Muscles Used In Running

Some people think running just works a person’s legs, but that couldn’t be more wrong. Running incorporates many more muscles in addition to the obvious ones, a fact which I discovered after experiencing total body soreness in the first weeks I started running regularly.

It’s easy to understand why running heavily involves your muscles and connective tissues from the waist down, including your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, calves, all the small muscles in your feet, and others. Those just make sense.

But you might be surprised to learn that running also works your abdominal muscles and, depending on how much arm swing you use, even some of your upper body, such as your shoulders and back.

When you run, your body is continuously working to stabilize itself and remain balanced and upright. The abdominal muscles are chiefly responsible for those kinds of tasks, since when they contract they maximize their support for your whole body. These constant contractions to help you keep your balance as you’re pounding over the pavement can lead to a stronger abdominal wall and, of course, better balance skills.

You may also run hard enough or fast enough to warrant big, deep breaths. This can be quite the workout for the muscles in your core that aid your diaphragm. Also, consider the intercostal muscles, which run between the ribs: Their main job is to move the chest wall, expanding your ribcage in and out as you breathe. It makes sense then, that a lot of controlled deep breathing, such as in running, will further develop your intercostal muscles.

Something that doesn’t make as much sense? The soreness I felt in my upper back and shoulders after a long run. As it turned out, that soreness wash caused by the repeated swinging movement I made with my arms.

Have you ever tried to run without swinging your arms? It’s decidedly more difficult. That’s because swinging your arms is necessary to counterbalance the motion of your legs. And together with your core, your arms help keep you balanced and upright. A runner’s arms also help to propel the body forward, funneling all that momentum and energy into a forward direction.

Swinging your arms involves not only the muscles of the arms, but also the muscles found in the shoulder, and in the upper back, where the motion originates. Place your hand in the area around your shoulder blade as you swing your opposite arm and you’ll feel what I’m talking about.

This explains why skilled sprinters (who really pump their arms as they book it toward the finish line) and long-distance runners (who swing their arms over and over and over and — you get the idea) make it a priority to develop a strong upper body.

And for the rest of us mere mortals, it explains why we’re sore over practically our entire bodies after going for a pleasure run.

Image via Saff’s Photography on Flickr


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