What muscles are used when running?

What muscles are used when running?

What muscles are used when running?

Running is an incredibly popular form of exercise that provides a range of benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, weight loss, and increased muscle strength. But have you ever wondered which muscles are used when running? Understanding the muscles involved in running can help you tailor your training and avoid injury.

In this article, we’ll delve into the key muscles used when running, how they work together, and how to keep them healthy and strong.  If you are currently considering taking up running, please check out our couch to 5km training plan!

What muscles are used when running.

The Muscles Used in Running

When you run, multiple muscle groups work together to propel you forward and keep you balanced. Some of the key muscle groups involved in running include:

Glutes and Hamstrings

The glutes and hamstrings are key players in the running stride. The glutes generate power with each stride, while the hamstrings help to extend the hip and control your stride length. Quadriceps

Quads and Calves

The quadriceps, or quads, are the large muscles located at the front of your thigh. They play a crucial role in knee extension and help you lift your knees when running. The calves, located at the back of your lower legs, help you push off the ground with each stride.

Core and Back

A strong core and back are essential for maintaining good posture and balance when running. The muscles in your core and back help to keep you upright and prevent you from leaning too far forward or backward.


While the arms may not seem like a critical component of running, they play an important role in maintaining balance and generating forward momentum. When you swing your arms back and forth, you help to propel yourself forward and maintain a steady pace.

What muscles are used when running

Can running work the upper body?

While running is primarily a lower body exercise, it can still work the upper body to a certain extent. When running, your arms naturally swing back and forth to help maintain your balance and rhythm. This swinging motion engages the muscles in your shoulders, chest, and arms, helping to tone and strengthen them. Additionally, if you’re running uphill or against a strong wind, you may find yourself pumping your arms harder to help propel yourself forward, which can further engage your upper body muscles. However, if you’re looking to specifically target your upper body, you may want to incorporate exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, or weight lifting into your workout routine.

The Science Behind Muscle Training Science

Let’s take a closer look at the science behind muscle training. When you engage in any form of exercise, your muscles are put under stress, which causes microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. These tears are then repaired by the body, resulting in stronger and more resilient muscles. This process of muscle breakdown and repair is known as muscle hypertrophy. For more info, check out this article on the Asics website!

Can training the upper body make me a faster runner?

Having a strong upper body can help you maintain an efficient and upright posture, which can reduce your risk of injury and improve your overall running economy. Additionally, a strong upper body can also help you maintain a steady arm swing, which can provide an extra boost of power and speed during your runs.

Here are some of the best upper body exercises for runners that can help improve your running performance:

  1. Push-ups: Push-ups are a classic exercise that can help strengthen your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  2. Pull-ups: Pull-ups are an excellent exercise for strengthening your back, shoulders, and biceps.
  3. Planks: Planks are a great exercise for improving core strength and stability, which can help improve overall running form.
  4. Medicine Ball Slams: Medicine ball slams are a dynamic exercise that can help improve power and explosiveness in your upper body.
  5. Dumbbell Rows: Dumbbell rows are an effective exercise for targeting your back muscles, which can help improve overall posture and stability during running.

What muscles are used when running

How the Muscles Work Together in Running

All of these muscle groups work together in a coordinated effort to help you run efficiently and effectively.

When you take a step, your glutes and hamstrings work together to extend your hip and propel you forward. As your foot strikes the ground, your quads and calves work to absorb the impact and push you off the ground.

At the same time, your core and back muscles work to maintain your balance and posture, while your arms help to keep you steady and generate forward momentum.

Why is Muscle Strength Important for Runners?

Improved running form  Fast running

Strong muscles help maintain proper running form and prevent injuries.

Increased endurance

Strong muscles help you run faster and for longer distances.

Better speed

Strong muscles help generate more power and speed during runs.

Reduced risk of injury

Strong muscles help prevent common running injuries such as shin splints and IT band syndrome.

Keeping Your Running Muscles Strong and Healthy

Maintaining strong, healthy running muscles is key to avoiding injury and improving your performance. Here are some tips for keeping your muscles in top form:

  • Stretch regularly: Stretching helps to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. Focus on stretching your quads, hamstrings, and calves before and after each run.
  • Strengthen your core: A strong core is essential for good posture and balance when running. Incorporate core-strengthening exercises, such as planks and bridges, into your workout routine.
  • Cross-train: Incorporating other forms of exercise, such as cycling or swimming, into your routine can help to improve your overall fitness and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Listen to your body: Pay attention to how your body feels during and after each run. If you experience pain or discomfort, take a break and allow your body to recover.


Types of Cardio That Can Train Your Running Muscles


Cycling is a low-impact form of cardio that can help train your running muscles without putting too much stress on your joints. It’s also a great way to build endurance and stamina, two key factors in improving your running performance.


Swimming is another low-impact form of cardio that can help train your running muscles. It’s a full-body workout that engages your core, arms, and legs, making it a great way to build overall strength and endurance.


Rowing is a full-body workout that engages all of your major muscle groups, making it an excellent form of cardio for runners. It’s also a low-impact exercise that can help build endurance and improve your overall cardiovascular health.


Cross-training is the practice of incorporating different types of exercise into your training routine. By doing so, you can avoid overuse injuries and improve your overall fitness level. To incorporate other forms of cardio into your running routine, try alternating between running and cycling, swimming, or rowing on different days of the week.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a form of cardio that involves short bursts of intense activity followed by periods of rest. HIIT workouts can be done with any form of cardio, including running, cycling, swimming, or rowing, and can help improve your endurance, speed, and overall fitness level.

Which types of running will make me stronger, Cross-country or Track?

Cross-country running involves running on varying terrain, including hills and uneven surfaces. This type of running builds endurance and Cross Country Running strengthens your leg muscles, particularly your quads, hamstrings, and calves. Running on hills also improves your running form, as it requires you to use your core muscles to maintain balance and stability.

Track work, on the other hand, is focused on speed and power. It involves running on a flat, even surface, often for shorter distances. This type of running builds explosive power in your leg muscles, particularly your glutes, quads, and calves. It also improves your running form, as you must maintain proper technique to generate maximum speed.

Ultimately, the type of running that will make you stronger depends on your goals and preferences. If you want to improve your endurance and run longer distances, cross country running may be the better choice. If you want to improve your speed and explosiveness, track work may be the better choice. However, incorporating both types of running into your training routine can provide a well-rounded workout and help you achieve your goals more effectively.

What muscles are used when running

What are the Best Running Training Exercises to Work the Muscles Harder?

Hill Repeats

Hill repeats are an excellent way to improve your leg strength and build endurance. Find a hill with a moderate incline and run up and down it multiple times. Start with four to six repeats and gradually increase the number over time.

 Tempo Runs

Tempo runs are designed to help you maintain a faster pace for longer distances. Start with a warm-up jog, then run at a slightly faster pace than your usual pace for 20-30 minutes. Finish with a cool-down jog.


Plyometric exercises are designed to increase power and speed. Examples of plyometric exercises include box jumps, jump squats, and lunge jumps. Incorporate these exercises into your routine once or twice a week.

 Strength Training

Strength training exercises such as squats, lunges, and deadlifts can help improve your leg strength and overall running performance. Incorporate these exercises into your routine two to three times a week.



  1. Why is it important to know which muscles are used when running?

Knowing which muscles are used when running can help you tailor your training and avoid injury. By understanding how your muscles work together, you can develop a more effective workout routine and take steps to keep your muscles strong and healthy.

  1. How can I strengthen my running muscles?  What muscles are used when running

You can strengthen your running muscles by incorporating strength training exercises into your routine, such as squats and lunges. Cross-training and stretching can also help to improve your overall muscle health.

  1. Are the muscles used in running different for men and women?

No, the muscles used in running are the same for both men and women. However, individual anatomy, body composition, and running style can impact the specific muscles that are used to a greater extent in certain individuals.

  1. Can running improve the strength of my running muscles?

Yes, running can improve the strength of your running muscles. Regular running can help to build muscle strength and endurance, which can improve your performance and reduce the risk of injury.

     5. Can running help in building muscle? 

Running can help in building leg muscles, but it is not the most efficient way to build muscle mass. Strength training is more effective in building muscle mass.

     6. Will upper body exercises make me bulkier?

Not necessarily. It’s possible to gain strength and endurance in your upper body without necessarily bulking up, as it depends on factors such as genetics and nutrition.

     7. Should I focus on specific muscle groups when doing upper body exercises?

It’s important to focus on a variety of muscle groups, including the chest, back, shoulders, and arms, to ensure overall upper body strength.

     8. Can I do upper body exercises on the same day as my runs?

Yes, it’s possible to do upper body exercises on the same day as your runs, but it’s important to ensure proper rest and recovery between the two types of workouts.

     9. Is running bad for your knees?

Running is a high-impact exercise that can put stress on your knees and lead to injury. However, with proper form and technique, running can be a safe and effective exercise for your knees.

     10. How often should run?

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, which can include running. However, it’s essential to listen to your body and not overdo it, as this can lead to injury.


In conclusion, running involves multiple muscle groups working together to propel you forward and maintain your balance. Understanding the key muscles used in running can help you tailor your training and avoid injury. 

Cycling, swimming, and rowing are all great options for low-impact, full-body workouts that can build endurance and strength. By incorporating cross-training and high-intensity interval training into your running routine, you can avoid overuse injuries and take your running performance to the next level. Don’t be afraid to mix things up and try new forms of cardio to keep your workouts interesting and challenging. With dedication and consistency, you can train your running muscles and become a stronger, faster, and more resilient runner.

Next time you hit the pavement, you’ll be well-equipped with the knowledge of what muscles are used when running!

Muscles used when running


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