Let me be clear from the outset, I am not a Physiotherapist, I am a Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist. I am profoundly aware that many a cowboy will prescriptively offer nutritional advice all over the net on what’s their idea of the ‘best way to lose weight’, the ‘best way to gain muscle’ or whatever it may be. They have the right to share their thoughts, after all opinions are like arseholes and we’re all entitled to one of them right…problem is, arseholes are usually full of s&*%, so quite often these opinions are best kept to ones self. Moving on though, I have recently attended a physio appointment because of a recurrent calf issue exacerbated when running. I know the dangers associated with self medication, so I promptly hired the services of a Chartered Physiotherapist who not only massaged and targeted the calf, but before any of this took a thorough medical and sporting history.
What I learnt…
Why do I think this will be relevant to you, well, in honesty I don’t know that it will, but history shows that calf muscles are some of the most commonly injured muscles in the body (a close second to the shoulder i.e. the infamous rotator cuff). It makes sense when you think about it, the calves take a pounding on a daily basis, especially if you have an active job (less so if you spend most of your working day seated). If you’re moving then your calves are working, the quads will of course be needed too but note that the weight transferred through the quads are dissipated to the calves, whereas the calves are almost the final destination meaning they face the brunt of the force!
Think of what the calves have to go through!
Tragically, the calves are one of the most undertrained muscles in the body, you’ve only got to look on social media channels to see how #trendy ‘don’t skip leg day’ is right now. For those who do train legs, and in particular their calves, I ask you to consider the weight you place on a bar/machine when performing calf raises. I for one aim to raise at least my body weight, so I’ll add 85kg to the smith machine bar and calf raise away. However, if you do that you should remember that you are effectively calf raising 170kg, because your poor calves have to lift your body weight too! My physio pointed out that this is by any standard a significant weight (no pun intended) to bear, and yet the calves manage it with no problems whatsoever (usually).
Increasing calf flexibility is tough!
Keeping the calves strength and durability in mind, imagine how tough it must be to stretch them out in long term. Every one of us should stretch our calves before training, this is a given right, but should you need to increase calf flexibility in the long term then they need repeated stretching over the course of a day. My physio recommended holding each stretch for a minimum of 20secs, but have a guess how long you’d need to hold a one off calf stretch for in order to elicit a long term change in calf length and flexibility…
6 hours, a whole 360 minutes! Clearly this isn’t practical, heck you’d probably end up with a referred injury somewhere else because of this. Instead, should you wish to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury, then aim to stretch your calves every 10-20mins a day, holding each stretch for a minimum of 20secs. If you’re serious about your training, then you’ll find the time.