Although most people think of running as a leg workout, the truth is it engages all of your lower-body muscles. In fact, proper running is highly dependent on your spine and abdominal muscles. If you're trying to tone your abdominal area, running will also help burn calories so your abdominal muscles are more visible. Otherwise, if you have any excess of fat in your midsection, you'll never see those muscles -- no matter how many crunches you do.
Major Muscles Used in Running
The primary muscles used in running are the ones you would expect: the muscles of the legs and glutes. In particular, running engages the quadriceps femoris -- the quad muscles in the front of your upper legs -- and the hamstrings, which run behind your knee. These are the muscles engaged in the bending of the knee as you run. The glutes and hips also play an important role in running, so the muscles associated with those parts of the body -- such as the gluteus maximus and the hip flexors -- are also heavily engaged during running.
The abdominal muscles are considered supporting muscles during running. This means they don't play the main role in the running process, but they do get involved during your workout. Both the upper and the lower abdominals play a role in running. Abdominal muscles are part of your core -- the muscles in your lower back are also considered core muscles -- which gets a lot of play when you run. For example, proper running requires you to keep proper posture; otherwise, you risk injuring your spine or ending your workout with pain or soreness. Strengthening your abdominal muscles with crunches and other activities will help increase your core power and improve your posture, so you can run better and use energy more efficiently.
Engaging Your Abs
According to the Washington Running Report, you can improve your technique and reduce risk of injury by engaging your abdominal muscles while you run. To do this, tighten the abdominal muscles, as if you were trying to pull your navel toward your spine. This puts tension on the abdominal area and releases tension placed on the lower back and pelvis area, according to the report.
Running or Abdominals -- What Comes First?
While running engages your abdominal muscles, you shouldn't use running as an ab workout. In fact, if you're a regular runner, you should be doing additional abdominal work to ensure your abs are strong. This in turn will help your back and spine. Running alone is not enough of an abs workout to give you toned, hard abs, so if you were hoping for a workout routine that addresses both your cardio and your abdominal toning, running is not the answer. Combining running with crunches, though, could be an excellent way to keep your midsection in shape.
Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.