What Muscles Does Running Work? More than You Think…

If you are starting a new exercise routine, then one of the best things that you can do to help you achieve your goals is to incorporate running.

Running is easily one of the best activities you can do because it benefits your body in so many ways. 

For example, if you are trying to lose weight, then running can be one of the best ways to do it. You are able to target many different parts of your body all in one go.

As with any exercise routine, it is important to have a bout of cardio and running can be a great way to incorporate it. In addition to that, running is a great way to build strength, endurance, and overall stamina. 

If you are looking to incorporate running into your routine, then it is only natural that you ask yourself what are the muscle groups that get targeted.

Well, you are in luck, because today we are going to go over all that and more. When you have a better understanding of how your body works, then you will be able to compose goals that are more sp3ecific to you, and you will be more likely to achieve those goals as well. 

Let’s get started in understanding the different muscle groups that running allows you to hit!

What Muscles Does Running Work?

Running moves just about every part of your body from your head to your toes. But what muscles does running work? Specifically, running works the muscles in your legs, buttocks, and even your abs.

Now, running alone probably won’t give you a six pack, but it can still strengthen your abs. And of course, it can strengthen your legs and lower body.

There are multiple sets of muscles in your legs that you can strengthen just by running. So if you want toned legs, you might want to give running a try for your next workout.

From your head to your toes, running can be a full body workout.

At your core

Since running mostly involves your legs, you wouldn’t think that it works your upper body. However, your abs can take a beating during a run. There are two types of abdominal muscles that running uses.

The first set of muscles is the rectus abdominis; it runs along the center of your abs. Then there are the oblique muscles which are on the sides of your abs. These muscles contract during running to help support you and keep you balanced.

Finally, there are the intercostals. Breathing during running can help build and tones these muscles.

Hips don’t lie

Hips don’t lie

Moving down the body, what muscles does running work? Next up, we have the hip flexors. You can feel these muscles as you move your thigh to your stomach.

The first type of hip flexor is the psoas major, and the second type is the psoas minor. Your psoas muscles sit in the back of your lower abdomen.

These muscles can affect your posture, and keeping them in shape will benefit you in many ways.

The final part of the hip flexors is the iliacus. This muscle sits near the top of your pelvis, and it helps you rotate your femur.

As you move your legs during running, you work all of these muscles.

In the rear

run a man on treadmill

Of course, we can’t forget about the buttocks or gluteals. The gluteals include the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. Extending your hips and moving your legs back and forth work to strengthen your glutes.

Your gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your body. It’s probably the muscle you most associate with your butt.

You’ll find your gluteus medius on the outside of your butt near the top. Both the gluteus medius and minimus stabilize your legs while you run. They also affect your thighs and knees when you aren’t running.

Whether you sit a lot or not, you need to take care of these muscles.


So, you know that your abs and butt get quite a workout during a run. But what muscles does running work in your legs? After all, you can’t run without your legs.

In your thighs, you’ll find your quadriceps and hamstrings. Your quadriceps include the vastus medialus, vastus intermedius, rector femorus, and vastus lateralis. You can find all of these muscles on the front of your thighs.

The three vastus muscles connect your femur to your knee cap. Your rector femorus connects the knee cap to the hip bone, and it partially covers the other three quadriceps muscles.

On the back of your legs, you’ll find your hamstrings. These muscles include the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. Your hamstrings flex your knee and bring your lower leg back.

As you move each leg forward during a run, your hamstrings will feel the burn.

Your foundation

All of the previous muscles won’t have anything to do if they don’t have a foundation. So what muscles does running work in your lower legs?

On the back of your lower legs are your calves. Your calf muscles include the gastrocnemius and soleus. When you flex your foot or point your toes, your calf stretches out. All of your steps can give your calves quite the workout.

Your anterior tibialis muscles cover the front of your shins. When you point your toes up, you’re flexing these muscles. If you’ve ever had shin splints, you know these muscles can tense up easily.

Strengthening them can help. As the muscles get stronger, you won’t have shin splints as often — or as severely.

The peroneal muscles include the peroneus longus and brevis. These muscles run down the sides of your lower legs, and they function similarly to your calves. However, these muscles also get more of a workout when you turn your toes out.

Run a Mile

Run a Mile

When you first start running, be sure to take it slow. As you’ve seen, running works a lot of your muscles. So if you overdo it, you’re bound to cause yourself undue pain or tension.

There are ways to start running that will make it safe and enjoyable.

Baby steps

You don’t have to run a marathon or even a 5K. Just start running for short sessions a few times a week.

In fact, you can see benefits from running for just 30 minutes. Unless you’re training for a crazy race, you should care more about the quality of your run rather than the distance.

If you need motivation, find a running partner or simply schedule runs into your week.

As you get more comfortable with running, you can slowly increase the time, speed, or distance of your runs. Just be sure you don’t get ahead of yourself.

Avoid overuse

If you feel any pain or discomfort, take a break. You can use an ice pack of more painful areas. And if your pain is severe, please consult your doctor.

Running can be a great way to get fit, but you have to do it the right way.

Always stretch before you start a run. Make sure your muscles are warmed up so they can perform their best.

And of course, keep water with you so you can stay hydrated before, during, and after a run.

Schedule in rest days. Alternate running with another form of exercise. Focus on your arms during off days. The last thing you want to do is cause an overuse injury. So be smart about how and when you run.

Body Benefits

There’s more to running than “what muscles does running work?” When you start running, you’ll get stronger muscles. But you’ll see some other benefits, too.

Any form of exercise is going to change your body more than just physically. From mental health to physical health, running affects all sorts of things in your body.

Aside from the obvious, what muscles does running work? A lot happens in your body once you start running.

Happy heart

Like any form of exercise, running can improve your heart health. You can see benefits from running as little as 5 to 10 minutes a day. One study found that moderate running reduces your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, a common killer.

However, running won’t eliminate your risk completely. Be sure to pair running with a healthy diet to see even better benefits.

Cardiovascular problems can lead to many other health conditions, so keeping your heart healthy can increase your life expectancy.

Happy mind

Aside from working your heart, running can give your brain a workout. Many runners claim that running makes them feel better and happier.

If you want an easy way to reduce stress and give yourself a break from the outside world, consider running. Running is different for everyone, and luckily, you can see results with just a few minutes of running per day.

But be sure you rest or alternate running with something else. Even low-intensity running is a great way to keep feeling good without overworking yourself.

Faster, Stronger, Fitter

Everyone has a different reason for running. However, no matter the why, you’ve probably wondered what muscles running works. Well, the short answer is just about every muscle.

Sure, there are some arm and chest muscles, but you can incorporate arm exercises into your routine for when you don’t go on a run.

However, running works almost every part of your body from your head to your toes. Running can make you feel better, and you’ll have stronger legs, too.

Whether your reason for running is purely for fun or to get fit, you’re in for quite the journey. As you run, your muscles will become stronger, and you’ll become faster and more fit.

Before you start running, though, you should have a basic understanding of what will happen to your body. That way, you can be smarter about how you run.

Do you have any advice, tips, or anecdotes about running? Let us know!

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