How to do calf raises – and how they help build strength

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How to do calf raises

Your calf muscles are vitally important in running, helping you lift up your feet, push forward and land on every single step of your run. Without strong calves, you not only won't be able to run to your best ability, but you also risk injury.

In fact, calf problems are among the most common running injuries, from calf muscle tears to recurrent cramps via super tight, painful muscles. And tight muscles can themselves cause problems in other areas, from your achilles to your quads.

Regular stretching after exercise can certainly help – try these simple calf stretches – but it's also really important to build strength, so that the calves perform as they are supposed to.

How do calf raises help?

'Calf raises are a great exercise for reducing injury risk and should be done by all runners on a regular basis,' says Graeme Woodward, a UK Athletics Level 3 performance coach, UKSCA accredited S&C coach and We Run coach for West Yorkshire.

'The calf raise isolates the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles, which are a major injury site in runners, and they can also improve performance by building the ability to extend the ankle.'

'The benefits of the calf raise are actually more to do with the eccentric lowering back down part of the action, as this requires more force and so increases strength more. Calf raises should be done slowly and with a high number of repetitions, even with added weight using dumbbells or weight plates.'

What's more, calf raises are very simple, quick to do, require nothing more than a step or raised ledge and can easily be fitted into your daily routine. They really are one of those "do while the kettle boils" exercises that can make a big difference to your running.

Can they really build strength?

Yes, they certainly can. A study published in the journal Physiological Reports showed that in 30 untrained students put through a series of different calf raises, from low weight but high repetitions to high weight and low reps, all saw an increase in muscle thickness.

How to do a calf raise correctly

calf raises
calf raises
  1. Stand nice and upright, by a step or raised area. You can create your own at the gym by using a weight plate. Make sure your shoulders are back and your posture is good.

  2. Place the balls of your feet on the step or plate, making sure that your heels 'hang' off the back and are not touching the floor.

  3. Keeping your feet still and toes still pointing forwards, raise your heels, contracting your calves. Slowly lower back down to the starting position.

  4. As this becomes comfortable and routine, add weight using dumbbells or weight plates

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