As a physical therapist, I see many female athletes for post injury rehab. I have noticed that a lot of them don’t know where certain muscles are located on their bodies. When I say, “Now we’re going to stretch your hamstrings,” they ask me, “Is that the one on the front or the back?” I can’t say that this is limited to adolescent athletes, either. I have had just as many middle aged athletes, or those that may be called “weekend warriors,” ask me the same questions.
I don’t know why there is a knowledge gap between men and women when it comes to knowing which muscles are where and what they do. The only thing I can think of is that men are usually introduced to weight training earlier and more often than women.
So, because of these experiences I have decided to write a short series on the basic muscle groups in the body and what they do. I will try to keep it as basic as possible. This first one will address the muscles of the legs, or what are called the lower extremities. Let’s start from the top down.
Muscles Of The Hip And Pelvis
Psoas Major: This muscle lies on the front of your hip. Its main purpose is to flex your hip to bring your knee towards your chest. It is commonly referred to as your hip flexor.
Gluteus Maximus: This muscle lies on the back of your hip and pelvis. It is the large muscle that makes up the buttocks. I’m sure many of you have heard of it. It is responsible for extending your hip, kicking your leg straight back behind you. It is also instrumental in keeping your body upright when you’re standing.
Gluteus Medius: This is the muscle on the outside of your hip. It is responsible for abducting your hip to move your leg sideways away from your body. This is the muscle that you’re working on when you’re doing those old fashioned leg lifts laying on your side. If you haven’t done them, you know you’ve seen your mother doing them at one point in time.
Muscles Of The Thigh
Quadriceps Femoris: This is a group of four muscles that are on the front of your thigh. This muscle group, frequently referred to as your Quads, extends your knee to straighten it out.
Hamstrings: This is a group of three muscles that are mainly responsible for bending your knee to bring your heel towards your buttocks. This muscle also helps to extend your hip.
Tensor Fasciae Latae/Iliotibial Band: These run on the outside of your thigh from your hip to your knee and assist with abducting your hip. Some of you may have heard of the Iliotibial Band or IT Band before. If the IT Band is tight it can contribute to patellofemoral pain.
Adductors: These are three muscles that adduct your hip to pull your leg in toward the other one. If you squeeze your knees together, you are effectively adducting your hip. This is usually what is injured in people that complain of a groin strain.
Muscles Of The Lower Leg
Tibialis Anterior: This is the meaty muscle on the front of your shin bone or tibia. Its main action is to dorsiflex your ankle to bend your foot up towards your head.
Gastrocnemius and Soleus: These two muscles together make up your calf muscle on the back of your lower leg and turn into your Achilles tendon at the back of your heel. They are responsible for plantar flexing your ankle to push your foot down letting you rise up onto your toes. In addition, the Gastrocnemius assists in flexing your knee.
Tibialis Posterior: This is a very deep muscle that partly lies on the back surface of your shin bone, or tibia, and runs behind the inner ankle bone before attaching on the inner aspect of your foot. It helps your calf muscle plantarflex your ankle and inverts your ankle to turn your foot inward. It is also important in maintaining an arched foot when you’re walking or running. Basically, it helps to prevent pronation, which is the flattening of your arch when you’re on your feet. This is the muscle usually responsible for shin splints.
Peroneals: These are two muscles that are on the outside of your lower leg and are responsible for everting your foot to turn your foot outwards. It also helps your calf muscle plantarflex your ankle.
There you have it…the muscles of the legs. Obviously this can get much more complicated, but I tried to keep it as basic and understandable as possible. There are some smaller muscles that I left out because i was trying to focus on the most common muscle groups.
Whether you’re an athlete, or someone just trying to stay in shape, I hope this helps with understanding which muscles you are stretching or strengthening next time you are working out your legs. It may also help you figure out which muscles are responsible for making you sore next time you over do it at the gym or on the field. Stay tuned for part 2.