Why do runners need strong calves?
The calf muscle is responsible for pushing off the ground when running, with demand increasing at higher speeds & uphill terrain. Therefore, with a stronger calf complex, a runner will be able to tolerate faster speeds and greater mileage without injury. Additionally, a stronger calf has been found to reduce the risk of conditions including shin splints, achilles pain & plantar fasciitis. But what is the best way to strengthen the calves for running?
How to build calf strength:
Muscles within the human body require different demands. The first is muscle endurance, which requires the muscle to switch on for long periods of time. This seems logical for an endurance runner pumping their leg muscles sometimes for several hours. The next is muscle strength, required for slow but heavy work. Think of a gym goer, or a manual laborer needing to lift, drag and push heavy objects. Lastly, we have power, which combines strength with speed. This can require pushing a heavy object quickly over a certain distance, or to quickly sprint or jump. Building on all of these components is important to reap full benefit, so let’s explore all of these in details.
The most effective way to build your calf endurance is by, running! To understand how strong your muscle endurance is., an effective home-based test is a single leg calf raises test, and counting the amount of repetitions per leg. If the count is lower than 20 on each side then consider building upon this.
Calf strength requires heavy weights. Therefore, a gym membership makes this process easier. Progressively load a calf complex with weighted standing calf raises starting at 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions, and once strength has built up, aim for 5 sets with a max rep range of 6-8. Another important strength exercise is the seated calf raise machine. This will strengthen the ‘soleus’ muscle which is crucial for running performance. With the knee bent at 90 degrees, it will bias and grow the soleus muscle.
Lower leg ‘stiffness’ creates an efficient running quality. Therefore, the ability for the calf to quickly produce force is beneficial. Exercises like skipping, hopping, pogo jumps & A,B,C drills can help aid in building power. Also, short sprints, hill repeats and interval running are examples that a runner can add into their weekly routine.
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