Why do I keep straining my calf?
I hear from many of my runners that they have a history of a calf strain or cyclically strain their calves over and over. They may take some time off or reduce their intensity and the pain and tightness gradually gets better, but a couple months or years later…. it happens again! Why is this?
When running, you land on one foot and your body transitions forward over that planted foot until we are ready to toe-off, push off or take off.
If you imagine one end of a rubber band tacked to the bottom of your foot and wrapping up over your heel and tacking to just above the knee, that is a good representation of the tension created by your calf muscle. Your calf muscles are actually 2 muscles: gastrocnemius and soleus. They form together at the achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon attaches to your heel but is continuous with the fascia of the bottom of your foot (plantar fascia).
Now returning back to the rubber band analogy…
When you initially land and your body starts to move forward over your foot, that rubber band is getting stretched as the ankle begins to flex relative to the position of your shin. That rubber band is absorbing energy as it stretches. This is happening to our calves. We are building up energy in our calf as we transition our body over our foot. Now imagine what happens when you release tension on one end of a rubber band, it comes springing back to it’s shortened state. Our calves use that stored energy while being stretched to assist with pushing off the ground.
Our calves work in conjunction with our glutes and hamstrings to generate our propulsion forward during toe off. We need sufficient strength in all three to maximize our efficiency and power generation with push off. If your glutes or hamstrings are weak, then we may compensate and over-utilize our calves for push-off.
In order for our claves to be able to perform this energy transfer, we need
sufficient ankle mobility
sufficient foot, ankle, hamstring, and glute strength
sufficient hip extension mobility so that we can use our glutes and hamstrings to help with push off
How do we get these things?