As someone who has suffered from calf injuries in the past, I know firsthand how debilitating they can be. Not only do they make it difficult to walk or run, but they can also lead to long-term mobility problems. That’s why I’m passionate about helping others prevent calf injuries in the first place.
The dreaded calf strain
If you’re someone who likes to stay active, you’ve probably experienced a calf injury at some point. These injuries can be frustrating and debilitating, sidelining you from your favorite activities for weeks or even months. But with the right exercises, you can help prevent these injuries from happening in the first place.
Here are our top three exercises for preventing calf injuries: calf muscle is located at the back of the lower leg, and consists of three main muscle groups: the gastrocnemius, the soleus, and the plantaris. These muscles work together to extend the foot, and are commonly injured during activities that involve sudden stretching or change in direction, such as running or tennis. The most common type of calf injury is a muscle strain, which occurs when the muscle is stretched beyond it’s capacity. This can result in a partial or complete tear of the muscle fibers. In severe cases, a tendon may also be torn away from the bone. Treatment for a calf injury typically involves rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). Severe muscle strains may require surgery or physical therapy.
Most Common Calf strain in Runners and Triathletes
Calf injuries are unfortunately quite common, especially among runners and triathletes. The most common type of calf strain is a soleus muscle strain, which occurs when the muscle is stretched beyond it’s limits. Sadly this can happen anywhere and at anytime and most often has no signs or symptoms to warn you it’s about to hit. It’s most often the cause of overuse or repetition, in my case it comes as a sharp spike mid calf, instant but then actually feels like I could keep running – don’t. Other symptoms of a soleus muscle strain include pain and tenderness in the calf, swelling, and sometimes bruising. With my foot on the ground, lifting the toes often feels a sharp pain inner middle calf.
With proper treatment, most soleus muscle strains will heal within 4-6 weeks.
How does exercises work to prevent injuries?
There are three exercises that I believe are essential for preventing calf injuries: mobility work, strength work, and stretching. Mobility work helps to improve the range of motion in your joints and muscles, making it easier to move your body through a full range of motion without pain. Strength work helps to build the muscles that support your joints, improving your overall stability and reducing your risk of injury. Stretching helps to lengthen your muscles and improve your flexibility, both of which are important for preventing injuries.
What are the top three exercises for preventing calf injuries?
As a triathlete, I am very familiar with the importance of having strong and healthy calf muscles, often loosing out on a PB or missing an event entirely. Calf injuries are one of the most common injuries among men after 40, and they can often be difficult to recover from. One of the best ways to prevent calf injuries is to regularly perform exercises that strengthen the muscles. Here are three of my favorite exercises for calf strength.
Heel raises –Heel raises are a great way to improve calf strength and stability. To do this exercise, stand with your feet hip-width apart and raise up onto your toes. Slowly lower back down, making sure to control the movement. Standing on a step offers more range. If you are recovering, start with both feet at the same time. If you are strengthening you can do one leg at a time,you can also add weight by holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Seated calf raises – This exercise targets the soleus, the soleus will most likely be the culprit of a strain in men over 40 and doesn’t always feel like a tear but an inner pain getting worse or tight feeling in the calf which gradually gets worse till you feel like someone had nailed a nail into your mid calf. This is my issue and it is a recurring one I’m dealing with (hear my passion) and it’s located below the gastrocnemius. To do a seated calf raise, sit on a chair or bench with your feet flat on the ground and your knees bent to 90 degrees. Press down into your heels to raise your body up onto your toes. Slowly lower back down to the starting position. Repeat for 10-12 repetitions.
I incorporate bands here to ensure I’m strengthening appropriately, I especially like resistance bands as they are cheap and very effective, resistance bands
Farmer’s carries – This is an excellent exercise for overall lower body strength, but it also does wonders for the calves. To do farmer’s carries, simply pick up a heavy dumbbell in each hand and walk forward. The key is to keep good form throughout the entire movement so that you don’t put unnecessary stress on your joints. Once you are ready for more of a challenge do it over uneven ground as it then further strengthens calves but also brings in muscles around joints to aid in balance, all benefiting and helping those calves.
One other thing worth mentioning and considering is your hamstrings, are they getting enough exercise? In 2017 and 2019 I was so committed to my Ironman training (swim / bike / run) I neglected all weight and strengthening exercises. My physio mate was convinced it was neglect on my hamstrings and glutes…so again as in previous posts don’t forget your deadlift!
3. Who should perform these exercises to prevent injury?
Calf exercises are important for everyone, and everyone should be doing them regularly and more so those that are active or wish to compete in endurance or explosive exercises or activities. Men over 40 are more susceptible to calf strains and tears or even worse Achilles ruptures. Prevention is better than cure, just ask any heart broken athlete who has trained for 6 months only to sit sidelined for 3 months due to a calf strain. To help prevent this type of injury everyone should perform calf exercises on a regular basis especially those that are more active. So stay active and perform calf exercises regularly. By doing so, they can help reduce their risk of injury and keep your calves healthy and strong.
Regular calf exercises are important for everyone, but they are especially beneficial for athletes or those who participate in endurance or explosive activities. Men over 40 are more susceptible to calf strains and tears, so it is especially important for them to perform these exercises on a regular basis. Calf exercises help strengthen the muscles and can help reduce the risk of injury. In addition to calf exercises, it is also important to strength your hamstring and glutes muscles. Neglecting these muscles can lead to an increased risk of calf injuries. So make sure you are performing all the necessary exercises to keep your body healthy and strong!
Hoping you read this article as prevention, however if you are reading it in recovery, I feel your pain and disappointment! Please reach out below and let us know how it happened and what yo are doing in your rehab. I’d be most excited to hear of a few other exercises you have used to prevent them from occuring
Thanks – G