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Calf Exercises for Runners

Calf injuries like calf strains, or calf associated injuries like achilles tendonitis and sprained ankles are common among runners. We see them often in the physiotherapy clinic, especially when athletes are increasing their kms or training for a race and NOT cross training. Cross training with strength and mobility exercises is so important because it keeps your body resilient, resistant to injury, and strong under multi-directional forces. One of the most important muscle groups to strengthen are your calf muscles.

The calf muscle is composed of two muscles that insert into the heel via the achilles tendon, these are:

  • The Gastrocnemius, which is more active in a straight leg position

  • The Soleus, which is more active in a bent knee position

The calf muscles are the powerhouses of running. With each push off, the achilles tendon can experience a force of 6-8 times your body weight. Think of how many times you push off while running, that is A LOT of force! You need strong calves in order to take this amount of load without breaking under pressure. So if you are skipping leg day, specifically “calf day” you are increasing your risk of a repetitive stress injury.

Here are some calf exercises you can incorporate into a fitness routine to help strengthen your calves. We recommend doing the exercises 2-3 x week for the suggested sets and reps.

  1. Seated Weighted Calf Raises

3 sets x 15-20 reps, using a challenging weight

2. Standing Dumbbell Calf Raises

3 sets x 15-20 reps, using a challenging weight

NOTE: There is no magic number when it comes to using weight. It just needs to be challenging and fatiguing by the last 3 repetitions of each set. You will need to progress your weight as your calves get stronger. General rule of thumb is approximately 10-15% weight increase per week or every 3 workout sessions.

Don’t have access to equipment? Try These:

  1. Single Leg Calf Raises

3 sets x 20-25 reps on each side

Too easy? Try off the edge of a step. By doing this you will be strengthening the muscle through a longer range of motion and therefore making it more challenging

2. Single Leg Bent Knee Isometric Hold

3 sets x 20-30 second holds on each side

Too easy? Toss some books or filled water bottles into a backpack to load your calves. You can place the loaded backpack on your thighs to make it more challenging.


* If you are having any pain in your calves, achilles tendon, or heel when doing these exercises, please speak with your physiotherapist to discuss adaptations and suitability.*

If you'd like to learn more about cross-training or need adaptations for calf specific exercises, book with one of our physiotherapists. You can call our clinic at 604-553-1203 or book online by clicking here.


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