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3 muscles getting a workout while you walk

We can all feel our leg muscles building up as we go on our walks each day – and, of course, here at the Heart Foundation we talk most about the impact of walking on our heart (technically a muscular organ).
But as you walk, your body is benefitting in many different ways and your muscles are working in ways you might not expect. Here are 3 muscles which help you to walk and benefit from your daily exercise.  
1.    Glutes or the muscles of the buttocks
There should be no surprise that the Gluteus maximus, the largest of the glute muscles that helps extend the leg, is involved in walking. It is responsible for slowing down the leg as our foot strikes the ground.
However, it is the role of the smaller glute muscles which is most interesting. The gluteus medius and minimus, located deeper in the hip, work to pull the leg sideways away from the body and help control the position of the pelvis. During walking they have an important role in keeping the pelvis stable when our body-weight is on one leg.(3)

2.    The back muscles

Of the back muscles the ones that we are most interested in are the erector spinae muscles. This group of muscles are either side of the spine and run from the base of the skull all the way down to the pelvis. These muscles help us to stand up from a crouched position, lean back and stabilise the spine during motion. (4) During walking the erector spinae muscles work to control the movements of the trunk. (5)
3.    The abdominal muscles
This group of muscles is between the ribs and sternum and extends down to the pelvis – and includes the muscle commonly referred to as the ‘six-pack’. These muscles help rotate the body and will help us to sit or stand from lying. Much like the back muscles, the abdominal muscles help control the movement of the trunk during motion.

There are more muscles that we could discuss however the key message is walking is an excellent exercise to work most of your body. To get the most out of your walking and use your muscles correctly remember these walking tips:

  • Walk Tall. Try not to hunch while walking and keep your spine long
  • Look ahead. Keeping your eyes on the path in front of you rather than looking down will reduce the pressure on your neck.
  • Gentle arm swing. Your arms should swing forward and backwards like a pendulum from the shoulders as you walk.
  • Walk Softly. Aim for a soft landing as you roll from the heel onto the rest of your foot.
  1. Peterson K, Herbert J, Allender S, Nichols M. Australian heart disease statistics. Physical activity and cardiovascular disease. Melbourne: National Heart Foundation of Australia, 2016
  2. Hanson s, Jones A. “Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis”, Br J Sports Med 2015; 49:710–715.
  3. Jones O. “Walking and Gaits”, TeachMe Anatomy, available at, accessed 25/06/19
  4. Mansfield PJ, Neumann DA, “Erector Spinae Muscles”, Science Direct, available at, accessed 25/06/19
  5. Ceccato J-C, de Se`ze M, Azevedo C, Cazalets J-R (2009) Comparison of Trunk Activity during Gait Initiation and Walking in Humans. PLoS ONE 4(12): e8193. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008193