What Muscles Does Running Work? (The Science of Running)

Running is a great way to get in shape, and it works a variety of muscle groups. While many people think that running only works leg muscles, it is a full-body workout that exercises a wide variety of muscle groups.

In this post, we will detail all the muscle groups that benefit from a good run. So let’s take a deeper look at what muscle group running works.


As you run, your legs benefit the most from the workout but other muscle groups also come into play.

Running works your quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, and glutes. As you might expect, your leg muscles handle most of the running effort. All leg muscle groups get a good workout as you power through your run.

Next up, we will take a closer look at all the muscles running works out. In the next few sections we will be looking in greater detail at many of these leg muscle groups.

Calf Muscles

Running helps to strengthen your calf muscle groups, which are responsible for helping you keep balance while running and aiding in the forward movement of your stride.

Having strong calf muscles is key to efficient running, as it provides stability and power over the many foot contacts you have with the ground.

Calf muscles are important for injury prevention and good performance. They provide muscle coordination across a range of mobility that is necessary for proper running form.

When someone has weak calf muscles, they might be clumsy while in motion due to the lack of strength needed to propel the foot forward, placing unnecessary stress on the hips, knees, and back.

On the other hand, having strong calf muscles can help make your run smoother by helping to generate consistent movement throughout each step of your gait cycle. Additionally, developing your calves through strengthening exercises can help increase speed during running since they are a major contributor to providing momentum with every stride taken.


The quadriceps play a major role in the running process.

When you take off to run, your initial push-off comes from these powerful muscles, which help propel you forward. Your quads are also responsible for generating the up-and-down power of running and helping to produce the highest speeds achievable.

In short, having strong quads is essential to getting a good start and keeping your pace steady over any distance – sprints or long distances.

Moreover, they prevent muscle soreness during and following a run, as strong quads absorb shock from uneven terrain and ensure your joints do not suffer stress during a long run without proper rest days. Taking care of these muscles is important for runners who seek to maximize their speed and endurance on the track.


Your glutes work hard to keep you balanced and propel you forward during each stride. Your hamstrings help with lifting your foot and pushing off, while your calves help with lifting your heel and providing stability.


The hamstrings are a key muscle group for running, allowing runners to propel themselves forward with each stride.

While running, the hamstrings are responsible for extending the hips to bring the lower legs back and generate propulsion. During the swing phase of a run, the hamstrings provide the power to take each step while maintaining a stable posture.

Not only do hamstrings provide forward propulsion, but they also help with key stability movements like side-stepping and staying upright when dealing with uneven terrain. To ensure their hamstrings remain strong and ready to perform, many runners incorporate hamstring-specific strengthening exercises into their regular fitness routine.

TLF Muscles

The TLF muscle, which stands for tensor fascia latae, is a hip abductor used to support the legs while running and provides side-to-side stability. It is especially necessary if you’re doing activities such as trail running or any movement that involves changing direction quickly.

While running, the TLF muscle can also aid in posture control and help reduce fatigue while completing endurance activities.

Strengthening this muscle will help you become a more efficient runner overall and prevent any future injuries related to unstable hip movements or misalignment of lower limb muscles.

ITB Muscle

The iliotibial (ITB) muscle is another one that plays a key role in running. It is used to aid in stabilizing the knee and hip joints by preventing excessive sideways movement.

When running, this muscle helps to move the leg away from the body while bending and extending it, making each stride more efficient. Additionally, during the heel strike portion of a running stride, ITB contraction helps to maintain pelvic control by limiting sideways movement in order for the force generated from the ground reaction to be transferred through the entire body.

Without the ITB muscle, not only would running be less efficient and comfortable, but movements could result in potential strain or injury to joints or muscles.

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Running is an activity that requires both strength and endurance. The core plays a major role in the running process, as it helps the body maintain its balance and regulates speed.

The core muscles help to move the arms and legs back, while also keeping them aligned with the torso. This includes muscles like the transverse abdominis.

When running, the core works to stabilize your spine, reduce movement in all directions, and keep you upright. It takes a lot of practice to develop good core control, but once you get a handle on it running becomes much easier as you can use less energy for each step.

By improving your core control when running you will be able to spend more energy pushing forward instead of trying to correct your form.

Upper Body

People usually equate running with a great leg workout, but running also builds strength and endurance in the body.

The upper body plays a critical role in running; it helps to ensure proper posture, balance, and stability throughout the running action.

By swinging your arms back and forth as your run, you can increase momentum and create a more fluid stride. Additionally, by coordinating your upper body with your lower body movement, you can increase speed and power for longer distances.

With proper technique, you can reap all the fitness benefits of running while avoiding any potential injury-causing tug on your joints or muscles. It’s important to practice good posture and keep the arms at a comfortable level when utilizing the upper body for running.


Although they may not get as much of a workout as other muscle groups, your arms still play an important role in helping propel you forward. Additionally, muscle activation in your arms helps you maintain balance and good posture.

All these muscle groups working together are what makes running such an effective form of exercise to improve overall fitness.

A Final Word on the Muscles Running Works

So if you’re looking for a workout that will get your heart rate up, muscle groups working, and give you the results you want – then running is the way to go. Get out there and start running today!

Good luck and happy running!

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