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Calf strengthening exercises to prevent injury while running

By Matthew Hicks from NAB RunWest partner physiotherapists and injury management specialists, Sydney West Sports Medicine:

Calf muscles play an important role in running. The calf is responsible for both propelling you forward and absorbing load from the impact of every step that you take when you run. When we talk about the calf most people think about the large, bulky muscle which gives the calf its shape.  In the medical world this is known as the gastrocnemius muscle. But did you know that your calves are actually made up of two main muscles?

The key muscle for running that you didn’t even know about 

The second muscle is your soleus and is just as important as the gastrocnemius. The soleus is commonly overlooked and undervalued due to its stature as a smaller, pancake like muscle which sits hidden behind the larger gastrocnemius muscle.

Why is this muscle so important in running?

Both muscles of the calf complex are responsible for pointing your ankle downward and also play a vital role in ankle stability. The soleus in particular plays a key role in standing posture, preventing you from falling forward whilst upright. During running the two muscles play different roles:

The gastrocnemius is critical for explosive movements such as jumping, sprinting and changing direction whereas the soleus is predominantly for giving legs endurance meaning it is very resistant to fatigue.  So, the soleus bears most of the load while running.  It can carry up to 8 times your body weight!  Unfortunately, this also means it is a muscle which commonly strains.

It is vitally important that you work on strengthening your soleus in order to reduce your risk of injury and improve your performance.

Some exercises to make your soleus stronger 

  1. Soleus Squat – Stand on both legs and lean back onto a wall. Slide down so that your knees are bent to 80-90 degrees. Push your heels up and hold. Progress by adding weight on your lap.
  1. Bent Knee Calf Raise – Stand on the edge of a step and bend the knee to 30-40 degrees. Perform a calf raise keeping the knee bent at all times. You can start with or without holding weight in each hand depending on your level of strength. Progress by adding more weight.

For more information contact Sydney West Sports Medicine on 02 98515959 or at