Calf raises should be part of every runner's workout regimen. Sprinters, middle distance runners and long-distance runners alike, can benefit from strengthening your lower leg muscles to improve your running speed and reduce your risk for injuries.
Lower Leg Muscles
The lower legs consist of three muscles that work to flex the foot and support the ankle: the soleus, gastrocnemius and tibialis anterior. The soleus is the larger and deepest of the calf muscles and is stimulated when the knee is in the flexed position; such as in seated calf raises. The gastrocnemius consists of two heads -- the lateral and medial head, which both attach to the femur. Both heads of the gastrocnemius lay over the soleus and insert into the Achilles tendon. It becomes active when the knee is extended in exercises such as standing calf raises. The tibialis anterior runs along the front of the lower leg next to the shin bone and is stimulated when the foot is flexed.
Strong ankles can help prevent against ankle strains and help increase stride length. The soleus and gastrocnemius are the two primary muscles that influence ankle strength. Strengthening these two muscles will make your ankles stronger, allowing you to push harder off the ground, which increases the time you are airborne. As a result, your stride become longer, and your speed will increase, notes BrianMac Sports Coach.
Anterior Tibialis Muscle
Developing a strong anterior tibialis muscle allows for greater flexion of the foot. The more you are able to flex your foot, the greater the force you exert into the ground when your foot makes contact. This increase in force, allows you to push off the ground harder, thus increasing your speed. Furthermore, strengthening the anterior tibialis can prevent shin splits; a common problem amongst runners.
Lower Leg Workout
Your gastrocnemius responds best to heavier resistance and low repetitions; whereas, the soleus responds to lighter weight and higher repetitions. For your first calf workout, perform each exercise with as many reps as it takes to fatigue the muscles. If your legs are in bad shape, that could be as few as eight. Work your way up over time, and as your calf strength improves, to the ideal number of reps and sets for each, which are: standing calf raises -- three to five sets of eight to 10 reps; three sets of 20 to 30 reps of seated calf raises; and three sets of 20 reps of body-weight toe raises.
Strength train calves once or twice weekly on nonconsecutive days. Train your calves following your running workout, or on days you are not running to avoid premature fatigue in your lower legs. Furthermore, adding in hill training into your training program to help further strength your lower legs. Running hill sprints can benefit both sprinters and distance runners by strengthening the ankles and encouraging dorsiflexion, which will help strengthen the anterior tibialis.