Your calf muscles are important for running, both in terms of speed and endurance. Legend has it that former world champion runner Steve Cram used to do 500 calf raises a day, and he broke the world record for the mile more than once!
But even if you don’t go on to break world records, the strength gained in your calf muscles will positively affect your running and reduce injury risk to your calves and Achilles.
These heavy slow resistance exercises have been shown to be an effective way to fend off and fix aches and pains.
They’re simple, shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to do, and all you need is a resistance band and some weights. The key is to use an appropriate weight that is challenging and complete the reps slowly.
Calf extensions with band
This is more of a warm-up for what’s to come. It’s similar to a calf raise, but a little easier.
Sit on the floor, as if you were to stretch your hamstring, then place a stiff resistance band around the ball of your foot. Then pull the ends of the band so that it’s taut, before pushing your toes down to work the calf muscles. Finally, return slowly to the starting position. Try and maintain a three second pace in each direction.
This movement loads the Achilles and strengthens the calf muscle.
Tip: Place your leg on top of a foam roller to provide the working foot with a full range of motion.
Aim for: 3 x 10 reps per side.
This is a classic calf strengthening exercise. Stand on the edge of a step (bottom of the stairs is a good place), with your heels slightly dropped and lower than your toes.
Slowly rise up onto the balls of your feet and your calves will soon engage. Hold for three seconds, then gradually lower back down to where you started and repeat again.
Don’t rush through this exercise. The pauses at the top and bottom are key, because our calves are highly elastic, so pausing helps us work the muscle rather than just bouncing.
If you’re new to calf raises, start by doing them with both legs at the same time. When ready, progress to doing them single leg. After a few weeks, you can introduce weights to the routine.
Adding heavy resistance helps strengthen your Achilles and reduce any tendinopathy symptoms. You don’t have to go too heavy; I use 12-16kg kettle bells.
Aim for: 3-4 x 10-12 reps per side. Beginners should start with both legs before going to a single leg. Add weights when comfortable – start light and build up over time.
Seated calf raises
Sit on a chair and place the ball of your foot on an object in front of you. A yoga block is ideal, but anything sturdy will do. Next, place a weight on top of the knee of the leg you’re working on.
Slowly raise your heel as far as possible. You should feel your calf muscle engage, especially near the bottom. Gently lower your heel until you feel a slight stretch in your calf – but don’t go too far down.
This slow heavy movement loads the Achilles tendon efficiently while building strength in the soleus muscle.
Aim for: 3 x 10 reps per side. Start with a lighter weight and increase over time.
These exercises should make your calf muscles feel like they’ve been worked. Try not to overdo it to begin with, but aim to do these two or three times a week. You’ll feel the benefits in no time.