Why coaches and athletes must stop ignoring the calf muscles
Coaches and athletes need to respect the fact the lower leg is a powerhouse in force production and explosive capabilities, which means the calf area must not be neglected during training.
Calf muscle development helps athletes excel in sprinting, running and dynamic effort activities
Many coaches and athletes fail to properly train the calf area
Concentrating on calf strengthening can lead to a reduction in lower-leg injuries
Calf muscle development: Do not ignore the lower legs
Coaches and athletes should have a “new school mentality” rather than an old-school mindset when it comes to training calf muscles, a leading strength and conditioning coach says.
Matthew Ibrahim — a strength and conditioning coach who is also an adjunct professor and PhD student whose primary focus is lower-body injury reduction in athletes — believes too many coaches and athletes ignore the calf area in training, which can lead to higher rates of injury.
He said while indirect loading of the calf region can occur during integrated lower body exercises such as squats or deadlifts, it was important to isolate the calf region by directly loading the area in a strength training program.
“With calf training, there is often an old-school mentality. [People often say] ‘calf training is for bodybuilders,’ or ‘training calves is a waste of time,’ or ‘calf muscles will benefit from other lower body training’,” he said during his Science for Sport presentation titled ‘Calf Development.’
“But this doesn’t put the athlete in the best position possible.
“The facts are, [with] running, sprinting, jumping and landing, the feet are the first to leave the ground, then touch the ground. Feet propel you forward, produce force, accelerate, decelerate, absorb force, land. The calf region is highly involved in these processes.
“[So calf muscle development is beneficial for] any sport involving running, sprinting, jumping and landing.”
Goodbye old-school, hello new-school
Ibrahim said current academic research supported the use of eccentric calf exercises to prevent muscle fatigue in the calf region, and both traditional eccentric training and heavy slow resistance training yielded positive, lasting clinical results in patients with Achilles tendinopathy.
He said “a new-school mentality” was needed and properly managing, loading, and training the lower leg was associated with a decreased risk of calf region injuries.
“If you want your athletes to build force-generating capabilities, make improvements in function, unlock one of the strongest muscles in their body, prevent muscle fatigue, create propulsive forces, reduce the risk of injury and become strong … then add calf region direct loading into your training program,” he said.
The lower leg: Your force-production powerhouse
He added coaches and athletes needed to respect the fact the lower leg is a powerhouse in force production and explosive capabilities, which means the calf area must not be neglected during training.
Older athletes, or those with a previous history of calf problems, were more susceptible to lower-leg injuries, Ibrahim said.