Running can give you those beautiful, toned calves you've been trying for, but that can come at the cost of some pretty serious soreness and pain if you don't have the proper footwear. Choosing a running shoe is one of the most important steps to your running workout, and understanding which running shoe corresponds to your specific foot type can help eliminate impact-related injuries and calf strain. When your calves are happy, you can run more often and enjoy it, too.
Your calves are made up of two main muscle structures: the large, rounded muscle at the top of the back of your calf is the gastrocnemius, and this muscle is what provides most of the propulsion to your ankle. The soleus muscle runs from underneath the gastrocnemius to the base of your ankle, connecting to the Achilles tendon. These two muscles undergo a natural process of micro-tearing and healing throughout strenuous exercise, which is what causes them to grow larger and stronger over time, but this process isn't usually associated with strain.
Pain isn't a normal condition from running. The difference between pain and general soreness can indicate a stress-related injury. As your foot lands, your arch compresses to absorb shock. If a poor-fitting pair of running shoes has your arch landing in an improper way, or if you land directly on your heel, the impact from the ground is redistributed along the calf, which can be very dangerous. Over time, this can cause micro-fractures in the bones of your ankle and shin, and the muscle of your calf can tear excessively.
Proper Running Shoes
There are three main foot profiles; the neutral runner, the over-pronator and the supinator all require a specific shoe to align the foot properly to absorb the shock from running. A neutral runner has generally good foot placement, and can wear almost any type of running shoes. Over-pronation is the next most common foot type, and occurs when a runner lands on the inside edge of her foot, collapsing the arch fully. A supinator lands on the outside edge of her foot, redistributing impact along the solid, propulsory sections of the foot, causing the most pain.
Correcting Improper Fit
Getting the right pair of shoes requires you to identify your specific foot profile. Consult a sports clinic or podiatrist to have your foot type identified and visit a specialty sports store to get the corresponding pair of shoes. A shoe for an over-pronator will have more shock-absorbing foam underneath the arch to encourage proper stride, and a supinator's shoe will have dense foam underneath the outer edge of the foot to prevent this area from absorbing too much shock. Fitting the right pair of running shoes can eliminate the impact-related pain in your calves and prevent unnecessary strain in your muscles.
Max Roman Dilthey is a science, health and culture writer currently pursuing a master's of sustainability science. Based in Massachusetts, he blogs about cycling at MaxTheCyclist.com.