How Leg Workouts for Runners Work

Leg Muscles Used in Running

To understand how leg workouts can benefit runners, it helps to have a basic knowledge of the muscles in your legs and how they work together. Nearly all the leg muscles are used in running. By strengthening each group, you will improve your running form and balance.

As you move your leg forward, you use mainly the quadricep muscles at the front of your thigh. They bend your hip and straighten your knee. The quads also stabilize the knee and help absorb the shock of impact as you land.


As your body moves forward, the action switches to your hamstrings, the muscles at the back of your thigh, which straighten your hip and begin to bend your knee. The hamstrings also work to help you lift your knee behind you.

At the same time, the muscles of your lower leg, the soleus (inner calf) and gastrocnemius (outer calf) extend and flex each foot as you land and push off. These muscles also help absorb impact and give your stride spring.

In addition to these primary running muscles, several other muscle groups play a role in running form and are important to include in your leg workouts. The gluteal muscles form the buttocks. They help extend the hip, straightening it beneath you. Just as important, they stabilize the trunk and keep you upright. Strong glutes contribute to good running form and alignment.

The hip muscles are also important. Because they lie deeper than hamstrings and quads, they are often neglected in workouts. Hip flexors and extenders work with the quads and hamstrings to move the legs forward and back. The hip rotator muscles stabilize the hip joint and contribute to good running form.

Your leg workouts should be aimed at strengthening all these muscles and achieving overall development, especially where opposing groups are concerned. Exercises aimed at the quadriceps, for example, should be balanced by a hamstring workout.

Read on to learn how some simple exercises that you can do at home can strengthen the muscles and improve your running form.