How to do calf raises to help you run better
Your calf muscles are critical to running, helping you lift your feet, propel yourself forward, and land with every single step of your run. Not only can you not perform at your best without strong calves, you also risk injury.
In fact, calf problems are among the most common running injuries, from calf muscle tears to recurring cramps to super tight, sore muscles. And tight muscles can themselves cause problems in other areas, from your Achilles tendons to your quads.
Regular post-workout stretching can certainly help – try these easy calf stretches – but building strength is also very important to keep your calves functioning the way they’re supposed to.
How does calf raises help?
“Calf raises are a great exercise to reduce injury risk and should be practiced regularly by all runners,” says Graeme Woodward, British Athletics Level 3 performance coach, UKSCA accredited S&C coach and We Run coach for West Yorkshire.
“Calf raises isolate the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles, which are common injuries in runners, and they can also improve performance by building the ability to extend the ankle.”
“The benefits of calf raises actually have more to do with the eccentric lowering portion of the action, as that requires more strength and thus increases strength more. Calf raises should be done slowly and for a high number of repetitions, even with added weight from dumbbells or weight plates.’
Additionally, calf raises are very simple, quick to perform, require nothing more than a step or elevated ledge, and can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. They really are one of those exercises that can make a huge difference in your running.
Can they really build strength?
Yes, they definitely can. A study published in the journal Physiological Reports showed that in 30 untrained students who performed a variety of calf raises, from light weight but high reps to heavy weight and low reps, all saw an increase in muscle thickness.
How to properly perform a calf raise
- Stand upright next to a step or raised area. You can create your own at the gym using a weight plate. Make sure your shoulders are back and your posture is good.
- Place the balls of your feet on the step or slab, making sure your heels “hang” behind you and are off the floor.
- Keeping your feet still and toes still pointing forward, lift your heels and contract your calves. Slowly lower your back to the starting position.
- When this becomes comfortable and routine, add weight with dumbbells or weight plates