Running involves the coordination of hundreds of muscles, but some are more critical than others. Read more to learn which three muscles Coach Adam Hodges believes are the most important running muscles.
Running, like any physical activity, involves coordination among a group of muscles to propel you forward. So singling out one of those muscles as the “most important” risks oversimplifying the process. Yet certain muscles do play a more important role than others in running. And they may not be the ones that first pop into your mind.
In this article, I put forth three candidates for the most important running muscle designation. Although other muscles are also important, these three muscles deserve special attention partly because runners and triathletes living a modern lifestyle often fail to adequately strengthen and use them. This means they tend to be underutilized in relation to their importance. So here are the muscles along with some exercises to increase strength and mobility.
Running engages a group of muscles known as the posterior chain. The prime driver of the posterior chain is the gluteus maximus, or your butt muscle. This muscle initiates hip extension, which is the essence of running. In addition to the gluteus maximus, the gluteus minimus and medius also get into the action with the medius playing an important role in stabilizing the hips during running.
Many runners and triathletes suffer from weak or inactive glutes due, in part, from the modern lifestyle that involves substantial amounts of sitting. All that time sitting at a desk or in a car puts your glutes to sleep. This “sleepy glute” syndrome negatively impacts your running and cycling because the prime muscles that drive the posterior chain go missing in action.
Use the Donkey Kicks exercise to strengthen and activate your glutes. Get on your hands and knees. Keep your back straight, flat and still. Squeeze the glute to move one leg back and slightly to the side (like a donkey kicking). Note: the movement should be initiated from the glute (butt), not the lower back. If you feel the lower back working instead, start with smaller movements until you can increase the range of extension. Do 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.
Effective running requires excellent posture, and a prime muscle responsible for maintaining good posture is the transversus abdominus (TVA), or your deep abdominals. This muscle wraps around and stabilizes your core much like a corset or girdle.