If there’s one thing runners love doing, it’s running (obviously). And if there’s one thing runners don’t really enjoy, it’s strength and conditioning work. There’s no mystery to it – if you’re already running a lot, making time for more exercise that you don’t enjoy as much is not an appealing proposition – but some strength work is vital if you want to improve your running and make yourself more resilient to injury.
The calf raise is an excellent place to start. It’s an easy exercise to do anywhere – you can knock out a set while brushing your teeth or waiting for the kettle to boil – and strong calves are essential to strong running.
Every step you take when running puts a significant amount of strain on the calves, and common injuries like achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis are often caused by weak calves that can’t handle that strain. Building up your running gradually and strengthening your calves with regular raises are your best bets for reducing the risk of suffering these problems.
Hopefully that should have convinced all runners of the benefits of calf raises, but it’s not just runners who should be doing them. Any keen sportsperson will benefit from stronger calves, and gym-goers will no doubt already know that they are tricky muscles to target, so adding calf raises to your routine is a must.
How To Do Calf Raises
Exercises don’t come much simpler than the calf raise. Stand up straight, then push through the balls of your feet and raise your heel until you are standing on your toes. Then lower slowly back to the start.
For this reason, calf raises are just about the easiest exercise to slip into your day-to-day life. Do them while brushing your teeth, or waiting for the kettle to boil, or standing in an lift.
Calf Raise Variations
Weighted calf raise
It’s a good idea to increase the difficulty of calf raises with weights once you’re well acquainted with the exercise. Holding a dumbbell in each hand while doing raises will help prepare the calf to handle the extra pressure put on it during sports like running.
Raised calf raise
Stand on a step so your heel can drop lower than the rest of your foot at the bottom of the movement. This provides a greater range of motion in your calf during the exercise. You can hold dumbbells to make this variation tougher, but it can be tricky to keep your balance when holding dumbbells that are too heavy.
Bent-knee calf raise
Bending your knees slightly when doing any kind of calf raises switches the workload from the gastrocnemius – the larger calf muscle – to the soleus, which might be smaller but is no less important. Your calf raise routine should include as many bent-knee exercises as straight-knee raises.
Seated calf raise
Many gyms have a seated calf raise machine where you can adjust the weight easily, but you can also do this variation by sitting on a chair with your feet on a raised surface so your heels hang off the back. With the latter you can rest dumbbells on your knees to add resistance to the movement. Seated calf raises are especially good for working the soleus muscles and allow you to add significant weight to the exercise with less risk of losing your balance.
Single-leg calf raise
If you are a keen runner, one thing that won’t have escaped your attention is that you don’t run on two legs at the same time, so it’s a good idea to train your legs individually. You can, and should, try standard calf raises, bent-knee raises, seated raises, or raised raises on one leg, and progress to adding weight to the move.