The importance of calf strengthening exercises in running when it comes to increasing your lower body strength, getting faster or more agile is really important. We instantly think about the big players in our legs, muscles like your glutes, quads and hamstrings. Although nearly all of your leg muscles are used in running, your calves are particularly important.
Finnish scientists measured the overall muscle effort of runner’s legs whilst running and surprisingly, the overall effort of the calves was 25% higher than of the quads.
The soleus (inner calf) and gastrocnemius (outer calf) extend and flex each foot during landing and as you push off. They also as act as shock absorbers. Absorbing the impact and literally putting the spring into your stride. Your calf muscle is actually made up of two muscles – the gastrocnemius and the soleus.
The larger and bulkier of the two is the gastrocnemius. This runs from just above your knee and inserts via the Achilles tendon onto your heel. This muscle gives the calf its shape and is responsible for pointing the ankle toward the ground, and bending the knee joint.
The gastrocnemius is able to deliver considerable power. It can contribute to a significant amount of propulsive strength when running. The smaller soleus muscle also helps flex your ankle and create propulsion. It has a greater role in stabilisation by keeping the tibia over your heel bone.
The majority of your muscle is made up of slow twitch fibresand as a result the soleus is the workhorse in endurance/long distance running.
What is the role of the Calf in Running?
When you run loads of up to 3-8 x your body weight is absorbed by your skeletal system. Your calf complex is the first contact point and has a significant role in dissipating the force and helping you move over your foot like a rocker. When your muscles are not strong enough to manage and absorb this force you may find they get tight.
Weaker calf muscles also place runners at a higher risk of Achilles tendon overuse injuries as there is greater stress being placed on the tendon (Nele et al, 2006).Not only do strength gains reduce injury risk but have also been shown to improve performance over a 3km time trial.
How to increase Calf strength?
Firstly you can add a specific strength exercise programme to your weekly planning, starting with twice a week.
You would start with only your body weight with high reps and sets and then start to build into higher weight and lower reps. Then your aim is to add eccentric loading and plyometric exercises to your programme.
Examples for your Calf strengthening
Calf raises (3 dif angles)
Ecc loading (Step)