How do I strengthen my calves for running?

How do I strengthen my calves for running?

I would love to know what your own calf workout is like if you wish to comment below. There are several physiotherapy approaches we can take for this population such as training load monitoring or gait retraining, but I have been inspired after listening to Kevin Lieberthal this week and thought I would discuss strengthening!

Your calf complex consists of two muscle groups, your gastrocneimius which is predominantly engaged when you stand up on your toes with straight knees and your soleus which engages with a bent knee. This is extremely important because isolating the soleus is frequently ignored, but plays a crucial role for runners. This week Kevin referenced a study called ‘Muscular strategy shift in human running, Tim Dorn 2012’ which shows at several different running speeds your soleus works anywhere between 6-8 times your bodyweight! In comparison your gastrocneimius which ranges 2-3 times bodyweight.

So now I have got that message across, let’s talk about strengthening tips:

  • Heavy load: If you have access to some heavy dumbbells or a bar you can simply sit on a bench, put a heavy weight on the thigh towards the knee and start doing calf raises. As we discussed above if your knee is bent you are favouring the soleus muscle. With a heavy weight you should feel fatigued after about 8 reps, perform 4-5 sets.
  • Quick tempo work: This was a great tip that Kevin caught me which will work well for those recovering calf clients. Performing standing single leg calf raises while holding onto a wall to different tempos can be a great way to rehabilitate the calf. A metronome app on your phone can be handy. Once the tempo gets higher than 80 the movement will be too quick for the heel to touch the floor, that’s okay. Sets of 30-60 seconds will condition the calves nicely.
  • Elastic recoil work: More explosive, plyometric activity will help build up that strong spring that we need for running. Higher level athletes will benefit from drop squat jumps. From a raised platform drop to the floor into a half squat and recoil the body into an explosive vertical jump onto a higher platform. Higher repetition ranges of 12-15 will be ideal but work within your ability level.

So 3 tips for you. If you are lacking in one of these areas I recommend implementing it into your strengthening routine.

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