Calf raises, also known as heel raises, are a great way to strengthen your calf muscles. When you walk, run, or leap, your calves provide strength and stability to your knee and ankle joints. Different types of raises work the different functions of your calf muscle, therefore you must train your calves in a number of ways.
Beginners and seasoned athletes alike can benefit from the heel raise workout. It’s a crucial workout for runners as well as athletes like badminton players, who spend the majority of their time on their toes and rely heavily on the calf and Achilles tendon beneath them.
How to Do Heel Raises
- For an enhanced range of motion, stand on a solid surface or an elevated position. To keep your balance, grab something.
- Use your calves to raise your heels.
- Lower yourself slowly and steadily, and then repeat for reps.
This is a strength-training routine, not a cardio workout. High loads are the best for the Achilles tendon. In 5–10 reps, you should reach a high level of muscular exertion. On two legs, with a 50/50 weight distribution on each foot, the easiest heel raise is performed. A single-leg heel rise is an option for stronger runners. For each exercise, make sure you go through the entire range of motion.
Runners who find the 50/50 version too easy and the single-leg version too difficult can utilize one leg to assist the other by distributing weight across the legs in a 60/40, 70/30, 80/20, or 90/10 ratio. This means that one leg does the majority of the effort and the other leg assists in variable degrees. You’ll add resistance to one leg this way, and you won’t need any special equipment. Alternatively, you can add weight in the same way you did for the single-leg squat.
Varying the weight and rep plan is a nice idea. Go for three to five sets of five to ten reps, ideally twice a week.
Anatomy And Function Of Lower Leg Muscles
The lower leg, or shank, is divided into four muscle compartments:
Anterior Compartment – Tibialis Anterior, Extensor Hallucis Longus, Extensor Digitorum Longus, Peroneus Tertius
Lateral Compartment – Peroneus Longus, Peroneus Brevis
Deep Posterior Compartment – Tibialis Posterior, Flexor Digitorum Longus, Flexor Hallucis Longus, Popliteus
Superficial Posterior Compartment – Gastrocnemius (Medial and Lateral Heads), Soleus, Plantaris
Heel raises engage the muscles of the lateral and posterior compartments in addition to the popliteus, but this article will focus on the gastrocnemius and soleus (also known as the triceps surae). The gastrocnemius has two heads, one medial and one lateral, that join proximally to the femur’s distal end. The soleus, on the other hand, connects the tibia and fibula together. The Achilles tendon connects these muscles to the calcaneus, or heel bone.
Plantar flexion and inversion of the ankle in a non-weightbearing position are controlled by the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles (pointing the foot down and in). This is known as a calf, or heel, raise in a weightbearing position. Because the gastrocnemius spans the knee joint, it also helps with knee flexion, especially between 0 and 15 degrees. Both muscles are necessary for walking.
Before we get into the six reasons why you should be doing heel raises, let’s take a look at the size and force-producing capabilities of the soleus muscle. According to study by Albracht et al in 2008 and Ward et al in 2009, the soleus can account for up to 60% of the calf’s mass and physiological cross sectional area (just factoring in the soleus and gastrocnemius). “Muscle architectural values are the best predictors of muscle function,” Ward and colleagues write, adding that the “PCSA is proportional to a muscle’s maximum force-producing capacity.” Although the soleus may be an exception to this rule, Lieber and Frieder point out that it is intended to generate significant force with a tiny excursion. The soleus is a monster in general!
Top 6 Reasons Why You Should Do Heel Raises
1. Increases Running Performance
Many people believe that running is all about the glutes! However, it should most likely be all about the calves! The soleus in particular! The ankle plantar flexors are one of the key drivers for strongly pressing into the ground at speeds up to 7 m/s, or a 3.8 minute/mile, according to Dorn et al in 2012 and Schache and colleagues in 2014. This results in a longer stride length, which correlates to quicker running speeds. During the stance phase of running, musculotendon forces can reach up to 8 times bodyweight for the soleus!
2. Tendinopathy of the Achilles tendon
- “The strength of the plantar flexors was discovered as a predictor for an achilles tendon overuse injury, with patients having a lower plantar flexor strength at greater risk,” Mahieu et al reported in 2006.
- In 2019, O’Neill et al discovered that people with achilles tendinopathy had deficits in plantar flexor strength and endurance on BOTH sides (symptomatic and asymptomatic compared to controls), with “weakness of the soleus appearing to be responsible for the majority of the deficits” (symptomatic and asymptomatic compared to controls).
- “Achilles tendinopathy is the most prevalent running-related ailment suffered by the Master runner,” according to Willy and Paquette in 2019, and there are many other effects of aging and changes in training as it relates to plantar flexor strength and Achilles tendon stiffness.
- In 2015, Beyer and colleagues demonstrated that eccentric calf raises, or heavy and slow calf raises, can be an effective treatment for achilles tendinopathy.
If you’re at risk of acquiring Achilles tendinopathy or rehabbing the condition, you should be strengthening your plantar flexors in any case.
3. Anterior Cruciate Ligament
Most people are aware that the hamstrings can protect the ACL by exerting a posterior pull on the tibia during dynamic movements (known as an ACL agonist), but Elias et al in 2003 and Mokhtarzadeh et al in 2013 proved that the soleus, despite not crossing the knee, can also protect the ACL.
4. Shin Splints Or Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome
Shin splints is a prevalent problem among runners. Franklyn and Oakes concluded that “the two main mechanisms of injury appear to be traction-induced periostitis, where the cause is likely to be the soleus and/or the FDL, and microtrauma consisting of oedema and microcracks in the cortical bone, which results in debonding of the osteons and subcutaneous periostitis on the surface of the tibia.” To be honest, I believe it is a diagnosis that is still little understood. “A mix of graded tibial loading exercises and ankle plantar strengthening activities may, therefore, be the ideal strategy for athletes with MTSS,” says Marinus Winters, one of the leading researchers on the subject.
5. Dorsiflexion Of The Ankle
There’s no harm in doing a variety of mobility workouts to enhance ankle dorsiflexion. Those exercises, on the other hand, usually exclusively affect one biomotor ability: flexibility or range of motion. Instead, we can improve mobility while also improving strength, endurance, tendon stiffness, and other characteristics by performing heel raises at a high intensity over a wide range of motion. In the same period of time, you get a lot more bang for your buck.
6. Balanced Looks Or Aesthetics
Strong calves simply look beautiful, and while heredity is sometimes blamed for their structure or ability to change, they’re a muscle group that can be trained just like any other!