I started my blog on the importance of glute strength in running by talking about how important glute muscles are to Paralympic athletes. Although the glutes can’t be replaced by prosthetics, prosthetic calves have been created to be – arguably – more efficient than human calves. For many years Oscar Pistorius wasn’t allowed to compete with able bodied athletes as it was judged his prosthetics worked better than a human calf in terms of the spring he got from the ground. German Paralympic long jumper Marcus Behm jumped further in winning the 2012 Paralympics than Greg Rutherford did to win the Olympics in the same year. His desire is to compete against able bodied athletes but he isn’t allowed – as the IAAF argue that his prosthetic calf is too good! Here’s why you should consider making your calves more ‘bionic’.
Tell Me More About The Calf Muscles
The calves consist of two muscles; the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the larger, outer muscles that you can see and feel. The soleus sits underneath it. They fuse together to form the Achilles tendon. When your calf muscles contract they lift your heels and propel you forward.
The calf is known to many medical professionals as the secondary heart; the heart pumps blood down through the body and the calves pump it back up again. When the calves fail to do this properly, people can suffer from varicose veins and deep-veined thrombosis. Flight socks put pressure on the calves to force the blood back to the heart. Many runners, perhaps most famously Paula Radcliffe, wear calf sleeves or compression socks whilst running for this very reason.
Why Is Calf Strength Important For Runners?
As well as propelling you forward, the calf muscles absorb impact and give your stride spring. You may notice that runners whose calves lack the strength to absorb their bodyweight get very little spring back off the ground and their stride looks laboured and weak. The same can be said of some runners towards the end of marathons; their calves become exhausted and every step is an effort with little reward.
What Are The Benefits Of Working On Calf Strength For Running?
When runners get tired and their form deteriorates, this is often partially caused by the calf muscles becoming unable to keep the runner upright. Stronger calves will help keep you looking and feeling strong until the end of a run. Calves are also hugely important in giving you the power to run up hills and the control to run downhills.
What Will Happen If I Neglect Working On Calf Strength?
Tight and inflexible calf muscles can put massive pressure on the Achilles – the source of many woes for professional and amateur athletes. Wearing high heels can shorten the calf muscles which multiplies the risk of Achilles problems – sorry to any lovers of heels!
Think about it – the calves are the lowest decent-sized muscles in your body, so it’s important they’re able to take the constant pounding they receive from running. As well as causing obvious problems with the calves, insufficient calf strength can also refer problems down to the ankles and feet, across to the shins and upwards to the hamstrings and hips.
The calf muscles are the gastrocnemius and the soleus
The calves absorb impact and propel your forward
When their calves get tired, a runner’s form can suffer and their stride can become laboured and weak
Calves provide the power to run up hills and the control to run down hills
Tight calves can cause Achilles problems. Weak calves, that can’t withstand the pounding of running, can refer issues to the ankles, feet, shins, hamstrings and hips