Nov 17, 2021 6 min read

What Muscles Do Running Work? Answer for each Runner

What Muscles Do Running Work

Know Your Muscular System Involved in Running

Running is a complete exercise within itself. It is a foolproof way to focus on various parts of your body all at once. Most runners are well aware of the fact that running tones and strengthens ample muscles all through the day.

Further, running involves a humongous number of muscle groups, core muscles, upper body muscles, etc including buttocks, abs, thighs. Now the question for all the beginners to intermediate runners is what muscles does running work?

I will answer this question in my upcoming sections. Additionally, if you are an ardent runner, understanding how your body muscle responds to your every activity will extensively help you to enhance your performance.

For your knowledge, while running your work on muscle groups such as hip flexors, calf muscles, hamstrings, quads, peroneal, and tibialis anterior. Therefore, let’s explore what muscles you strengthen up while you are running.

What do Muscle Groups Running Work?

in this section, I will discuss the crucial role of running muscles or main muscles which are used in this complete body workout. All these key muscles work on your upper leg, hamstrings, quads, etc to make your body strong and injury-free during this training.

Hip Flexors Muscles

When you are running, every time you lift your thighs high, your hip flexors are used. When you raise your thighs to the level of your stomach, these muscles get stretched.

There are 5 main hip flexors muscle groups which are the Sartorius muscles, Psoas, Iliacus, Rectus Femoris, Iliocapsularis. All the hip flexor muscles are utilized when you do activities such as swinging, steps climbing, running, leg forward, and so on. Generally, they work in the combination with your thigh and abdominal muscles.

Calf Muscles

The calves are located just below and behind your knees region which are responsible for the movement of your toes. The calf muscles flex whenever you extend your toes. If you ever notice then the professional runners have fairly toned calves.

Besides, when you go for long runs, the calves tend to become sore. It gets toned by regular lifting work of the leg when you are running. Apart from this, they play a vital role to keep your legs and ankles free from sprains.

Abdominal Muscles or Abs

The abdominal muscles or abs are your core regions that are important for the harmonious functioning of all the muscle groups. Among all your abs, running strengthens and tone up the intercostals and rectus abdominis.

Here, the rectus abdominis is a cluster of long flat muscles that are along the center of your abdominal muscles and on the sides of your Abs. While the intercostal muscles are found between your ribs and these muscles do the running work.

They are useful when you need to do heavy inhalation and exhalation while running. Further, the abdominal muscles connect your lower body and upper body and keep your posture perfect and erect.

Above this, to strengthen your upper and lower body abdominal muscles, you have to maintain your posture while running longer distances. This practice prevents fatigue and uninvited injury too.

Glutes or Gluteal Muscles

These muscles are located in your buttocks that directly get affected while running. The glutes comprise 3 primary muscles namely: Gluteus minimus, Gluteus Medius, and Gluteus Maximus. Professional runners have experienced their glutes contracting when they run up or sit up.

In addition to this, the Gluteus maximus is the largest muscle present in your body. Further, gluteus medius and minimus are vital to stabilizing your legs and body while running. Many runners do some particular exercises to strengthen their glutes and hips.

Thigh Muscles

The thigh muscles include hamstrings and quadriceps. Further, the quadricep muscles include vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis, and rectus femoris. Out of four muscles, 3 are attached to the kneecap right from the femur. While the rectus femoris connects from the hip to the kneecap.

Coming to the hamstrings, these muscles are located on the back of your leg and work the same as your biceps which contract whenever you fold your elbows. Basically, the hamstring muscles work whenever you extend or stretch your lower leg which is essential for swinging the leg forward and backward. So, all these muscles do the running work effectively.

Upper Body Muscles

Running primarily impacts the lower body, however, many runners know that the upper body automatically works out particularly your pectoral muscles and biceps. The shoulder muscles, also known as deltoids, experience an intense workout when these muscles get involved when runners swing their shoulders.

Many runners like to sprint as both the upper body and lower back muscles get engaged along with the upper body muscles. This process greatly increases your stamina and speed. The purpose of doing any running workout involves strengthening of calves, abs, glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

Such strength training exercises may strengthen these muscles. Also, these will give you an overall pain-free and sprain-free experience and help prevent injuries as well.

Core Muscles

If you have a stable and strong core, you may perform most activities and movements without any pain. Also, strong core benefits in maintaining a proper balance, erect posture while running.

Besides, a strong abdominal is important to minimize the impact on your back and to keep your body upright. However, a weak core may force you to compensate with other body muscles which may lead to injury and pain.


The feet region comprises 4 layers of muscles. Out of 4, some start in the leg and connect to the feet whereas some originate in the feet themselves. To master your running skills, the combination of flexible ankle and strong feet along with the mobile hips do wonder.

Further, runners wear cushioned running shoes so their feet cannot utilize their capability in steadying the body weight. Also, overly rigid ankles lead to foot injuries as they pressurize the foot to take over the flexibility role.

What Muscles Get Toned From Running? What Muscles Does Running Work?

There are a few running exercises that many runners do to enhance their muscle strength. Let’s check out.


Staring from the planks works well for developing your abdominal muscles along with your lower back and arms. This exercise is quite helpful in building core strength and you don’t have to use any weights to work on your core or abdominal muscles.


Now, squats are proven to be a beneficial exercise for glutes, calves, and thighs. You can increase its effectiveness when used with appropriate weights.

While performing both planks and squats, you may feel cramps for a few initial days. However, as you will progress, this will become a routine for you.

Forward Lunges

These types of lunges are important when you want to propel yourself forward. In running, this works on your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. You just need to hold the pair of dumbbells on your shoulder and you will get the power or strength to give resistance.


The bridge is fairly important to aid your abdomen, glutes, thighs, and lower back muscles. For this, just lie on your back, lift your hips off the ground by conveniently folding your legs backward. Ensure you keep your feet flat on the floor. Hold this position for some time.


If you do pilates regularly, they are quite effective to strengthen the core muscle groups. It makes your thighs, abdomen, and other neglected small muscles strong. Pilates is perfect to improve your running performance as well as body strength.

Running Uphill

When you run uphill, it is essential to activate lower leg muscles to win over gravity, if you compare running uphill with running on a flat surface, you will find that when you run uphill, the vastus muscles of quads activate more than the hamstrings.

Also, uphill running focuses more on your hips and knees muscles by propelling you forward and completely extends your leg behind you. Ensure that you don’t lean too far forward as this makes it really tough to engage the hip flexor to raise your knees.

Running Downhill

The fact is running downhill is easier and it works immensely on your cardiac muscles. However, your leg, ankle, and hip need to work harder. Even, downhill run puts extensive pressure on your shin bones which may cause shin splints as well.

Moreover, you use more heel-foot strike that benefits in slowing down your progressive motion. During downhill running make sure that you don’t lean your upper body too far back.


When you are running, you use the primary muscle group and the various mechanics of the movements. If you add stretching exercises and strength-building training to your routine, you can completely aid your muscles to work together.

In the above sections, I have explained how running works effectively on your key muscle. Also, all the muscles used in running are beneficial for your overall health and fitness. Thus, your question about what muscles do running involves is being answered in detail.

I am a middle-aged runner with aspirations of qualifying for the Boston Marathon in 2022.

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