Some of the functions of our primary muscles include keeping our body upright, moving our different body parts, generating heat, maintaining posture, and operating specific bodily functions like blood pressure and digestion. When we talk about running, muscles play a vital role. Thus, it is quite essential to have some basic knowledge about the muscles used in running. This is especially important in terms of injury prevention and strength training.
For understanding how leg workouts could benefit runners, it helps to gather some basic knowledge of your leg muscles and how all they function together. Almost all leg muscles involved in running. When you will strength every group, you enhance your balance and running form.
What is a Muscle?
Before talking about how muscles work and how they are involved in running, let’s have a look at what a muscle is and how it contracts.
Muscles are nothing but tissues in the human body, which are made up of muscle fibers. These muscle fibers can contract. Usually, there are three kinds of muscles:
- Cardiac Muscle – the heart muscle that is entirely autonomous
- Smooth Muscles – Found in the blood vessels and organs, which contract involuntarily
- Striated Muscles – Make our body move when the fibers contract and these muscles are under the voluntary control of our nervous system. These muscles we use when we run.
How Do Muscles Function While Running?
Every running stride comprises of a stance phase, when your foot comes in contact with the floor and a suspension or oscillation phase. Further, the stance phase is divided into two subphases:
Impact Absorption: The muscles contract for absorbing the impact and slowing down the forward movement of the body. In the way, the muscles, especially the quadriceps, move more slowly in the eccentric contraction. The medium and large glutes even contract for controlling the forward movement.
The Body’s Propulsion: After the first phase ends, the hamstrings, which are muscles at the thigh’s back, activate for straightening up your hip before propulsion starts. To propel our body forwards, it takes two muscle groups – hamstrings (the four muscles) and calves (the three muscles). These muscle groups contribute to knee flexion and train your lower leg for the forward drive.
The tibialis anterior muscle is even active, which acts as the main muscle accountable for the foot’s dorsiflexion, bringing the foot’s end towards your leg. The glute and abdominal muscles are even employed as they steady the back joints and hip for enabling correct movements of your lower limbs.
So, running is that sport, which works out and mobilizes the entire body. That’s why you need to take proper care of your muscles and also strengthen them if you like to keep running perfectly over a long period of time.
How Do Running Injuries Happen?
Research shows that about 50% of runners get hurt from at least a single running injury. Usually, running injuries happen around the skeletal muscles like joints, tendons, and muscles. These muscle injuries are a sign that runners have pushed themselves too far. Also, there could be several factors that come in play, like muscle imbalance, running shoes, previous injuries, diet, training intensity, and many more, which a runner should consider.
It is important to understand the different muscles involved in running as well as the different kinds of muscle contractions if you like to strengthen these muscles and manage the intensity of the training sessions.
For instance, you can aim for muscle-building exercises for strengthening your lower muscles, especially when it involves opposite muscle groups. You need to go for balance. Go for hamstring training while performing exercises that involve the quadriceps. You need to remember to strengthen the abdominal muscles for supporting the back by core exercises. Also, do not overlook the eccentric muscle building.
Important Muscles Used in Running
The primary muscle groups involved in running are the quads, the glutes, the hamstrings, hip flexors, the core muscles of the region, and the calf muscles. Let’s have a look at these significant running muscle groups!
The gluteal muscles are the powerful muscles, which make up the buttocks. As the muscle group, the glute muscles play various roles in offering stability, power, and strength around the pelvis and hip in all three motion planes.
Look at the effect of maintaining control about the pelvis and hip as your body loads in running affects the spine’s position above, feet, and knees below. The common dysfunction found in runners related to the glutes is that they become repressed through hip flexor stiffness, stopping them from engaging as they should. Thus, it could lead to tight lower back and hamstrings, knee injuries, bad pelvic posture, and shin pain.
To activate and strengthen your glutes, go for the Donkey Kicks exercise. Get on the knees and hands and keep the back still, flat, and straight. Squeeze the glutes for moving back one leg and somewhat to the side, such as donkey kicking. Please note that the movement needs to be initiated from your butt and not your lower back. Begin with small movements until you could increase the extension range. Perform 2-3 sets of about 12 repetitions.
Hip Flexor Muscles and Quadriceps
The quads or quadriceps refer to a group of four long muscles, which make up the total of your thigh’s front. Most runners are strong disproportionately through their quads in comparison to their hamstrings.
Often, if the psoas is weak, rectus femoris muscle (the quad muscle that crosses both knee and hip) will become overactive and tight because of its increased role in the forward movement of your swinging leg while running.
This tightness could cause muscle imbalances and postural problems, which could affect the lower back, pelvis, hips, and knees. So, you need to keep stretching your thighs’ fronts.
Abdominals and Core Muscles
You need to think about core strength than core stability. This affects your posture during functional movements, specifically pelvic posture as this has significant implications in terms of knee and hip biomechanics and lumbar spine position.
Here, core muscles refer to a muscle that influences the lumbar spine, hip, and pelvic position through functional movements. When we talk about running, what this means is that if you try to generate force to run, you need a stable and strong base core. Without the core strength, you see an elevation in unnecessary compensatory movements, which could cause injury over time.
Strong core muscles even increase stability and assists in maintaining good form throughout. Therefore, it is worth working on the core away from running. This is because a strong core helps the primary running muscles to work with optimum efficiency. Running even requires you to swing the arms, which tones the triceps and biceps.
Use the plant posture for strengthening and activating the deep abdominals. You need to lie in a face-down (prone position) with the elbows under the shoulders. Now, squeeze your quads and squeeze your glutes for raising the body into a plank. Keep your back flat and do not let your butt sink or rise. Hold the position for about 30 seconds or three minutes.
As the chief muscle group, hamstring muscles build up the majority of your muscles at the thigh’s back. The main role of these muscles is to flex your knees and extend your hips. Hamstring muscles play a significant role throughout a number of the different running phases. However, these muscles are weak as compared to the quads and other opposing muscle groups.
Such weakness could affect muscle balance at the knees and hips. This could cause potential running injuries. Along with the glutes, enhanced hamstring strength will greatly benefit you as runners.
No matter what running style you follow, the calves are going to work hard always. There is little like the repetitive running loading for preparing your calves for such demands. It is not surprising that runners who increase the training load suddenly, such as frequency, intensity, or volume suffer from achilles tendon or calf injuries as it takes some time for building up the calf strength.
You can follow conditioning exercises for the lower legs like calf raises, skipping, and others. Use a running watch to keep a check on your running gait. It is important to work on the intrinsic muscles to maintain effective foot biomechanics. Watch this video to have a look at the main running muscles.
So, this is about the different muscles used in running. Although it could be wrong to single out one muscle as the most significant running muscle due to the complex coordination involved,there are definitely certain running muscles more important than the other. For running injury-free and efficiently, you need to focus on enhancing the mobility and strength of the muscles that we have discussed here. Even some supplemental work pays you off well, so there is no excuse that you could not fit the exercises for these muscles into your schedule.