If you've been working on your sprinting for a while but are still being left in the dust, the problem might be with your calf muscles. Your calves are the muscles that give your legs their explosive power, which propels you forward and increases your speed. With a regular workout routine of stretches, exercises and running, you should be able to shave precious tenths of a second off your time within weeks.
The two primary muscles in your calves are the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius stretches from your knee to your ankle and plays a part in both knee flexion and ankle dorsiflexion while your knee is straight. The gastrocnemius is also responsible for that drumstick shape of your calf. Your soleus is hidden beneath the gastrocnemius, and controls the dorsiflexion of your ankle when it your knee is bent. As you sprint, your toe or the ball of your foot strikes the ground first, causing these calf muscles to shorten as you land. Then, as you push off, your calves contract forcefully, giving you explosive forward momentum. By stretching and strengthening these muscles, you can increase your sprinting power.
Stretching your calf muscles is important, both for loosening them up before a run and for preventing possible pulls and tears. There are several effective calf stretching exercises, including the standing wall stretch, the calf raise, the one-legged calf raise and the sprinter calf raise, all of which work either the gastrocnemius or the soleus.
Exercises that mimic the action of running or jumping are the best for working out your calves. Rocket jumps, box jumps, jump curls and flying step ups are all examples of exercises that increase the explosive power of your calf muscles. Jump roping is another highly effective exercise for sprinters, as it not only causes your calf muscles to contract over a hundred times a minute, but is also a great cardio workout to build up your endurance. The best calf exercise for sprinters, however, is simple stair running, preferably using real steps rather than stair climber machines. By sprinting up steps, you are training your calves to explode up an incline, particularly if you take two steps at a time. Like jump roping, stair running is an excellent cardiovascular workout as well.
Your goals as a sprinter will determine your training routine. If you've got Olympic aspirations, training your calves twice a week isn't going to cut it. But for those interested in losing weight or their general overall fitness, a regular weekly workout routine of 5-7 days of stretching, 2-4 hours of jump rope and two high intensity sessions of stair running or sprinting will provide remarkable results. Additionally, two days a week of strength training for your core and upper leg muscles will also make an impact. Just make sure to rest between stair running sessions, to allow your calf muscles to rebuild themselves.
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