• Luke Nelson

Calf pain? Calf strain? Will “Just a few calf raises" fix it?

Updated: Feb 17

Injured your calf? Calf tightness? Think a few simple bodyweight calf raises will get you sorted? Think again!

Firstly let's look at the contribution of the calves when running, & in short, they do a LOT of work. The larger of the calf muscles, the soleus, is highly important for running taking 6.5-8 times bodyweight of force, whilst the other calf muscle, the gastrocs, takes 2-3 times body weight (Dorn 2012). The Achilles tendon also needs to absorb a high amount of force when running, equalling 4.15-8.0 body weights of force (Gheidi 2018, Sinclair 2015, Willy 2016).


So how do we replicate this high amount of force going through the calf & Achilles without running (up to 8 x bodyweight)? Does this mean we need to put 7 times our body weight on our back & do a calf raise? Fortunately not. Now it’s outside the scope of this blog to discuss further, but due to the moment arms of the foot & Achilles, an unweighted single-leg heel raise equates to 3.98 body weights of force through the calf & Achilles (Gheidi 2018).


Therefore to achieve 6.5-8 times body weight through the calf & Achilles, you need to perform a single leg calf raise with an ADDITIONAL 60% - 100% bodyweight.


Now a weighted calf raise might be able to equal the force required to that of running, but what about the loading rate? Unfortunately it doesn’t get near that. A single leg calf raise only reaches 25% of the loading rate of running (see the graph below) (Gheidi 2018).

The loading rate on the calf & achilles with different exercises

So what does this mean? Well it means if we want to strengthen the calf & Achilles to try & match the demands of running, you can NOT just simply do weighted calf raises. You need to supplement your rehab with plyometric exercises (ie. jumping, hopping, skipping, pulsing etc) &/or dynamic sled pushes.


Lastly, no exercise in isolation loads the calf & Achilles like running does, so ultimately you need to safely & gradually get back to running!


If you are suffering from recurrent calf strains, don't hesitate to contact us for assistance!



References

  • Dorn, T. W., et al. (2012). "Muscular strategy shift in human running: dependence of running speed on hip and ankle muscle performance." J Exp Biol 215(Pt 11): 1944-1956.

  • Gheidi, N., et al. (2018). "Achilles tendon loading during weight-bearing exercises." Phys Ther Sport 32: 260-268.

  • Sinclair, J., et al. (2015). "Influence of running shoes and cross-trainers on Achilles tendon forces during running compared with military boots." J R Army Med Corps 161(2): 140-143.

  • Willy, R. W., et al. (2016). "Patellofemoral Joint and Achilles Tendon Loads During Overground and Treadmill Running." Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 0(0): 1-31.

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