All runners have strong legs right? well yes, but some times they type of running you do impacts the amount of development you see in your leg muscles. The calf muscle is one area where this is most pronounced. Sprinters use explosive speed to get ahead of their competitors, leading to larger calf muscles Long distance runners don’t use that explosive power as much and their calves tend to be lean and toned. Trail runners tend to fall in the middle because of the mountains they climb.
Our calf is composed of two muscles the inner and outer. These muscles extend and flex to control our foot movement as we land and push off. They absorb a lot of impact and put a spring in our step. Our calf is attached to the Achilles tendon, which as we all know, can be a problematic and temperamental little tendon. Calf strain/pulls are one of the most common injuries runners experience. Usually the place that it injured is where the calf muscles are inserted into the achilles tendon. Having weak or tight calf muscles can lead to ruptures, strains, and tears in this favorite tendon. Your calf also helps stabilize your ankle and your knee. As this wasn’t enough for the calf to do, it also helps with blood flow. When it flexes it pushes blood back to the heart, when it relaxes blood flows back into the calf to be propelled up with the next flexation.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how we can strengthen our calves, we’re going to lean about two stretches for the calf because of the potential injury to the achilles if this is neglected. To stretch the calf properly, you need to stretch both the inner and outer muscle. Stretch ONE: Stand at your arm’s length from a wall(facing the wall) and step back with one foot. Put your hands on the wall and lean your chest toward the wall, keeping the leg that’s extended straight. Hold for 30-40 seconds and do the other side. Do both sides twice. Stretch TWO: Stay in the same position, but move the back leg forward about 6 inches and bend your knees (the back more than the font). Keep your heel on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds and then do the other side. Do both sides twice. Whenever you are stretching, stop before it is painful. You should feel tightness but not pain. You can tear your muscles and even rupture them if you use too much force. Stretching your calf muscles everyday is a good idea, especially if you can take the five minutes after a run and do it. For all my Yoga runners, down dog is a great way to stretch your calves.
Regardless of which body part you are trying to strengthen, as a runner, you don’t want bulk. It slows you down. Because of this, we train with lighter weights or body weight and higher repetitions. Complete three sets with 10-15 repetitions of each of these, unless it gives a time and then do three sets of that time. If you aren’t able to do the full set that’s fine just back off to where you are and move forward again. We all start somewhere.
- Farmer’s Walk on toes sixty seconds.
- Eccentric Calf Raise
- Jump squats (make sure your muscles are warm before doing any plyometric aka explosive exercises)
How to do:
- Farmers walk: hold a pair of dumbbells straight down at your sides. Rise up on your toes and walk forward while standing tall. This is the one exception to using light weight. You want to have pretty heavy weight here.
- Eccentric calf raise: stand on a step with your heels hanging over. Rise up on your toes and then slowly(ten second count) sink down until your heels are below the step.
- Jump squat: stand tall with your feet a little more than shoulder width apart. Toes should be turned out a bit. Hold your arms out in front of you, squat down, pushing your butt back while keeping your upper body tall. Try to lower your but below the knees if you can, but don’t skip this if you can’t. Now explode up as high as you can and land softly.
Your calves are pretty important when it comes to running, but they don’t have to look big to be strong.