Which Muscles Do Runners Use the Most?

Runners put a lot of stress on certain muscle groups in the body, namely, the hamstrings, quads, and the hip flexors. This strain causes tightness in the muscles that often leads to injury. To prevent injury and loosen the muscles, runners often benefit from a cross-training program that strengthens neglected muscles while relaxing and stretching overused muscles. An integrated Yoga practice targeted to runners can provide all of these much-needed benefits.


What muscles do runners use most frequently?

  1. Quadriceps, Femoris (thigh muscles)Quadriceps
  1. Hamstrings (back of the legs) and Gluteus MaximusBicep Femoris
  1. Hip flexors, IliopsoasHip flexors
  1. Calvescalves
  2. Core muscles (abdomen and lumbar/lower back.)core muscles
  3. Tendons in the ankle and foot


The shoulders and arms are also used for balance, however, they aren’t strained in running as often as the other muscles mentioned.

The repetitive movements in running can create wear and tear over time, especially without proper stretching.



When runners log lots of miles they repeatedly load their quads, making them strong. Longer runs can lead to overloading the quads making the quads too strong. This can create an imbalance between the quads and the hamstrings. When this occurs, several things can happen. A worst case scenario would be a hamstring tear. This happens when the hamstrings are too weak to handle the pull of the quads, so they give way or tear. Quad dominance can also wreak havoc on the knees.



A healthy counterbalance of the hamstrings helps to keep the knees stable. When the quads are too dominant they can pull and tug on the knee joint, muscles, and/or ligaments causing damage. A frustrating result of quad dominance can simply be decreased power causing you to run slower. This happens when the hamstrings kick in sooner than normal to help decrease the overpowering of the quads. Runners should make an effort to take care of their hamstrings by building up the muscular strength and endurance. Once you get in a quad dominant situation, it’s kind of hard to reverse. Also, hamstring injuries usually take awhile to heal, so you may have to avoid running for extended periods of time, which can be frustrating. So, what’s a runner to do? Well the first thing that comes to mind is hamstring exercises, right? Right! The typical hamstring leg lifts, hamstring leg curls, or hamstring roll-ins on a stability ball are all good.


(Hamstring Bridge Lie on your back, bend your hips and knees 90 degrees and rest the back of your heels on a chair. Push your heels into the chair and lift your hips about 8 inches. Keeping both knees bent, lift your right foot off the chair about 10 inches, pause, then lower your hips to the floor with your right foot still elevated. Repeat until fatigued, rest 30 seconds and switch sides) and eccentric leg slides (side series from pilates).


Hip Flexors

Your hip flexors, like your quads, are comprised of a muscle group of two muscles:

  • The iliacus and
  • The psoas major.

The shortest muscle, the iliacus, begins on your pelvic crest (the iliac fossa) and stretches over to your thigh bone (femur). The larger of the muscles, the psoas major, stretches from your T-12 spinal vertebrae to your L-5 spinal vertebrae and there attaches to the femur.

These two muscles work together to help your hips flex.

The iliopsoas are often the culprit behind sever hip pain. If you experience hip pain while running, you should stop your routine immediately, and go see your doctor or a chiropractic specialist. Do not begin running again until they have determined it to be safe. I believe training the hip flexors have a key role in injury prevention, great to do Slow Running with High Knees. Basically, it’s running on the spot with high knees, but not too high where the hips drops. This would be an oxymoron to hip height. Knee Drives. (with cable, or no weight) 3 sets of 10 reps. Using a low cable pulley and an ankle cuff attachment, stand so that the cable has pressure, but not enough to whip you backwards. Drive your knee explosively up to your chest. Keep the movement controlled as you lower. Using band will give a different feel, and thus you’ll have to really accelerate the initial explosive movement. Make sure the upper body stays tall and this will work your core as well. Spread Eagle Sit-ups.  This is the same as doing crunches, but with your legs straight and spread preferably resting on a wall, or door frame.   Add a light weight for added resistance. Hanging Knee or Leg Raises.  Hang from a pull up bar or some other apparatus, keeping your upper body straight, and either (1) bring knee to chest or (2) straight legs to parallel. Incline Bench Leg Raises.  If weak arms is your limiting factor for the above exercise, try the same exercise on an 45 degree angle on a sit up bench.


Though many anatomists see the calf muscle to be a single muscle (triceps surae), most say that it is a muscle group, like your quads and hip flexors. This group consists of two main muscles, the:

  • The gastrocnemius and
  • The soleus.

Your calf muscles will allow you to flex your knee and planter flex your ankle. Like your quads, your calf muscles can be strengthened by doing squats. Other good strength-building exercises would include calf muscle raises and skipping!

Core muscles

Though your supporting muscles may not come under as much strain as your primary muscles, it is a good idea to educate yourself about them and protect them as well. Your supporting muscles are:

  • The abdominals (both upper and lower) and
  • The biceps brachii.

Your abdominals are located at your abdomen. These muscles will allow you to maintain good posture during your workout, helping you to prevent injury and maximizing your time.

Your biceps brachii (better known as your biceps), are located above your elbow and allows you to rotate your forearms and flex your elbows. You will only use this muscle if your elbow is bent, making your running more efficient.


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