issue. Strengthening and stretching your hip flexor muscles more frequently can help alleviate discomfort and improve their overall function. It’s like giving your hip flexors a tune-up, ensuring they’re firing on all cylinders.

The Exercises You Need

Ready to give your hip flexors some attention? Here are a few exercises that can help strengthen and stretch these vital muscles:

  • Weighted hip extensions: Load up those hips with some resistance to build strength and stability.
  • Bridges: Get those glutes and hip muscles firing by lifting your hips off the ground.
  • Runner’s lunges: Step forward into a lunge position, activating your hip flexors while improving flexibility.
  • Skater squats: Mimic the graceful movements of a skater to engage your hip muscles and improve balance.
  • Pigeon pose: Sink into this yoga pose to stretch and release tension in your hip flexors.
  • Seated butterfly stretch: Open up your hips and gently stretch those muscles with this relaxing seated stretch.

Additional resource – Guide To BCAAs for Runners

The Calves

Nestled on the back of your lower leg, just below your knees, the calves play a vital role in your every move. Let’s dive into the fascinating world of calves and uncover their secrets.

Picture this: Your calves consist of two key players—the mighty gastrocnemius, which forms that noticeable bulge beneath your skin, and the reliable soleus, a flat muscle nestled beneath the gastrocnemius. Together, they form a powerhouse that connects your femur to the Achilles Tendon, which in turn inserts into the sturdy heel bone known as the calcaneus. It’s like a dynamic team working in harmony to propel you forward.

So, what exactly do these calf muscles do? Well, hold on to your hat, because they have some impressive functions:

First and foremost, they provide that much-needed spring in your step. As you push off the ground, your calves come into action, propelling you forward with every stride. They’re like coiled springs, ready to unleash their power and launch you into motion.

But their role doesn’t stop there. Your calves also work their magic when you land and push off, extending and flexing each foot with precision. They’re the maestros behind ankle movement, allowing you to navigate the terrain with finesse. Think of them as the conductors of a symphony, orchestrating the intricate movements of your ankles and phalanges.

Balance, my friend, is another area where your calves shine. They play a vital role in maintaining equilibrium and ankle flexion, ensuring you stay steady on your feet. It’s like having a built-in stabilizer, keeping you upright and confident with every step.

Oh, and let’s not forget about their shock-absorbing capabilities. Your calves are masters at reducing the impact of each stride, cushioning the blow and sparing your joints unnecessary stress. They’re like trusty shock absorbers, softening the blow and preserving the integrity of your lower limbs.

But here’s the kicker: Weak or tight calves can throw a wrench into your running experience. Imbalances or limitations in calf strength and flexibility can lead to a host of issues, including calf strains, Achilles tendonitis, and even altered running mechanics. It’s crucial to give your calves the attention they deserve.

The Exercises You Need

To keep your calves in top form, consider incorporating these exercises into your routine:

  • Calf raises: Stand tall and rise up onto your toes, then lower back down. Repeat to build strength and endurance.
  • Calf stretches: Gently lean forward with one leg extended behind you, feeling the stretch in your calf muscles. Hold for a moment, then switch sides. It’s like a refreshing stretch for your hardworking calves.
  • Jump rope: Embrace your inner child and jump rope! This dynamic exercise engages your calves while adding a dose of fun to your workout.
  • Hill running: Find a challenging incline and conquer it. Hill running engages your calves in a whole new way, building strength and resilience.

 Downsides of Weakness

Your calves are like the guardians of your lower legs, standing tall just below the knees. They consist of two main players: the formidable gastrocnemius, which creates that striking bulge beneath your skin, and the trusty soleus, quietly supporting its larger counterpart. Together, they form a dynamic duo that connects your femur to the Achilles tendon, creating a chain of power.

But here’s the thing: Weak or dysfunctional calves can unleash a wave of trouble. Research studies have shown that calves that are not up to par can contribute to a host of injuries, ranging from calf strains and shin splints to Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and even hip or hamstring issues. It’s like a domino effect of pain and frustration.

Weakness in the calves forces the Achilles tendon to bear the brunt of the load, leading to excessive strain. Over time, this strain can damage the delicate fibers that make up the Achilles tendon, causing discomfort and hindering your running performance.

The Exercises You Need

Here are a few exercises to get you started:

  • Calf raises: Stand tall and rise up onto your toes, feeling the burn in your calves. This exercise targets both the gastrocnemius and the soleus, building strength from the ground up.
  • Farmer’s walk on toes: Grab a pair of dumbbells or any weighted objects, rise up onto your toes, and walk with purpose. This exercise not only strengthens your calves but also challenges your overall stability and coordination.
  • Toe lunges: Take a lunge position, but this time, lift your front toes off the ground as you lower into the lunge. This exercise engages your calves in a new way, helping to improve their strength and flexibility.
  • Jump rope: Embrace the nostalgic joy of jumping rope. Not only is it a fun cardiovascular exercise, but it also fires up your calves, giving them a dynamic workout. It’s like rediscovering the playful spirit of your childhood while toning those powerful calf muscles.
  • Dumbbell jump squat: Grab a pair of dumbbells, assume a squat position, and explosively jump upward. As you land, focus on engaging your calves to absorb the impact. This exercise combines strength and power, taking your calves to new heights.

The Peroneals

Nestled along the fibula, the peroneal muscles, also known as the fibularis muscles, are a force to be reckoned with. Let’s take a closer look at these remarkable fibers and uncover their essential roles in your running performance.

Imagine your lower leg as a fortress, fortified by the fibula—the sturdy bone that provides structural support. It is here that the peroneals take center stage, consisting of three key players: the peroneus longus, brevis, and tertius. Each muscle plays a unique role, working in harmony to keep you moving with grace and stability.

Leading the pack is the peroneus longus, the longest and most superficial of the trio. It proudly attaches near the head of the fibula, embarking on a journey that traverses the length of this mighty bone. Its presence is felt from top to bottom, ready to lend its strength and support to your every step.

So, what exactly do these peroneals bring to the table? Well, my friend, their functions are as diverse as they are crucial to your running prowess. Let’s delve into their remarkable abilities:

Assisting ankle movement: When you navigate uneven terrain or execute quick turns, the peroneals are there to lend a helping hand. They work in tandem with other muscles, allowing your ankle joint to move smoothly and effortlessly, adapting to the demands of the ground beneath you.

Stabilizing your big toe and ankle joint: Think of the peroneals as the guardians of your big toe and ankle. They provide crucial support, ensuring that these vital joints stay strong and stable as you push off the ground or navigate tricky surfaces. It’s like having a skilled tightrope walker, maintaining perfect balance with each step you take.

Providing support when standing: Whether you’re standing on both legs or balancing on one foot, the peroneals rise to the occasion. They play a vital role in maintaining your stability, allowing you to stand tall and confident. It’s like having invisible pillars supporting your every move, keeping you grounded and secure.

Downside of Weakness

Let’s explore some of the challenges these remarkable muscles face and how you can address them to keep them in top shape.

One common issue that afflicts the peroneals is peroneal tendonitis—a condition characterized by swelling and pain in the peroneal tendons. This pesky ailment often rears its head due to the repetitive strain endured by these hardworking muscles.

Research has shown that overuse can lead to tendinopathy, a degenerative condition that hampers their performance. Think of it as an encore that goes on for too long, leaving the muscles fatigued and inflamed.

Another challenge you might encounter is a peroneus longus muscle strain. Picture this: you’re enthusiastically leaping forward, and suddenly, your foot makes an unexpected and forceful movement.

This can cause the peroneal muscle to overstretch, resulting in strain and discomfort. It’s like a guitar string being plucked with excessive force, creating a discordant note that echoes through your lower leg.

But wait, there’s more. Imagine a scenario where your foot is forcefully moved into dorsiflexion and inversion of the ankle. This can lead to peroneal tendon subluxation or dislocation, a condition where the peroneal tendons are overstretched and lose their proper alignment. It’s like a ballet dancer attempting a daring pirouette, but instead of graceful movement, the tendons become entangled, causing discomfort and instability.

The Exercises You Need

To keep your peroneals in top form, it’s crucial to incorporate targeted exercises into your routine. These exercises not only strengthen these vital muscles but also provide relief and aid in their recovery. Here are some exercises to consider:

  • Standing calf raises: Rise up onto your toes, lifting your body weight with the strength of your calves. This exercise not only targets the larger gastrocnemius muscle but also engages the peroneals, providing them with the necessary stimulation to stay strong and resilient.
  • Resistance band exercises: Wrap a resistance band around your forefoot and perform ankle eversion and inversion movements against the band’s resistance. This helps to activate and strengthen the peroneals, enhancing their ability to withstand the demands placed upon them.
  • Heel walks: Walk on your heels, shifting the emphasis to your calves and peroneals. This exercise promotes strength and stability in these muscles, preparing them for the challenges that lie ahead.
  • Lunges: Perform lunges while focusing on proper foot and ankle alignment. This not only engages the larger leg muscles but also activates the peroneals, promoting balance and stability throughout the movement.

 Tensor Fascia Latae

The tensor fascia latae (TFL) is a small muscle that plays a crucial role in keeping your knees happy and your stride strong..

Imagine the TFL as a bridge connecting your pelvis to the iliotibial band (ITB), a knee-stabilizing band that runs along the outside of your leg. Together, they form a dynamic duo that ensures optimal alignment and stability as you power through your runs. Picture it as a skilled architect meticulously designing a bridge that supports the weight of a bustling city, allowing for smooth traffic flow and preventing any structural issues.

So, what does the TFL bring to the table? Let’s explore its remarkable functions:

First and foremost, the TFL helps create medial rotation of the hip. Think of it as a skilled conductor directing the symphony of movements in your hip joint. It also lends its strength to hip flexion and abduction, allowing you to lift your leg and move it away from your body with ease.

But that’s not all. The TFL steps up to the plate when it comes to stabilizing your hips and pelvis. As you raise each leg during running or any other activity, this mighty muscle provides crucial support, ensuring that your pelvis remains steady and aligned. It’s like a vigilant bodyguard, constantly keeping watch and protecting the integrity of your hip region.

Now, let’s talk about the TFL’s role in providing lateral stability to your knee. When you engage in side-to-side movements or navigate uneven terrain, this muscle springs into action, offering stability and preventing unwanted wobbling. It’s akin to a skilled tightrope walker expertly maintaining their balance on a narrow wire, keeping their movements fluid and controlled.

But the TFL doesn’t work alone. It collaborates with the gluteal muscles to ensure both hip and knee stability. Together, they form a powerhouse team that safeguards your joints during the complex motions of running. Think of it as a synchronized dance troupe, where each member knows their part and performs flawlessly, resulting in a mesmerizing and awe-inspiring performance.

 Downside of Weakness

When the TFL becomes tight from overuse, it’s like a rubber band pulled to its limits. This tightness can wreak havoc on your knees, leading to discomfort and a higher risk of injury. It’s as if a misaligned cog in a well-oiled machine causes friction, disrupting the smooth operation of the entire system.

One common consequence of a tight TFL is patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), a condition where the knee cap doesn’t track properly, resulting in pain and discomfort. It’s like a misaligned compass that throws off your navigation, causing you to stumble along your running journey.

Another notorious troublemaker associated with TFL tightness is iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS). This occurs when the IT band, which relies on the TFL for support, becomes irritated and inflamed. It’s like a cranky neighbor who starts causing a ruckus, disrupting the peaceful flow of your running rhythm.

But wait, there’s more! A tight TFL can even contribute to meniscus injuries, those pesky tears in the knee cartilage. It’s like a weakened fortress wall that becomes vulnerable to attack, jeopardizing the structural integrity of your knee joint.

The Exercises You Need

To keep your TFL happy and your knees out of harm’s way, incorporating specific exercises into your routine is key. These exercises will not only help release tension in the TFL but also strengthen the surrounding muscles, promoting balance and stability. Let’s explore a few exercises that can be your TFL’s best friends:

  • Hip Hitches: Imagine lifting one hip slightly higher than the other as if you’re gracefully stepping over an imaginary obstacle. This exercise targets the TFL and encourages proper hip alignment.
  • Side-lying straight leg raises: Lie on your side and lift your top leg straight up, engaging the TFL along with the hip abductors. It’s like hoisting a victory flag, celebrating the strength and flexibility of your TFL.
  •  Crab walks: Get into a squat position and take sideways steps, engaging the TFL as you move. Picture yourself strutting sideways like a confident crab on the beach, harnessing the power of your TFL.
  • Single-leg squat: Stand on one leg and slowly lower yourself into a squat, engaging your TFL for stability. It’s like balancing on a tightrope, relying on your TFL to keep you centered and steady.
  • Static Standing TFL Stretch: Stand with one leg crossed over the other, then lean gently to the side, feeling a gentle stretch in the TFL. It’s like a refreshing stretch after a long journey, providing relief to your hardworking TFL.
  • Pigeon pose: Assume a yoga pigeon pose, targeting the hips and TFL. It’s like offering a peaceful sanctuary to your TFL, allowing it to unwind and release tension.

Flexor Hallucis Brevis

The flexor hallucis brevis is a tiny but mighty muscle that plays a crucial role in foot stability and propelling you forward during your runs. Let’s dive deeper into the wonders of the FHB and how it can impact your performance and injury prevention.

Imagine your foot as a finely tuned machine, with each muscle playing a specific role. The FHB, like a skilled conductor, orchestrates the movement of your big toe, ensuring proper function and harmony within the foot.

When it comes to running, the FHB shines brightest during the toe-off phase of your gait. It flexes the great toe at the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP joint), providing that extra push you need to propel yourself forward. It’s like a powerful spring, coiled and ready to release, adding an extra burst of energy to your stride.

But the FHB’s contributions don’t end there. It also plays a vital role in maintaining the integrity of the medial longitudinal arch of your foot. Picture the arch as a sturdy bridge, supported by the FHB on the inside, helping to distribute weight evenly and absorb impact like a resilient suspension system

Downside of Weakness

Imagine your hallux as the captain of a ship, steering the course for your foot’s movement. When the hallux lacks sufficient flexibility and strength, it’s like a captain unable to navigate through rough waters. The impact of each step gets redirected to other structures that aren’t equipped to handle the load, setting off a domino effect of issues up the chain.

As the impact travels through these unprepared tissues, you may start to experience tingling sensations, discomfort in the sole of your foot, or even develop conditions like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, or calf strains. It’s as if the load is looking for an escape route, causing trouble along its journey.

The Exercises You Need

There are exercises that can help you strengthen and improve the flexibility of your hallux, allowing it to fulfill its role as the foot’s captain with finesse.

  • Toe gripping: Take off your shoes and socks and spread out a towel or some objects on the floor. Use your toes to grip and pick up these items, exercising the muscles responsible for toe flexion and grip strength. It’s like a workout for your hallux, making sure it stays nimble and capable of bearing its share of the load.
  • Resistance band exercises: Wrap a resistance band around your toes and gently pull against it, creating resistance as you flex and extend your hallux. This exercise helps strengthen the muscles that control the movement of your big toe, giving it the power it needs to handle the impact of your every step.
  • Toe walks: Challenge your hallux by walking on your tiptoes, focusing on lifting and pushing off from your big toe with each step. This exercise not only strengthens the muscles of the foot but also encourages proper toe-off mechanics, enhancing your running and walking performance.

Tibialis Anterior

While it may not get as much attention as its counterparts, the anterior tibialis, plays a crucial role in keeping you steady and strong during your runs.

So, what exactly does the anterior tibialis do? Well, it has a few key responsibilities that can make or break your running experience.

First and foremost, the anterior tibialis is the muscle behind ankle dorsiflexion—the movement that lifts your foot towards your knee. It’s like a powerful cable, pulling your foot up as if it’s reaching for the stars. This motion is crucial for navigating uneven terrain and ensuring a smooth and controlled stride.

But that’s not all. The anterior tibialis also plays a pivotal role in positioning your foot for impact while your leg is still airborne. Think of it as a seasoned conductor, orchestrating the perfect alignment of your foot and leg as they prepare to touch the ground. This precise positioning sets the stage for a stable and efficient landing, reducing the risk of missteps and injuries.

Additionally, the anterior tibialis lends a helping hand in foot inversion—the movement that turns the sole of your foot inward. This subtle action contributes to the stability of your ankle joint, allowing it to adapt to various surfaces and maintain balance as you traverse through your running journey.

You see, the anterior tibialis is like a multitasking maestro, simultaneously performing its roles to ensure your running mechanics are on point. But what happens when this muscle is weak or dysfunctional? It can throw off the delicate symphony of movements and lead to unwanted consequences.

Research has shown that weakness or imbalances in the anterior tibialis can contribute to issues like shin splints, stress fractures, and even ankle instability. It’s as if the harmony of your lower leg is disrupted, causing discord and discomfort along the way.

Downside of Weakness

You see, the anterior tibialis is like a multitasking maestro, simultaneously performing its roles to ensure your running mechanics are on point. But what happens when this muscle is weak or dysfunctional? It can throw off the delicate symphony of movements and lead to unwanted consequences.

Research has shown that weakness or imbalances in the anterior tibialis can contribute to issues like shin splints, stress fractures, and even ankle instability. It’s as if the harmony of your lower leg is disrupted, causing discord and discomfort along the way.

The Exercises You Need

To keep your anterior tibialis in prime condition, incorporating specific exercises into your training regimen can work wonders:

  • Toe taps: Sit on the edge of a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Lift your toes, then tap them back down rapidly, engaging your anterior tibialis. It’s like a rhythmic beat, strengthening the muscle and improving its endurance.
  • Ankle dorsiflexion stretch: Stand facing a wall, with one foot in front of the other. Place your hands on the wall for support and gently lean forward, keeping your back leg straight. You’ll feel a gentle stretch in your anterior tibialis, like a refreshing stretch after a long run.
  • Resistance band exercises: Wrap a resistance band around your foot and anchor the other end to a sturdy object. Flex your foot upwards against the resistance, challenging your anterior tibialis to work against the force. It’s like a weightlifting session for your shin muscles.

The Supporting Running Muscles

 If you have the slightest understanding of human anatomy and the biomechanics involved in moving from point A to point B, then you already realize that running isn’t just about your legs.

 As I mentioned earlier, running doesn’t just use your leg muscles.

It’s full bodywork.

The muscles of your upper body and the core are needed to keep good form, ensure movement efficiency, and help in forward motion.

Thoracic Diaphragm

Let’s take a deep breath and dive into the fascinating world of the diaphragm. Picture it as a superhero residing at the very core of your body, separating the bustling activity of your abdomen from the serene expanses of your chest cavity. This remarkable muscle is no ordinary sidekick; it’s the powerhouse behind your breath, orchestrating the inhalation and exhalation symphony.

Research studies have explored the vital role of the diaphragm in maximizing lung capacity and its impact on physical activities like running.

One study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology revealed that trained runners exhibited enhanced diaphragm muscle strength and endurance compared to sedentary individuals, enabling them to maintain optimal breathing patterns even during intense exercise. Another study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that diaphragmatic breathing exercises improved respiratory muscle strength and endurance in athletes, enhancing their overall performance.

When you lace up your running shoes and hit the road, your diaphragm becomes the star of the show. With each stride, it contracts and relaxes, acting as a skilled conductor guiding the influx and outflow of air in your lungs. It’s the key to unlocking your lung capacity and ensuring a steady flow of oxygen to power your running endeavors.

However, it’s important to note that pushing your diaphragm to its limits without proper training or if it’s already impaired can lead to discomfort during activities like running. While running itself may not cause direct diaphragmatic injury, it’s crucial to listen to your body and gradually build the endurance and strength of this essential muscle.

Downside of Weakness

Let’s explore the incredible resilience of the diaphragm and how it relates to running injuries. While it’s technically rare to encounter overuse injuries specifically related to running in this muscle, it’s important to understand its vulnerability, particularly in contact sports that involve intense physical contact.

The diaphragm helps safeguard your inner core. In contact sports, it can face continuous and direct trauma, leading to contusions. Think of contusions as a battle scar—a result of persistent impacts on specific body parts that damage the underlying muscle fibers without breaking or tearing the skin. So, while it’s unlikely to injure your diaphragm while running, it’s important to be aware of potential hazards like colliding with sharp objects or experiencing a significant traumatic accident that could affect this vital muscle.

If you’re looking to strengthen your diaphragm for enhanced running performance, there are exercises that can complement your regular running routine. One exceptional exercise is diaphragmatic breathing, which trains you to engage and utilize the diaphragm properly while breathing. By practicing deep belly breaths, you activate and strengthen this muscle, optimizing its role in supporting your running endeavors.

The Core Muscles

Imagine your core muscles as the secret powerhouse behind your running performance. It’s not just about having legs of steel; a strong core is the missing link that allows you to fully harness the strength in your legs.

Think of your core as a team of superheroes, each muscle playing a unique role in maintaining your form and enhancing your running prowess. You have the mighty abs, paraspinal muscles, pelvic floor, obliques, erector spinae, multifidus, diaphragm, and hip girdle muscles—all working together to support your every stride.

Having a strong core isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s about optimizing your running efficiency and protecting your body from the impact of each step. Research studies published in prestigious journals such as Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise have highlighted the significance of core strength for runners. They emphasize that a robust core improves stability, reduces excess movement, and contributes to a more efficient energy transfer between your upper and lower body. In other words, it helps your entire body function as a unified force, propelling you forward with each stride.

One of the key benefits of a strong core is its ability to maintain balance and control joint movement. Picture yourself as a tightrope walker, relying on a steady core to keep you in perfect equilibrium. By developing your core strength, you enhance your body’s ability to stay balanced during the dynamic movements of running, reducing the risk of stumbling or uneven distribution of force.

Another advantage of a strong core is its role in preventing excessive forward lean. When you’re running, leaning too far forward can place excessive strain on your lower back, potentially leading to discomfort or injury. Your core muscles act as a powerful support system, keeping you upright and maintaining proper alignment throughout your run. This not only minimizes stress on your lower back but also optimizes your running mechanics for improved performance.

 Downside of Weakness

Picture your core as the mighty fortress protecting your running kingdom. It’s the stronghold that determines whether you’ll conquer the trails with grace or stumble along the way. Without a strong core, your running journey could be fraught with challenges and setbacks.

Research published in renowned journals like the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy has highlighted the critical role of core strength in running performance and injury prevention. These studies have shown that runners with weak cores experience compromised stability, reduced efficiency, and an increased likelihood of injuries, such as lower back pain, hip issues, and even strains in other muscle groups.

Imagine running with a weak core as trying to navigate treacherous terrain without a reliable compass. Your body lacks the stability and control needed to maintain optimal form and transfer energy efficiently. It’s like attempting to build a magnificent structure on a shaky foundation—it’s only a matter of time before it crumbles.

To fortify your core and unlock your running potential, incorporating targeted exercises is essential. Think of these exercises as the knights in shining armor, strengthening and protecting your core fortress. Planks, where you hold a straight body position on your forearms or hands, engage multiple core muscles simultaneously, building endurance and stability. Russian twists add a twist (pun intended) to your core training, working your obliques and promoting rotational strength. Crunches, the classic core exercise, target your rectus abdominis and bring the burn to your midsection.

For those looking to add some firepower to their core routine, kettlebell swings offer a dynamic and explosive movement that activates your core muscles while also incorporating full-body engagement. And for those seeking a holistic approach to core strength, Pilates, with its focus on controlled movements and core activation, can be a game-changer.

Upper Body Muscles

Though not targeted directly, several muscle groups in the upper body are used while running.

The most important ones include the muscles of the arms, chest, back, and shoulders.


Your arms help maintain a rhythmic motion that’s in tune with the lower body—key for efficient running—so strengthening them can improve form efficiency and balance.

To get more of the arm swing, bend your arms at the elbows and swing them back and forth during the running gait cycle.

Chest Muscles

What’s known as the pectorals, these consist of two large, and flat, muscles that course across the surface of your chest.

These help move your arms to cross your body and up and down as well other movements like adduction, flexion, and rotation.

This is why you should keep your chest up.


Your biceps branchii, better known as the biceps, is key for maintaining a bent arm.

Strong biceps help you swing your arms back and forth with more power.


These are located above the elbows and allow you to flex your elbows and rotate your forearms, which help swing them back and forth to enhance balance and forward propulsion.

The Scalene Muscles

The scalene muscles consist of three pairs of neck muscles:: scalenus anterior, scalenus medius, and scalenus posterior.

These help tilt, flex, and rotate your neck, helping maintain good posture as you log the miles.

They also help with breathing by lifting up your ribs, especially when doing heavy exercise.

The Back

What’s known as the latissimus Dorsi, which is the triangular-shaped muscle stretching running across your back from your shoulders to the top of your glutes.

The main roles are to power arm movement, especially the backward swing and the downward pull, as well as keep your torso upright.

The other role is an extension and lateral flexion of the lumbar spine.


  • Pushups,
  • hammer curls,
  • bicep curls,
  • shoulder presses,
  • pull-ups,
  • kettlebell swings,

Note: Sure, a bulky, heavy, upper body will only slow you down. But to make the most of strength training, you won’t need to become a full-time strongman.

All you need is two to three 20 to 30 minutes of strength sessions per week.

Of course, feel free to do more, if that’s what you want.

Put it in your schedule as a part of your cross-training.

What Muscles Does Running Work – The Conclusion

There you have it.

Today’s short anatomy introduction into the main running muscles should help you start to better understand how your body moves as well as how to improve it.

Now that you know what muscles does running work, it’s up to you to take care of them.

The rest is just details, as the saying goes.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.


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