What Are The Muscles You Use When Running?


When you go running, you know you’re working your leg muscles, but do you know which muscles specifically? After all, you have at least four muscles in each lower leg alone. As it turns out, a good run doesn’t only train your lower half, but muscles throughout the rest of the body as well. Which muscles are these?

Here are the muscles you use when running:

  • Calf muscles, including the gastrocnemius
  • Shoulders and deltoids 
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps 
  • Peroneals
  • Hip flexors
  • Tibialis anterior
  • Glutes
  • Abdominal muscles, including the intercostals and rectus abdominis 

Keep reading for your anatomy lesson. Ahead, we’ll discuss each muscle/muscle group in detail, including what it is, why you should work it, and how running does just that. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have an even greater appreciation for running and what it does for your body!

These 9 Muscle Groups Get a Workout When You Run

Calves

The calves are one of the most muscular parts of the leg and also one of the most obvious muscle groups you use when running. The calf muscle is more informally referred to as the gastrocnemius muscle, which has two portions known as heads. The heads start from your heel to your knee and are attached to subtalar joints, which are muscles with three joints. 

Each head of the gastrocnemius muscle has a name: the medial head and the lateral head. Both heads are near the femur’s condyle, just at different locations. For the medial head, it originates from the femur’s medial condyle, while the lateral head is connected to the lateral condyle.

The Achilles tendon, which is a type of superficial muscle, is also a part of the calves, as is your soleus muscle. This muscle begins beneath your knee and travels to your heel. When you walk and stand, your soleus muscle comes into play. 

Running uses the calves above almost all other muscles, so yours will have to be well-conditioned. The most common calf injuries caused by running are Achilles tendon tears and pulls.  

Shoulders

Although mostly comprised of joints, your shoulders feature four important muscles you will use when you run: the subscapularis, teres minor, infraspinatus, and supraspinatus. The deltoids, although not in that muscle group, are also important shoulder muscles that get a workout during your run. Here’s an overview of each muscle.

Subscapularis

The subscapularis is one of the bigger muscles in your shoulder with a trademark triangular shape. It surrounds your shoulder bone or subscapular fossa and connects to your shoulder joint capsule and the humerus’ lesser tubercle. 

Your subscapularis, of which you have two, will internally rotate your humerus head or adduct it depending on what you’re doing with your arms. In other words, the humerus can move up and down thanks to this muscle. 

Teres Minor

The teres minor comes from a Latin word that means “rounded.” It’s a rotator cuff muscle that’s long and slim, especially compared to the subscapularis. It starts at your scapula and lateral border and connects to the joint capsule’s posterior surface and the humerus’ greater tubercle. 

The deltoid, which we’ll discuss momentarily, is regulated by the teres minor, keeping your humerus from slipping too far when you move your arms. 

Infraspinatus

Don’t get the subscapularis confused with the infraspinatus. Although they’re both triangular, the infraspinatus is a part of the infraspinatus fossa, which the subscapularis is not. This muscle maintains the stability of your shoulder joint and rotates your humerus externally. 

Supraspinatus

The supraspinatus is the smallest of the four shoulder muscles, beginning at your upper back and continuing to the humerus’ greater tubercle. As an arm abductor, the supraspinatus is also a rotator cuff muscle, just as its three related shoulder muscles are. 

Deltoids

Although not grouped in with the above four muscles, the deltoids are still worth discussing. These muscles wrap around the shoulder and have several fibers: the acromial/intermediate part or pars acromialis, the scapular/posterior part or pars scapularis, and the clavicular/anterior part or pars clavicularis. More fibers may be present in your delts than just those three, as many as seven different groups.

The posterior fibers are referred to as the rear delts or posterior delts, the acromial fibers are nicknamed outer delts or lateral delts, and the clavicular fibers are called front delts or anterior delts. 

Swinging your arms when running is part of what lets you establish your running rhythm as well as what pushes you forward. You even use less energy when moving your arms as you run, so training these shoulder muscles specifically is within your best interest! 

Hamstrings

The hamstrings, given that they’re in the legs, get a lot of use each time you lace up your running shoes. Inside each hamstring are three thigh muscles: the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. Here’s some background info about each muscle.

Biceps Femoris

Although only a part of the biceps femoris is considered within the hamstrings, this is a large thigh muscle group nevertheless. The short head begins at the linea aspera’s lateral lip and goes all the way to your gluteus maximus, a hip muscle we’ll talk about later. The long head starts in the ischium’s tuberosity to the sacrotuberous ligament.

At some point, both biceps femoris heads connect into a fusiform belly that reaches your sciatic nerve. 

Semitendinosus

Your semitendinosus is a rear thigh muscle that goes until the center of your thigh or thereabouts before wrapping around your tibia’s medial condyle and eventually reaching your knee joint’s medial collateral ligament. This muscle then travels even further to the tibia’s medial surface. 

When your hip extends and your knee flexes, this is due in part to the semitendinosus. 

Semimembranosus

The third main hamstring muscle is the semimembranosus at the thigh’s medial and back sides. This muscle, especially when compared to the semitendinosus, goes deeper into the thigh. The semimembranosus is also flat and wide. 

You can bend your knee joint and straighten your hip joint with the aid of this muscle!

Despite the major muscles in the hamstrings, you could end up with muscle weakness here that limits your gait and can sideline you for weeks or months with injury. If you’re not already incorporating hamstring muscles into your regular workout routine, it’s time to start. 

Quadriceps

Also within the thigh are your quadriceps, which are comprised of four different heads or muscles. These include the vastus intermedius, the vastus medialis, the vastus lateralis, and the rectus femoris. 

Vastus Intermedius

The vastus intermedius is the second-highest thigh muscle beneath the sartorius. It starts from the femur body with fibers that connect to your quadriceps femoris tendon via superficial aponeurosis. This muscle is closely connected to the vastus medialis as well. 

The vastus intermedius doesn’t stretch much even when your knee is fully flexed, which is certainly something to keep in mind. Hip extensions can train the muscle to stretch a bit further. 

Vastus Medialis

Nicknamed the teardrop muscle, the vastus medialis is an extensor for the knees. It’s within the thigh’s anterior compartment and contains two fiber groups, the vastus medialis obliquus and the vastus medialis longus. 

Vastus Lateralis

The vastus externus or vastus lateralis is the biggest and strongest of the four quadriceps muscles. When your lower leg goes forward as you extend your knee joint, that’s due to the vastus lateralis.  

Rectus Femoris

The rectus femoris is in the front of your thigh in the center. You gain knee joint extension and hip joint flexion thanks to this quad muscle, which includes dual tension for leg movement. It too doesn’t stretch much, so hip extensions are necessary to stretch your rectus femoris. 

Peroneals

Moving on to the lower leg now, the peroneals or peroneus muscles start under your knee and go all the way to the ankle, sometimes the foot. Within this group of muscles are the tertius, brevis, and peroneus longus. Here’s an explanation of all three muscles.

Tertius

The tertius begins at the fibula’s lower third to the intermuscular septum of Otto. In other words, this muscle crosses from the ankle to the foot, so it’s certainly a more tender muscle of those in the peroneals. 

Brevis

The brevis is a lower leg muscle with lateral malleolus tendons. Your foot’s eversion and plantarflexion occur through the brevis, which is a smaller muscle. 

Peroneus Longus

The ankle can plantarflex and evert through the peroneus longus, the lengthiest of all the peroneals. Connected to the head of your fibula, this muscle connects to the bone before transferring to a tendon that goes around the ankle’s lateral malleolus. 

To keep the peroneals in shape, always make sure you stretch before you run, including your feet. Do exercises that work the ankle and feet muscles too. 

Hip Flexors

It shouldn’t surprise you that running requires the use of your hips, as moving your legs mandates hip flexion. Up to five hip flexors let you swing your legs, run, and climb steps. These are the sartorius, iliocapsularis, psoas, iliacus, and rectus femoris.

Sartorius

Of every muscle in your body, the sartorius is the longest. It’s part of the femoral triangle with the adductor longus and attached to your anterior superior iliac spine and the femur’s medial condyle. 

From the knee joints to the hip joints, the sartorius can move them both. This muscle also allows for lateral thigh rotation, some abduction, and hip flexing. A condition known as pes anserine bursitis can affect the sartorius. 

Iliocapsularis

The iliocapsularis is one of the more mysterious hip flexors, but it starts at your anteromedial hip capsule and the anterior inferior iliac spine’s inferior border. Maintaining the stability of your hips, the iliocapsularis moves the zona arbiularis and hip capsule medially. 

Psoas

A pelvis muscle, the psoas major would be an animal’s tenderloin for comparison’s sake. The deeper area of this muscle crosses the first five lumbar vertebrae while the superficial area starts from both intervertebral discs and the first six lumbar vertebrae.

The hip, pelvis, and spinal flexion that occurs through the psoas major is significant for physical activity. 

Iliacus

Inside your iliac fossa is the triangle-shaped muscle called the iliacus. This muscle is used for activities like sit-ups in closed-chain exercises andfemur flexion in open-chained exercises. 

Tibialis Anterior

We’re not quite done covering lower leg muscles yet. The tibialis interior is also very much utilized during your runs. This tibial muscle is for foot inversion and dorsiflexion. Due to its proximity to the shins, if you have shin splints, that’s pain in the tibialis anterior. 

By resting the area, icing it when you feel pain, and using orthotics or insoles, your shin splint pain may disappear. Some runners find that the more they run, the less their tibialis anterior hurts, but we wouldn’t necessarily recommend that. 

Glutes

Yes, it’s time to talk about your butt. More than just for show, your glutes stabilize the pelvis and hips, promote strength to your various planes of motion, and give you running power. The glutes include three muscle groups: the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, and the gluteus medius. 

Gluteus Maximus

The gluteus maximus aka the buttocks is a hip extensor muscle that’s the most sizable of all the gluteal muscles. Muscle fascicles or skeletal muscle fibers are the base of the gluteus maximus, which also has three bursae within. 

Gluteus Minimus

The gluteus minimus is the opposite of the gluteus maximus in terms of size. This muscle, which is shaped like a fan, allows for thigh abduction, limb support, hip flexion, and thigh rotation. 

Gluteus Medius 

The last gluteal muscle is the gluteus medius, a thicker muscle that radiates. Through this muscle’s posterior and anterior areas, the pelvis remains stabilized in its corneal plane and the hips can adduct. Further, hip rotation is possible through the posterior area while the anterior area can flex the hip. 

Some squats will certainly shape up your derriere so these glute muscles are ready for running! 

Abs 

The last muscle group you work when running is the abdominals or abs, sometimes also referred to as your core. The abs have various muscle layers, including the transverse abdominal, internal oblique, and external oblique. Also comprising the abs are the pyramidalis muscle, the rectus abdominis muscle, and the transverse abdominal muscle, which we’ll discuss in more detail now.

Pyramidalis Muscle

As the name may have suggested, the pyramidalis muscle is shaped like a triangle. It’s part of the rectus sheath and connects to your pelvis at the pubic crest and the pubic symphysis. The fun part of the pyramidalis muscle is that not everyone has it. Only up to 80 percent of people do! 

Rectus Abdominis Muscle

The second major abdominal muscle is the rectus abdominis, which is your primary ab muscle. If you have a six-pack, this is your rectus abdominis showing. This postural muscle manages lumbar spine flexion when you’re doing crunches and also allows for respiration during exhaling when you’re out of breath. 

Transverse Abdominal Muscle

The transverse abdominal muscle is the most important core muscle. It keeps your pelvis and thoracic spine healthy. By running and working your transverse abdominal muscle now, if you’re a woman and you ever give birth, you might be able to deliver your child more easily. Yes, that’s right, child delivery requires this muscle. 

Final Thoughts 

When you go on a run, a lot of muscles across the body light up, so to speak. These are your calf muscles, shoulders, hamstrings, quadriceps, peroneals, hip flexors, tibialis anterior, glutes, and your abs. Train these muscles for more efficient, injury-free runs! 

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Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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