Sleek, toned calf muscles do more than help you rock a killer pair of heels. Compared to other running distances, sprinting emphasizes your calf muscles in a unique way. This complex muscle group, which includes your gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, directly translates to power and speed. Developing your calf muscles can make you a better runner.
As a sprinter, you primarily land on your toes during your foot plant. This eliminates a breaking effect that can arise when you land on your arch or heel. Sprinting emphasizes your calf muscles because the toe strike causes your calf muscles to lengthen. Landing in this stretched position builds up energy in your calves, similarly to stretching a rubber band. When you push off the ground, the energy stored in your calves quickly releases and helps you explode forward.
Sprinting is a unique form of running that has three distinct phases: the initial acceleration, maximum running speed and transition. When you take off, muscles in your hip, knee and ankle joints act as your main accelerators. Next, your hamstrings, adductors and glute muscles engage; these are the most important muscles for producing speed. By strengthening all of these muscles, you can improve your running speed.
Running Speed and Your Calves
Running speed is all about stride length and rate. In sprinting, increasing your speed is all about increasing your stride rate, which is done by swinging your legs more rapidly through the air. As you increase your stride rate, your calf muscles and ankle flexors contract at a higher velocity, reducing the time you have to generate force. Strengthening your calf muscles can produce a stronger, faster and more explosive takeoff.
When it comes to your calves and running faster, it's all about increasing strength, power and speed. Plyometric moves that are sprint-specific train your calf, hamstring and glute muscles to fire faster and with more force. Examples of sprint-specific exercises include rocket jumps, single-leg calf jump curls and flying step-ups. Do seven reps of each exercise with two minutes of rest between each one.
- Journal of Experimental Biology: Muscular Strategy Shift in Human Running: Dependence of Running Speed on Hip and Ankle Muscle Performance
- Sports Medicine: Influence of Strength Training on Sprint Running Performance. Current Findings And Implications For Training
- Stack.com: Five Best Plyometric Exercises for Runners
- Runner’s World: Get a Jump on It
Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.