Key muscles a runner can strengthen to reduce the risk of Achilles pain

Updated: Apr 17, 2019

Would you like to reduce the chance of injury? Strength training reduces overuse injuries by up to 50%. But what muscles should you strengthen? If you know what muscles are involved in running, then that can give a perfect to do list for strength training to prevent injury! It will also help you understand why Achilles pain can occur when these muscles aren’t strong enough.



Many muscles are involved in the complex movement of running. Some of the main ones (glutes, quads, hamstrings, calf) are shown below. Others include your hip flexors and those in your shin and toes.


The phases of running


Running can be split into 2 main phases: the swing-through phase where the leg is in the air and the loading phase where your foot hits the ground and takes the weight of the body (see pic below). Each of these 2 phases are also broken up into several subdivisions. The Achilles tendon works hardest during the toe off/propulsion phase towards the end of the loading phase.



The Achilles is the tendon that attaches the larger calf muscles (Gastrocnemius and Soleus) to the back of the ankle on the heel bone. Its job is to point your toes (plantar flexion). When you run the Achilles tendon stores energy like a spring would and then releases it (in the propulsive phase) as you push off forwards.


During running, forces of up to 2-3 times your bodyweight in load can be placed on the Achilles tendon. It needs to be strong and healthy to help your body to take the training loads you need in order to hit your running goals.


The quads, calf and gluteal muscles are all active during the loading phase of running. The hamstrings tend to work more towards the end of the swing phase (with some help from the glute max).



What muscle groups should your strengthen?


Research has identified the most important muscles to strength train are your calves, quads, hamstrings, glute med and glute max when we’re looking at spreading the load of running and supporting your Achilles tendon.


What exercises should you do? These will vary greatly for each person as everyone has a different starting point. For example we all differ with regards to our health, what medication we take, body shapes and sizes, strength and fitness levels, previous injuries and lifestyles. We also have different goals which can vary from completing the couch to 5k, running for mental health or competing in ultra-marathons. It’s important to start these exercises at the right level and build them to what is needed for you.


Let me know if you have any questions. If you have tendon pain, Maryke and I are specialists in this and we provide an online service where we can assess you via video call and prescribe the correct exercises for you.

Best wishes

Ali



About the Author:

Alison Gould is a chartered physiotherapist and holds an MSc in Sports and Exercise Medicine. You can follow her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.



References:

  1. Erickson TM. The benefits of strength training for endurance athletes.

  2. Hamner SR, Seth A, Delp SL. Muscle contributions to propulsion and support during running. Journal of biomechanics 2010;43(14):2709-16.

  3. Lauersen, Jeppe Bo, Ditte Marie Bertelsen, and Lars Bo Andersen. "The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials." Br J Sports Med 48.11 (2014): 871-877.

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