With the winter sports season fast approaching it is essential to make sure we are doing everything to minimise injury risk and rehabilitate our injuries correctly. Too often do I see running related sports participants come into the clinic with persistent calf tightness, calf muscle tears, achilles tendon pain or even shin “splints” who have weak and poor calf function that is driving a lot of their pain.
A major risk factor for these types of injuries is lack of calf strength, capacity and power.
Due to the demands of their chosen activity – whether it be walking , running or football – the calf needs to have to ability to tolerate the stress going through the lower leg. The calf propels us forwards during walking / running and jumping and acts as a shock absorber for bones and other connective tissue in the lower leg.
The calf complex is made up two portions;
- the gastrocnemius (the thicker and bulkier muscle)
- the soleus (the deeper calf muscle)
The gastrocnemius can take around 1-2 x your body weight during running and is normally simply trained by a straight legged calf raise ( heel raise). However the soleus can take up to 8 x your body weight!! .. and can be trained simply by bending the knee during the calf raise (see video below).
Too often do I see people neglecting the soleus in rehab and prehab exercise programs, when it is arguably the most important muscle in running related sports! Exercises to strengthen the soleus muscle should be included in all strength routines by the everyday population , runners and sporting teams to reduce the likelihood of foot, ankle and calf related pain. It also needs to stress the calf adequately so the amount of load going through it is enough to mimic the demands of your activity.