Which Muscles Are Vital To Strengthen For Distance Running?

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Personal/Fitness Training Blog

Running is a fantastic cardio workout. However in order to make sure that you are getting the most of it, and preventing injury, you need to combine it with strength training and bodyweight workouts.

Running, as with any physical activity, involves coordination among a group of muscles in order to push you forward. So isolating out one of those muscles as the “most essential” risks oversimplifying the process. However, specific muscles do play a more vital role as opposed to others in running. And they could not be the ones that first pop into your mind.


A strong core is the basis for running. Your core muscles are the ones which are keeping you upright as well as making sure that you maintain a very good posture during the run.

One of the absolute best exercises to strengthen your core, even if you’ve only recently started to run, is plank holds. For running, planks – that involve multiple muscle groups – work better than something like crunches.

Mountain climbers and advance plank holds are good exercises as well because these involve getting on your elbows and then coming into a push-up position. You can also do side planks.


Running is responsible for engaging a group of muscles which is known as the posterior chain. The main driver of the posterior chain is the gluteus maximus, or your bum muscle. This muscle instigates hip extension, which is the basis of running. As well as the gluteus maximus, the gluteus minimus as well as medius also get into the action with the medius playing a very important role in stabilising the hips during running.

Many runners – as well as triathletes – suffer from weak or inactive glutes owing, in part, from the modern lifestyle which involves substantial amounts of sitting. All that time you spend sitting at a desk or in a car puts your glutes to sleep. This “sleepy glute” syndrome impacts your running and cycling negatively as the prime muscles which drive the posterior chain go missing.

Use the Donkey Kicks exercise in order to strengthen as well as activate your glutes:

  • Get on your hands and knees. Make sure that you maintain your back in a straight position, flat as well as still.
  • Squeeze the glutes in order to move one leg back and slightly to the side (like a donkey kicking). Note that the movement should be initiated from the glutes (butt), not the lower back.
  • If you feel the lower back working, begin with smaller movements until you are able to increase the range of extension. Do 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

Leg Muscles

Hamstrings, quadriceps as well as calves take a lot of load while running. While the quads assist in straightening and extending your leg, the hamstrings assist in flexing the knee. Exercises such as squats – including variations like sumo squat, single-leg squat, weighted squat – will assist strengthen the leg muscles as well as the glutes.

It is often observed that runners’ hamstrings are weaker as opposed to their quads. One of the best exercises for this is hamstring curl on the exercise ball. The calves, meanwhile, help you push off from the ground. You can jump rope or do calf raises to strengthen your calves.

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