Most Important Muscles for Runners to Strengthen
Running is an amazing way to stay fit and healthy, as well as for fueling someone’s competitive nature. But, it’s also important to make sure you are strengthening the right muscles in order to maximize your performance and prevent injury. Knowing which muscles are most important for runners can help you target them more effectively during workouts.
More and more research and evidence are found showing the benefit on performance for runners when strength training. But the question is, what do you focus on? During this post, I’m going to guide you with the most important muscles for runners to strengthen in order to give you a starting point on your strength journey.
The Importance of Strength Training for Runners
Running takes strength. Many runners used to shy away from strength training for fear of it making them heavy and bulky, effectively slowing them down. We now know that this just isn’t the case. In fact, strength training not only helps prevent injury in runners but also makes you a better runner.
A review was done in 2017 by Blagrove et al on the effects of strength training on middle and long-distance running performance. The review found that the evidence shows for the most part that strength training just 2-3 times per week can have a positive effect on running economy, time trial performance, and anaerobic parameters. (1)
Related Article:How to Deadlift for Better Running and Less Pain
Identifying the Most Important Muscles to Strengthen as a Runner
During the loading phase in running, when you put your foot on the ground, the main muscle groups at work are the calves, quads (and other hip flexors), and glutes. The hamstrings are active and critical eccentrically during the late swing phase.
This means that in order to be a strong runner, you need to have strong muscles throughout the entire lower body.
The calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes are the main muscles that need to be strengthened in order to become a stronger runner. The hamstrings also play an important role in running as they help to drive you forward as you run, so it’s important to not neglect them when strength training.
But wait, doesn’t that sound like pretty much all the main muscle groups and patterns in the lower body?
Yes. It does.
In fact, I don’t really believe there are any muscles that are more important than others when it comes to strength training in runners.
Related Article: How to Strengthen the Posterior Chain
What about the “core” Muscles for Runners?
The “core” is typically referring to the group of muscles in the abdominals. For many years there has been a huge focus on core strengthening as the “miracle” exercise for pretty much everything. But core exercises are pretty overrated in a lot of ways.
A systematic review by Martuscello et al in 2013 found that the focus should be placed on multi-joint, free-weight exercises in athletes rather than “core” specific work to train the core. They found that multi-joint exercises with free weights were more beneficial for runners and athletes in improving strength and performance. (2)
Tips on How to Incorporate Strength Training into your Running Routine
As the review from Blagrove et al states, adding in strength training 2-3 times per week is sufficient for improvements in key performance metrics for middle and long-distance runners.
The key is to focus on exercises that work the entire body, not just one area. This allows you to build strength evenly throughout your muscles and prevents any imbalances or weaknesses from developing.
Most importantly, be consistent with your strength training routine and make sure to rest between sessions.
Programming strength training can seem confusing, and there are many different schools of thought on how to do it. Some recommend not lifting on or before hard running workouts, so lift on easy days. Others prefer to do all their “hard” workouts on the same day that way they can keep the easy days easy. The research also seems to be a little split with no clear winner. In the end, do what feels best for you and keeps you consistent!
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Wrap-up on Top Muscles to Strengthen as Runners
In conclusion, strengthening the calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes is essential for runners to improve their performance. While core exercises may have been thought of as a “miracle” exercise in the past, studies now suggest that multi-joint free-weight exercises should be favored instead.
To get the most out of strength training it is important to be consistent with your routine, ensure appropriate rest between sessions, and find what works best for you. By following these tips and focusing on building strong muscles throughout your entire lower body you will soon become an even stronger runner!
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All information should be used as a tool for more knowledge on the subject topic, to use as references for later articles where applicable, or just to keep it in mind during future exercise routines or activities.
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References for Most Important Muscles for Runners
- Blagrove, R.C., Howatson, G. & Hayes, P.R. Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med 48, 1117–1149 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0835-7
- Martuscello JM, Nuzzo JL, Ashley CD, Campbell BI, Orriola JJ, Mayer JM. Systematic review of core muscle activity during physical fitness exercises. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jun;27(6):1684-98. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318291b8da. PMID: 23542879.
Key Muscles to Strengthen for Runners
Dr. Abby Siler, PT, DPT is a Physical Therapist with 10 years of experience in a variety of settings. She has spent the majority of her time treating athletes in orthopedic clinics and worker’s compensation cases. She is a runner herself for the past 15 years and a lifelong athlete. Dr. Abby loves to teach runners how to stay injury free and out of her clinic.