Calf Strength Goals for Runners Part 3: Self-Assessment
Updated: Feb 23
I hope you can gather that this series is focused on encouraging you to take ownership and accountability for your body, look after yourself, and look for some low-hanging fruit to work on improving your running. This is not a comprehensive battery of tests, but is designed to keep you on your feet and avoiding being a statistic. You need to take control of your running health, however I do not expect you to have the knowledge and resources that you require. That is what I will strive to provide. Everyone deserves to be able to train uninterrupted for injury.
Your calf complex is the number one centre of propulsion and tolerates 6-8 x body weight of force each and every step. Check out part 1 and part 2 in this series for specific strength, length, and function goals to suit your current level of training. Now for the good stuff, how to test yourself. You can download the PDF from the daily dose, foot/ankle/calf section right here.
Why Assess Your Own Strength?
I understand, you're not injured so why go looking for something that isn't causing you any grief? We want to support the whole system and plug any energy leakages, check for imbalances and asymmetries that would otherwise become apparent in time. Chances are if your calvies are not strong enough, then you will be compensating for that lack of strength and power elsewhere. That hip that nags at you on longer runs? The back pain that arises mid-way through your run and lingers for the rest of the day? The forces that we subject ourselves to are huge and we have our wonderful calvies to thank for being the first port of call in the relentless fight against gravity. If you are really lucky you will find an imbalance that you can work towards restoring and your running will thank your for it.
Simple Calf Strength Test for Runners
For the most accurate results, make sure your perform the test in a way that you can easily repeat it next time. I recommend standing with your hands on a wall to prevent the natural urge of swinging yourself through each rep with the help of a little momentum. Challenging yourself to make it as hard as you can and to fatigue as quickly as you can will save you time and make it easier to re-test. Check out the vid below for clear instructions.
Simple Calf Flexibility Test for Runners
Place a tape measure on the ground against a wall, kick your shoes off. Stand on the tape measure and bend your knee to touch the wall in a lunge position. Keeping your heel on the ground, see how far away from the wall you can move your foot, keeping your heel on the ground and still reaching your knee to the wall. Link to vid right here.
Simple Calf Function Test for Runners
The square hop test measures dynamic calf function over 30 seconds and includes elements of power and proprioception / balance. Landing within a 40cm x 40cm grid takes a little practice, but any deficits will show up pretty quickly. Every time you land counts as one point, and every time you land on a line, you subtract a point. Count out loud and have someone else call you out on those 'foot faults'.
You will notice there is a Y/N option for 'shaking' in the calf strength box. If you circle 'Y', then brush up on your communication between your brain and calvies by performing some simple and effective neuromuscular exercises that you will find right here on youtube. You will find lots more info on this in part 2 of this series.
Muscle Loves Bone
The above tests are designed for healthy runners. If you have experienced a bone injury such as a stress fracture, you need to make sure you do everything you can to complete your rehab and look after all elements of your health. See the below info from Dr Rich Willy at Montana Running Lab for some startling statistics on bone health in runners.
By increasing your tissue tolerance, you are protecting against risk of injury. Strength is not likely to change running mechanics but instead serves to raise the the tissue capacity ceiling. This allows you to run at a lower % of your total capacity for longer. Check out the full range of strength training programs for runners right here. Please get in touch with any questions.
Full reference lists in parts 1 and 2