Calf Strength Goals for Runners Part 5: Specific Calf Strength For Runners
Updated: Feb 23, 2020
Part 5. Holy toledo, how did we get here? Probably because calvies are the best weapon in your running and injury prevention arsenal. Anyway, part 5 means we can skip the intro and jump into the different types of strength specific to our calvies.
Specific Calf Strength for Runners
Heavy Slow Resistance
This is the foundation of slowly progressing your strength. Nothing fancy, Heavy Slow Resistance (HSR) simply involves moving heavy loads slowly with good technique. This equates to 70-85% of the maximum weight you can move with good technique, 3 seconds up and 3 seconds down. To perform this at home, you could fill a backpack, or better yet a weights vest, with 20kg (builders sand is cheap cheap cheap), and hold a 10L or 15L water container in one hand. HSR for runners is typically performed 1-2 times per week and progressed as follows to gradually build the weights while reducing the reps (1):
Isometrics are static contractions and when used well are really beneficial. By holding a contraction instead of moving through range you are able to resist a large amount of load. For example, you could exert a force 130% of your maximal 1 rep max (the maximum load you could actually move) and hold this force for 6-12 seconds. Key benefits of isometrics:
They are really well controlled
Very well tolerated in regards to pain and fatigue
You are able to pick on particular points in your range that you have difficulty with and strengthen these weak points
They increase tendon adaptation by maximising the amount of strain delivered
Excellent for long term tissue adaptations
A great stimulus for improved motor output changes (brain muscle connection)
Biomechanically, isometric calvies are ideal for runners as the calf muscles sustain an almost isometric contraction during foot contact providing a stable platform from which the Achilles tendon can lengthen and shorten. For optimal 'specificity and function' of the exercise, check out the vid below.
If you have had an injury to your lower leg, such as calf strains, Achilles tendinopathy, stressies (not as cute as they sound), plantar fasciitis (not as sexy as it sounds) or shin splints, I ask you to do 1 minute each and every day of static strength. This is your daily dose. Check out the full list with videos for every at risk running muscle right here. For a simple one to start with, check out the vid below.
Let's face it, calf raises are not such an exciting exercise to perform, so I regularly throw in some variety in the contraction to spice things up. As stated above, one of the key functions of the calvies during gait is to maintain a static contraction to create a stable anchor point for the Achilles to lengthen and shorten. Strengthening the calvies through full range is important to create a healthy muscle / tendon unit, but it is also possible to use motor control strengthening exercises to create coordination within the task and between the brain and muscle. This theme is borrowed from Seth O'Neill (2). It requires some concentration, but check out the video below to see that even I can wrap my head around it. More vids on youtube.
This is particularly useful for anyone that experiences 'tremors' or 'shaking' while performing calf raises. Tremors are termed fasciculations or oscillations and relate to reduced neural control as the muscle lengthens, which causes the muscle to stop during lengthening about 8-12 times per second (3). This gives the muscle the appearance of shaking or trembling. Motor control is how we change this tremor in the muscle so that the muscle can protect the muscle tendon unit properly.
Plyometrics / Power
"Running is a series of falls aided by gravity." Sven Otto Kanstad. Physicist and competitive runner.
Plyometrics are an excellent way to transfer your hard earned strength into power. I consider plyo to be a bit of a secret weapon and prefer to structure it in 4-6 week blocks, either throughout your training or as the final build to an event. You can build plyo until you are achieving 10 x body weight of stress with each and every impact. Plyo is great, but needs to be respected. There is a full blog in the pipeline. Stay tuned.
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.
1. Gaida JE Cook J. Treatment options for patellar tendinopathy: critical review. Curr Sports Med Reports. 2011;10(5):255-270.
2. O'Neill S. A biomechanical approach to Achilles tendinopathy management. Leicester Theses PhD.
3. Grigg NL Wearing SC O’Toole JM Smeathers JE. The effect of exercise repetition on the frequency characteristics of motor output force: Implications for achilles tendinopathy rehabilitation. J Sci Med Sport. 2013