Calf Strengthening for Better Running

The role of calf muscles in running, and how to strengthen calf muscles for better running
Calf Strengthening for Better Running

The posterior chain muscles Glutes, Hamstrings, and Calf muscles are very important in creating the force needed to run. It is well known that strengthening the gluteal muscles can prevent injuries and enhance performance for runners. Calf muscles, however, are often overlooked. The calf muscles are mainly composed of Gastrocnemius, Soleus, and Tibialis posterior muscles. These muscles are attached to Achilles' tendon.

In this article, we go into the details of

  • Role of calf muscles in running
  • Key workouts to strengthen calf muscles

Role of Calf Muscles in Running

Calf muscles play their role through the running gait cycle.

  • During the initial contact Gastrocnemius muscle controls the ankle movement and plays a vital role in how a runner strikes the ground and cushions the impact. This is the reason why, forefoot and midfoot strikers require stronger calf muscles, whereas rear-foot/heel strikers depend on tibialis anterior muscles.
  • During the mid-stance, the calf-muscle group, more specifically the posterior tibialis muscle controls the foot pronation and helps us stabilize the body.
  • Finally, during push-off calf muscles play an important role to extend the ankle, generating force for take-off from the ground, along with the other muscles in the posterior chain.

Calf muscles play an even more important role in uphill and downhill running. They help with better ankle extension for uphill running while taking the load through eccentric contraction along with the quadriceps.

Effects of Weak Calf Muscles

Weak calf muscles mean reduced ankle mobility and stability, and this is often the cause of common foot injuries such as Achilles Tendonitis and Plantar Fasciitis. Thus the strengthening of calf muscles becomes important to keep these injuries at bay.

Weaker engagement of calf muscles is often associated with rear-foot strike running pattern. That leads to overuse of anterior tibialis muscles and also is often the reason for shin splints.

It is also common to see mid-foot and fore-foot strikers switch to heel-strike towards the later part of the longer runs. Ever noticed it? It is because of the fatigued calf muscles.

Also, ever noticed, calf muscles are the first to give away and often the first to cramp during marathons? Contrary to popular belief, cramps are more commonly caused by fatigued calf muscles than electrolyte imbalance.

Strengthening Calf Muscles

Prioritizing the strengthening of calf muscles and their mobility should be a vital part of every runner’s routine.


The following are selected workouts of #WoW (Workout of the Week) column from our weekly newsletter. You can subscribe here to get these weekly running specific workouts delivered to your email.

Calf Raises Drill

The calf Raises drill is one of the easiest exercises to perform. It has two variations. The first variation involves calf raise from the flat heel position. The second variation includes calf raise with a heel-drop.

Calf Raises helps runners in multiple ways. At a basic level, it helps strengthen calf muscles, that includes posterior tibialis. The posterior Tibialis plays an essential role in controlling the foot arch, hence calf-raises are a good drill to build a strong foot arch and control pronation and foot stability. The second variation includes heel-drop also helps in stretching the calf, ankle & plantar, and adds further difficulty to Calf Raises.

How to do it?

This drill needs a step and support of a wall or railing

  • Stand on the step; with weight on the toes, and for balance hold a grill or wall with your hands as shown in figure A
  • Then raise yourself on the toes all the way, and hold it for 2-3 seconds as shown in figure B
  • Once you are in the position, bring your heels all the way down
  • In the calf-raises drill (first variation), hold the heel position once you reach the horizontal position as shown in figure A
  • In calf raises with heel-drop (second variation), bring the heel down all the way (not touching the ground) so the calf feels the full stretch as shown in figure C.
  • Bring the heel back to position as shown in figure A.
  • Repeat this as many times as prescribed.

When to do it?

Do it twice a week with 20 to 30 repetitions as part of your strength training. Once you are used to doing it with both legs; try doing it with only one leg while the other leg is taken off the ground.

Bent Knee Calf Raises

Bent Knee Calf Raises, is a variation that particularly works on strengthening soleus muscles.

How to do it?

To be effective this workout is done using external weights.

  • Stand on both legs with dumbbells held in your arms or barbell on the back shoulders (as shown in the figure A)
  • As the name suggests the workout involves bending the knee
  • Once your knees are in a bent position, raise the calf by plantar flexing the ankle (as shown in figure B)
  • Once at the top position, slowly descend back to the ground and rest the feet.

When to do it?

It is ideal to include it as part of your strength training routine. 3 sets of 20 reps on each side is a good starting point.

Single Leg Hops

Single-leg hops is a plyometric drill that helps in developing power, simultaneously improving our balance & stability. This exercise helps in coordination between ankle extension, knee extension, and the firing of glutes to optimize power and balance.

How to do it?

This exercise does not need any props and can be done anywhere. Go back to your childhood memories, we all have played this at some point in time.

  • Before doing this workout, mobilize your ankle, hip, and core
  • Stand straight in a neutral position, then bend at the knee on one leg as shown in Figure A
  • Balance yourself and continue to bend to get the maximum flexion (at ankle, knee and hip), as you are ready to hop as in Figure B.
  • Drive through the ball of the foot, to generate optimal force as you hop (Figure C & D)
  • Land on the ball of the foot (Figure E) and bend the hip and knee to land softly on the ground (Figure F)
  • Hop for 8-10 times at one go and then repeat on the other leg

When to do it?

You can do this once or twice a week as part of your warm-up drills or your strength training sessions. If you have balance & stability issues, we recommend it daily in the short-term.

Foam Rolling: Calves (Gastrocnemius-Soleus)

Foam rolling is one of the most important and easy ways to improve mobility, release trigger points, and relieve muscle soreness. As runners, we all know this and yet at times ignore it or do not know the correct way of doing it.

The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles that make up our calf muscles play a super important role in running. The calf muscles are responsible for plantarflexion of the foot and ankle and control foot pronation. They produce the majority of the force during the last stage of push-off. It is natural that they get sore after running and get tight over time. Many injuries at the ankle and heel in the lower leg begin with tightness in the calf muscles.

Foam-rolling calves will not only release the tightness (helps to recover faster) and it helps in minimizing common running injuries.

How to do it?

  • Sit on the floor with your legs extended forward, and place the foam roller below the base of the calf muscles (at ankles).
  • Lift yourself up to the height of the foam roller, and balance yourself with your hands on the floor as shown in figure A.
  • You can crossover one leg above the other, for additional pressure during the rolling.
  • Shift and move your body so that roller rolls up towards the back of your knee as shown in figure B.
  • Make sure you go slow to identify the sore points and focus on that area to release it by rolling gently.
  • Do it for a minute, and then repeat on the other leg.

When to do it?

Incorporate this into your mobility work, for 5 minutes.

Courtesy: Team Run Mechanics. This article was first published on

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