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Keeping Calves Happy in Runners

If you haven’t already sustained a niggle from picking up running or something new during iso – well done! As gyms re-open and sports resume, we face the challenge of readjusting our bodies to tour previously familiar physical demands. As you navigate the return to normality, it’s worth considering how to keep your calves healthy and happy during this time.

Strong calves

Running places a considerable amount of force through your calf muscles – the soleus (lower calf) is exposed to forces up to 6-8 times your body weight whilst running. It then needs to manage this force for the entire duration of your run – a lot of work for a small muscle. Luckily, soleus muscle fibres are designed to have relatively high force capacity and low fatigability, efficient for longer periods of running.

To assist the soleus in doing what it does best, it is valuable to assess whether you have appropriate calf strength. As a general rule, a runner should be able to complete 30+ single leg calf raises with good quality on each leg. Furthermore, building your calf strength in a bent-knee position targets the soleus, ensuring it is not neglected in your strength work. Seated calf raises (with a heavy weight where able) are a good exercise for this.

Don’t forget about your hips

Hip strength is crucial in runners – a strong and stable hip provides the base for each step forward. Achieving hip extension in late stance optimises the power used from gluteal muscles in forward propulsion. Incorporating hip extensor work into your strength training, in addition to completing gluteal activation exercises as a component of your warm up prior to running, helps to get the best from your hips while out on your run.

What does this have to do with your calves? A common compensation for poor hip extension is to try and obtain this lost propulsion from your foot & ankle complex – through using your calves. Achieving appropriate hip extension through stance saves your calves from this extra work.

Recovery is king

Given the work completed by your calves whilst running, structuring your runs with appropriate rest between ensures the calf complex is able to recover and adapt leading into the next session. Longer recovery periods will also tend to allow you to work harder and run faster during your runs.

If you are struggling to improve your speed or distance, consider increasing your recovery between sessions – this may include longer times between runs, sleeping longer, hydrating more leading into a run, or fueling with a more substantial snack both pre- and post-session.

Progressing both your calf function and your running is a gradual process. If you have any questions or would like any guidance about a running injury or injury prevention, please contact us.


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