Updated: Jun 7
Would you like to reduce your risk of Achilles tendon injury due to running? Strength training reduces overuse injuries by up to 50%. Knowing which muscles are involved in running forms the basis for a perfect to-do list for strength training to prevent Achilles and other injuries. Remember, if you need help with an Achilles injury, you're welcome to consult one of our team via video call.
The terms tendinitis, tendonitis, tendinosis, and tendinopathy mean the same thing for all practical purposes, and we use these interchangeably in most of our articles.
In this article:
I've also discussed it in detail in this video:
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 role of the Achilles tendon in running
Running can be split into two main phases: the swing-through phase, where your foot is off the ground, and the loading phase, where your foot hits the ground and bears the weight of the body (see pic below). Each of these two phases are broken up into several sub-phases. The Achilles tendon works hardest during the toe off/propulsion phase towards the end of the loading phase, as shown in the picture.
The Achilles is the tendon that attaches the larger calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) to the back of the ankle on the heel bone. Their job is to point your toes (plantar flexion – see bottom foot in the picture above). When you run, the Achilles tendon stores energy like a spring and then releases it (in the propulsive phase) as you push off forwards.
During running, forces of up to two or three times your body weight can go through the Achilles tendon. It needs to be strong and healthy to help your body to handle the training loads you need 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).
Which muscle groups should your strengthen?
Researchers have identified the most important muscles to strengthen when we’re looking at spreading the load of running and supporting your Achilles tendon. These are your calves, quads, hamstrings, glute med, and glute max.
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 shape and size, strength and fitness levels, previous injuries, and lifestyles. We also have different goals, which can vary from completing a 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.
How we can help
Need help with your Achilles injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at TMA online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.
We're all UK Chartered Physiotherapists with Master’s Degrees related to Sports & Exercise Medicine. But at Treat My Achilles we don't just value qualifications; all of us also have a wealth of experience working with athletes across a broad variety of sports, ranging from recreationally active people to professional athletes. You can meet the team here.
About the Author:
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.