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The calf muscles (gastrocnemius muscles) of the average runner do a serious amount of work. They simultaneously work to propel us forward (driving up a hill for example) as well as slowing us down (during a descent for example).

Strong calves are vital. Being strong will aid with form and power, which will, in turn, convert to faster, more efficient running.

Weak calves eventually result in a myriad of injuries; Achilles tendonitis, calf strains, shin splints and plantar fasciitis being four of the most widely known ailments.

Due to the sheer volume of work that we ask our calves to do on every run, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they require consistent maintenance. And as we get older, this regular fine tuning becomes all that more important. Men especially commonly suffer from potentially crippling calf problems as they age.

Calf maintenance involves both stretching, strength work and massage. We have outlined what we believe to be the five best exercises below:

  • Step Calf Stretch

A well-known stretch that is easy to do at work, waiting for the bus etc –  pretty much no excuse for not getting it done.

  • Isometric Calf Raises

Depending on your level you can do this with both feet together or one foot at a time. The important thing is to rise onto your toes then hold it there. Start off with 30-second holds and with time increase this to 60-90 seconds.

A helpful video which explains this is found below:

Eccentric Calf Raises

This is the bread and butter calf exercise, it will stretch and strengthen your calf muscles the best way we know how.

Stand on a step with your heels hanging off the edge. Holding on to the rail, first raise yourself up (concentric movement), and then very slowly—to the count of 10-15 seconds—drop your heels below the level of your feet (eccentric strengthening). Push back up and repeat. Lots of physiotherapists will advise doing 3 sets of 15. However, depending on your level, it may be possible to increase this number significantly.

A helpful video which explains this is found below:

  • Supine Calf and Hamstring Stretch

Lie on your back with a towel and do the traditional hamstring stretch with straight knees. Place the towel around your toes and pull down. This will bring the calf muscle into the stretch in an incredibly deep way. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds and repeat.

  • Foam Roller or Self Massage

After a hill session, track workout or if you are generally sore – massage is key. Start gently and slowly get deeper. If you find a sore tight spot then hold it for 30-60 seconds.

  • Farmer’s Walk on Toes

Another good exercise for strengthening your calves.

Hold a pair of heavy dumbbells or weights straight down along the sides of your body. Rise up on your toes and walk forward for 60 seconds. Be sure to stand tall as you perform this exercise. Try to walk for about a minute, but if this is easy, either increase the weights or walk for longer.

Please note: This article is generic in nature and does not replace the advice from your local sports doctor. Runner’s Tribe advises every runner with medical problems seeks one-on-one medical advice from a trained sports doctor.