What muscles are used when running?

What muscles are working during a run?

When running, it is common to think that it is only the muscles in your legs that will be working. Running is a whole-body workout, and although certain muscle groups are always working during your run, some work harder than others, depending on whether you’re running up or downhill.

To keep your muscles strong and supple, you should warm-up before you start running and then do your stretches and cool down after you’ve finished. Stretching is proven to aid with aches and pains, prevent cramps and lactic acid build-up.

Let’s take a look at what muscles are working hard during your run.

The Power Muscles


These are a group of four muscles on the front of your thigh. These are the muscles that propel you forward throughout your run and keep you moving. They extend down to the knee, and the energy they generate is transferred to the hamstrings.

People can have stronger quadriceps than hamstrings, which can lead to injuries in their hamstrings. 

Exercises – Leg extensions, leg lifts and squats.


The hamstrings help the knee bend when you’re moving forward. The power switches from the quadriceps to the hamstrings as you move. They span the hips and knee joints, which helps you bend your knee, meaning your foot is free to move back and upwards.

If people have stronger hamstrings, they can have weaker quadriceps. This is why some trainers try and make sure you’re working all parts of your leg during your workout to try and make them as equal as possible.

Exercises – Deadlifts, lying leg curls, hamstring push-ups.


Your glutes are located in your bum; they help keep your hips and legs stabilised and ensure your posture stays upright. Glutes also help with your knee alignment and are the main source of your power when running.

Your glutes are at risk of injury just like any other muscle – this can lead to lower back pain, knee strain and issues with your hips.

Exercises – Squats, walking lunges, glute bridges

Hip Flexors

Located just above the thighs, these are pivotal for any motion where you lift your leg – running, walking, jumping etc. They stabilise your hip joints and work as a team with the hamstrings and quads.

Hip issues and knee problems go hand-in-hand; if your hip flexors are relatively weaker, then you are more likely to have knee pain.

Exercises – weighted hip extensions, runners’ lunges, seated butterfly stretch.


The calves are at the back of your lower leg, behind your knees. These are the muscles that you can often see in runners or cyclists who train a lot as they bulge out. They help with pushing off and landing of your feet, maintaining your balance and help reduce the shock impact.

Your calves are more prone to injury through running than nearly any other muscle group. You can get shin splints, calf strains, plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis.

Exercises – calf raises, toe lunges, dumbbell jump squat.

The Supporting Muscles

These muscles help the power muscles on your run. You may not think you’re even using these, but this is why some runners say that they’re ‘using muscles they didn’t even know they had’, when they run. These are just as important as the power muscles and help support the body as a whole.


This muscle separates your abdomen from the chest cavity. It helps with your breathing so it’s great to practice using it to get full lung capacity.

Helps pull oxygen into your lungs and expel carbon dioxide and puts pressure on the oesophagus to stop acid reflux.

You cannot overuse this muscle, but you can hurt it by falling on your side, so run carefully!

Exercises – check out our blog on ‘How to breathe when running’ for information on breathing techniques.

Core muscles

A group of muscles that includes abs, pelvic floor, obliques, multifidus, and the hip girdle muscle.

Your core is at the heart of everything as it provides stability for the whole body when you’re running. Having good core muscles stops you from leaning forward and therefore putting pressure on your back.

With a weaker core, you are at risk of injury from your legs to your shoulders.

Exercises – Planks, Russian twists, crunches, Pilates.

Upper body muscles

Your arms, shoulders, chest muscles, biceps are all working together to keep up a good rhythm with your legs so you don’t fall over. Keeping this group strong will help increase your swing, which in turn will increase your pace. The swing of your arms is pivotal when running, so it’s important to strengthen these.

Any injury in the upper body can stop you from running as they heal, as our upper body muscles are used all day, pretty much no matter what we do, it’s hard to rest them!

Exercises – Push-ups, bicep curls, pull-ups, shoulder presses.

Keeping up the strength in your muscles is so important to make sure your running is on track. With the above exercises and your running, you’ll be able to keep your muscles as strong as possible. Taking care of your muscles doesn’t have to be hard, but it should be part of your training regime. 

If you’re looking for a challenge to take part in, then check out our listings for running events

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