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The benefits of running include losing or maintaining weight, preventing muscle and bone loss, fighting disease (such as reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease), building confidence, improved coordination and relieving stress. When starting to run on a regular basis it is important to know how to properly strengthen calf muscles so that you are not injured as a result of regular running.
The calves are the largest muscles that influence the ankles and contribute to overall ankle strength. Properly strengthened calf muscles contribute to balance and function in running, walking and jumping. In preparation for a regular running routine, there are some ways to build calf muscle strength.
Understanding The Calf Muscles
The calf muscle is made up of two muscles:
A large muscle that can be seen and felt on the back of the lower leg.
This muscle is worked when performing heel raises.
Located under the gastrocnemius, this muscle is not visible and can not be felt. This is a joint muscle starting from the upper part of the tibia and fibula and going to the Achilles tendon. This muscle planter flexes the foot. This is muscle is worked by performing squats or knee bends.
Cardio exercises get the blood pumping and your heart rate going and are a great way to build calf muscles. In addition to helping to promote a healthy lifestyle and increasing overall health, cardiovascular exercises of varying degrees help to strengthen calf muscles.
Cardiovascular exercises are generally done for longer periods of time. This means that your calves get more of a workout than simply doing calf-strengthening exercises alone.
Walking is a great way to tone and strengthen calf muscles. It is best to keep the same pace during the duration of the walk and increase the walking pace each time you walk. The faster you walk, the harder you work your calf muscles.
Once you build up initial strength in your calf muscles you can add ankle weights to enhance results. In addition to strengthening your calves, walking is an excellent cardiovascular workout and can help to burn fat.
Toe raises are a good way to strengthen and shape calf muscles before starting a regular running routine. These exercises tone the shin muscles and reduce pain that may result in this area from running. To do toe raises:
- Stand on a ledge or a step device on your heels, keep toes in the air
- Hold on to a wall or other support to maintain balance
- Raise toes upwards as far as they can go
- Release and go back to original position and repeat
Calf raises are another great way to strengthen leg muscles. In order for calf raises to be effective, you have to do the opposite of toe raises. To do calf raises:
- Stand on a ledge or step device on your toes, keep heels outside and hanging in the air
- Raise toes as high as you can
- Return to original position
- Make sure you are positioned correctly so that you are using your calf muscles to raise and lower your legs
- Posture is important to get the right position, keep your body upright
It is important to stretch your calf muscles following the above exercises. Two common stretches for leg muscles are:
- Sit down with legs extended straight outward in front of you
- Bend your torso while in this position and extend your hands so they touch your feet and use your hands to hold the ball of your feet
Aerobic Step Box
- Rest the step box on the ground so half of the foot rests comfortably (similar to sitting calf raise)
- Step up and down and raise your feet to the highest possible height so that you feel your calf muscles tighten
- After you have reached your peak, lower your feet down slowly so that you feel a deep stretch of the calf muscles
- Use your arms to maintain balance
- Make sure feet do not touch the ground upon lowering
- Maintain a steady pace and repeat 12-15 times
Now you are ready for actual running.
There are a few running activities to chose from that will properly work calf muscles.
The treadmill is a great way to run at a controlled pace. You strengthen calf muscles at your own pace and increase the level as you build up strength in your calves.
Jogging is a good way to build and maintain calf muscle strength without putting excess stress on calf muscles. It is important to maintain a steady pace while jogging for maximum effectiveness.
- Uphill jogging and walking
Jogging or walking uphill is a great way to build calf muscle strength. Your calves will be at the right angel and you will get the right level of resistance needed to effectively build strength in your legs and calf muscles. You can increase intensity by choosing steeper hills once you have established a comfortable routine and are ready for more of a challenge, but don’t push yourself.
- Stairmaster / stair climber
These machines can be found at most gyms and fitness centers and are great for maintaining calves year round.