When you head out for a run, muscles throughout your lower body, including your calves, engage to propel you forward. So, it only makes sense that strong calves equal better running. While only strengthening your calves probably won’t shave much time off your mile time, together with a well-rounded lower body strength program, you can avoid injuries and run faster.
Your calves are composed of two muscles: your gastrocnemius and soleus. Your gastrocnemius gives the back of your leg its rounded shape and your soleus is a flatter, longer muscle that lies underneath it. When you run, these muscles engage to lift your heel, absorb impact and push your foot off the ground.
When it comes to running fast, it is all about stride length and stride rate. To increase your stride length, you need to gain more airtime between take off and when your foot hits the pavement again. Strong calf muscles allow your foot to push off stronger and faster. This results in a longer, smoother and more powerful stride.
Calf raises help strengthen your calf muscles. Begin by standing with just the balls of your feet facing forward on a step. Raise your heels straight up as far as they can go. Repeat but point your toes in and your heels out to a 45-degree angle. Repeat 10 times. Now rotate so your toes are pointed out and your heels point in at a 45-degree angle. Repeat 10 times. Increased calf strength can help you tackle more advance exercises such as plyometrics, which include jumping and bounding moves, which have shown to improve leg power and running speeds, according to Runner's World.
Nothing can slow you down like a nagging injury. Strong calf muscles can help you avoid injuring your Achilles heel, which is a common injury for runners who dramatically increase training and have weak calves. Calf raises strengthen your muscles in a concentric manner, meaning your muscles are shortened during the exercise. With heel drops, you reduce the risk of injury to your Achilles tendon. This exercise strengthens your calf muscles in an eccentric manner, which means your muscles are lengthened during the exercise. To do this move, stand on a step with just the balls of your feet facing towards the steps. Begin on your tiptoes and gradually lower your heels below your toes. Do three sets of 15 reps.
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.