So you’ve decided to lace up your running shoes and hit the pavement. But have you ever wondered what muscles are actually working when you go for a run? Well, it turns out that running is a total body workout, engaging numerous muscles from head to toe. While it may come as no surprise that your leg muscles play a major role, there are also other muscle groups that come into play to propel you forward and maintain your balance. From your quadriceps and hamstrings to your core and even your arms, this article will explore the various muscles that are activated when you go for a run. Get ready to learn just how much work your body is doing every time you hit the trail!

Upper Body Muscles

Chest Muscles

When you go for a run, your chest muscles play a significant role in supporting your upper body and facilitating arm movement. The main chest muscles that are activated during running include the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. These muscles are responsible for the flexion and adduction of the arms, which helps propel your body forward with each stride.

Shoulder Muscles

Your shoulder muscles are also involved in running as they help in maintaining stability and control during arm swing. The main muscles involved in shoulder movement while running are the deltoids. These muscles assist in the abduction and flexion of the arms, allowing for a smooth and coordinated arm swing while you run.

Arm Muscles

While running, your arm muscles, also known as your biceps and triceps, are engaged to a certain extent. These muscles contribute to the swinging motion of your arms as you move forward. While the main focus is on the lower body during running, maintaining an active and coordinated arm movement helps improve balance, stride efficiency, and overall running form.

Back Muscles

The muscles in your back, specifically the latissimus dorsi, play an important role in stabilizing your upper body while running. These muscles assist in maintaining an upright posture and preventing excessive torso rotation, which can cause unnecessary strain on other muscles. Additionally, the rhomboids and trapezius muscles help in shoulder stabilization, contributing to an efficient arm swing and overall running performance.

Core Muscles

Abdominal Muscles

Your abdominal muscles, including the rectus abdominis and the obliques, are actively engaged during running. These muscles provide stability to your torso while you move, preventing excessive rotation and promoting a more efficient running motion. Strong abdominal muscles also help improve your overall posture, reducing the risk of lower back pain and promoting optimal stride mechanics.

Oblique Muscles

The oblique muscles, which are located on the sides of your abdomen, are particularly important during running. These muscles assist in trunk rotation and lateral flexion, allowing for a smooth and coordinated movement. Engaging and strengthening your oblique muscles can enhance your running performance by increasing your stride power and stability.

Back Muscles

In addition to the back muscles mentioned earlier, the muscles in your lower back, such as the erector spinae, are engaged during running. These muscles help maintain an upright posture and provide stability to your spine, reducing the risk of lower back injuries. Strengthening your back muscles through exercises like deadlifts and rows can help improve your running form and reduce the risk of muscle imbalances.

What Muscles Are Activated When Running

Lower Body Muscles


The quadriceps, located at the front of your thighs, are among the primary muscles used during running. These muscles extend your knee and contribute to the powerful propulsion of your body forward with each stride. Strong quadriceps muscles are essential for generating speed and maintaining an efficient running gait.


On the back of your thighs, you’ll find the hamstrings, which play a crucial role in running. These muscles contract to flex the knee and extend the hip, providing power and stability during each stride. Proper conditioning of the hamstring muscles is important to prevent injuries such as strains or pulls that can occur when they are weak or imbalanced.


Your gluteal muscles, including the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus, are the powerhouse muscles of the lower body. These muscles extend the hip, allowing for powerful propulsion and forward movement when running. Strong and activated glutes also provide stability to the pelvis, reducing the risk of hip, knee, and lower back injuries.


The muscles in your calves, consisting of the gastrocnemius and soleus, are heavily involved in running. These muscles are responsible for plantar flexion, pushing off the ground with each stride and propelling your body forward. Well-conditioned calf muscles are essential for speed, endurance, and overall running performance.

Hip Flexors

The hip flexor muscles, including the iliopsoas and rectus femoris, play a crucial role in running as they assist in leg extension and hip flexion. These muscles allow your legs to move forward with each stride and provide stability to the pelvis. Strengthening and maintaining flexibility in the hip flexor muscles can improve your running efficiency and prevent imbalances that can lead to injuries.

Hip Stabilizer Muscles

Hip Abductors

The hip abductor muscles, including the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, are important in stabilizing the pelvis during running. These muscles prevent excessive hip adduction and maintain proper alignment of the legs. Strong hip abductor muscles help prevent common running injuries such as iliotibial band syndrome and knee pain.

Hip Adductors

The hip adductor muscles, located on the inside of the thighs, also play a role in hip stability during running. These muscles control the movement of the legs towards each other and help in maintaining proper alignment. Weak or imbalanced hip adductors can lead to an increased risk of groin strains and other lower body injuries.

What Muscles Are Activated When Running

Thigh Muscles


As mentioned earlier, the quadriceps muscles are an essential part of the thigh muscles and are heavily engaged in running. These muscles work together to extend the knee joint and contribute to the propulsion of the body forward during each stride. Strengthening and conditioning your quadriceps is crucial to improve running performance and prevent muscle imbalances.


The hamstrings, located on the back of the thighs, are another important group of muscles in this area. These muscles assist in knee flexion and hip extension, playing a key role in running efficiency and power generation. Proper conditioning and flexibility of the hamstrings are important for reducing the risk of injuries and improving overall running performance.

Adductor Muscles

The adductor muscles, located on the inside of the thighs, are also involved in running. These muscles assist in hip adduction and contribute to leg stability during each stride. Strengthening the adductor muscles can help prevent strains and imbalances, ensuring optimal running mechanics and reducing the risk of injuries.

Calf Muscles


The gastrocnemius is the larger calf muscle that plays a vital role in running. This muscle is responsible for plantar flexion, allowing you to push off the ground with each stride. The gastrocnemius is highly active during running and helps generate the propulsion needed for forward movement.


The soleus muscle, located beneath the gastrocnemius, is also involved in running. This muscle assists the gastrocnemius in plantar flexion but relies more on endurance than power. Strengthening and conditioning both the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles can help improve your running speed, endurance, and overall performance.

What Muscles Are Activated When Running

Foot Muscles

Plantar Flexors

The muscles responsible for plantar flexion are primarily located in the calf, but there are also smaller muscles in the foot that assist in this movement. These muscles, such as the flexor hallucis longus and the flexor digitorum longus, contribute to the push-off phase of running. Strong and flexible foot muscles are essential for optimal propulsion and balance during each stride.


In contrast to the plantar flexors, the dorsiflexors are responsible for pulling the foot towards the shin. These upper foot muscles, including the tibialis anterior, are important in maintaining proper foot and ankle position during running. Strengthening the dorsiflexors can help prevent common running injuries such as shin splints and improve overall running form.

Shin Muscles

Tibialis Anterior

The tibialis anterior, located on the front of the shin, is primarily responsible for dorsiflexion and controlling foot movement during running. This muscle helps lift the foot, especially during the swing phase of running, preventing the toes from dragging and ensuring proper foot clearance. A strong and activated tibialis anterior is crucial for stable and efficient running mechanics.

What Muscles Are Activated When Running


Glutes and Calves Contract

During running, the glutes and calf muscles contract dynamically to generate power and propel the body forward. As the glutes extend the hip, the calf muscles contribute to plantar flexion, resulting in a powerful push-off. The coordinated contraction of these muscles is essential for efficient and effective running mechanics.


Numerous muscles are actively engaged when you go for a run. From the upper body muscles like the chest, shoulders, arms, and back, to the core muscles including the abdominals, obliques, and lower back, all contribute to stability and coordination. The lower body muscles, comprising the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and hip flexors, generate power and provide propulsion with each stride. Additionally, the hip stabilizer muscles, thigh muscles, foot muscles, and shin muscles help maintain alignment, stability, and proper foot movement. With all these muscles working together, running becomes a dynamic and whole-body workout that not only improves cardiovascular fitness but also strengthens and conditions various muscle groups. So, lace up those running shoes and get ready to engage your entire body as you hit the pavement!

What Muscles Are Activated When Running

By Harold P

Having spent years in the tech industry as a product tester and reviewer, Harold has honed his skills in critically analyzing products and providing unbiased, insightful assessments. His keen eye for detail and genuine enthusiasm for technology drive him to seek out the best products that not only meet the consumers' needs but also exceed their expectations.