The Many Benefits of Strong Calf Muscles
We’re used to being advised to strengthen our glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps (thigh muscles) but the calf muscles seem to be unfairly overlooked – illogical when we consider how dependent we are on them for so many movements, from passive standing to explosive jumping.
The calf comprises two main muscles: the superficial gastrocnemius and the deeper soleus. These muscles unite to form the Achilles tendon, which attaches onto the back of the heel.
The calf muscles provide stability in the ankles and feet. They absorb load with every step we take and provide the propulsive force behind actions like running, jumping and making quick changes of direction. They are also key in preventing injury of the knees, ankles and feet.
When we’re young bad training habits don’t always lead to injury, but eventually they catch up with us. Many of my clients start to feel niggles as they enter “middle age” despite not changing their training schedules. Unsurprisingly age-related deterioration of the calf muscles can lead to a variety of lower limb injuries. Luckily, strengthening the calf muscles can offset this decline and improve our chances of remaining injury free.
Whatever your age, there are multiple benefits of calf strengthening, including:
- Running faster due to greater propulsive power
- Running longer – increased endurance
- Running with a more consistent pace
- Jumping higher
There are many injuries that can be prevented if you have good calf strength. These include:
- Calf strains
- Ankle sprains
- Achilles tendinitis
- Plantar fasciitis (heel pain)
- Medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints)
- Patellofemoral (knee) pain
- Other tendinopathies of the knee, ankle and foot
- Stress fractures
There are countless exercises to strengthen the calf muscles. Here are just a few ideas:
Straight leg calf raises
Start with both feet on the ground near a wall to hold on to. Keeping your weight over all the toes evenly, raise your heels and go onto your toes as high as you can. SLOWLY lower down to the ground. Repeat.
Repetitions: begin with 3 sets of x 10, progressing to 3 sets of 15-20.
Try doing the same but on one leg.
Bent leg calf raises
Exactly as above but this time with a slight bend in the knees. This version specifically works the soleus.
Skipping (easier) or hopping (harder)
For a more dynamic calf workout that replicates the actions when running and jumping, try skipping or hopping over a distance of 20 metres. Repeat three times.
For more calf strengthening exercises check these out on Runners World
So, runners, sportsmen and women, don’t neglect the calves. You’ll quickly start to feel faster and stronger with just a couple of strengthening sessions a week.
If you have an acute lower limb injury, make sure you get it checked by a medical professional before embarking on a calf strengthening regime.