There are several reasons why having strong calf muscles is an important part of overall health and fitness. The calf muscles play an important role in providing the structure and strength necessary for supporting the ankles and the feet. They also play a vital role in supporting a person’s knees, thighs, and upper body, as well as actions such as walking, running, and proper balance. Whether you’re recovering from a calf injury or simply want to work on improving your calf strength for other reasons, physical therapy can help.

Anatomy

Almost everyone is familiar with the muscle in the rear part of their lower leg, otherwise known as the gastrocnemius. What they may not know about this muscle is that it actually forms two heads at the knee and runs all the way down to the heel on each leg.

The soleus, another major calf muscle, resides underneath the gastrocnemius muscle. It also runs from just below the knee down to the heel. The soleus muscle also attaches to the lower leg bones, i.e., the tibia and the fibula. The plantaris muscle is a smaller muscle that resides roughly in the middle of the calf area (along with its tendon), between the two heads of the gastrocnemius muscle. The Achilles tendon is the thickest tendon within the human body. At its upper end, it attaches to both the soleus and the gastrocnemius muscles. The lower part of the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel bone.

Exercises to Strengthen Your Calf Muscles

People want to strengthen their calf muscles for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they injured a calf muscle during a vehicle or sports injury and are now experiencing calf weakness, or they need to improve their balance. Others want to improve their strength as part of triathlon training or another type of sports program.

Below is a list of exercises to strengthen your calf muscles. Each exercise strengthens various components that make up the calf muscle.

  • Standing/seated heel and toe raises.
  • Seated/standing soleus raises.
  • Double/single-leg heel raises.
  • Lunges and squats.
  • Resisted ankle dorsiflexion and plantar flexion.

Heel and Toe Raises

Just beginning to work on your calf strength? It’s best to perform heel and toe raises in a seated position. Simply sit in a sturdy chair with both feet flat on the floor. Lift the heels upward from their starting position, then return to neutral. Toe raises can also be performed from a seated position. Once again, have both feet planted on the floor. Without moving the heels, simply lift the toes upward, then return to neutral. You can also perform a more advanced version of heel and toe raises from a standing position.

Seated or Standing Soleus Raises and Double or Single-Leg Heel Raises

Seated soleus raises are somewhat similar to heel raises, only the knees will be higher than the hips and bent at least 80°. Double and single-leg heel raises are quite similar to standing heel raises. The difference is that rather than performing heel raises directly from the floor, the exercise is performed while standing on the edge of a stair or an exercise step platform.

Ankle Dorsiflexion and Plantar Flexion

The ankle dorsiflexion exercise is performed by sitting on the floor, then stretching one leg out to the front. Attach one end of a resistance band to a sturdy structure. The other end wraps around the end of the foot of the outstretched leg. The resistance comes into play as the person attempts to point their toes toward their body. Resisted plantar flexion is also performed on the floor. In this exercise, the person holds one end of the resistance band while the other end wraps around their outstretched foot. The resistance comes into play as they point their toes away from their body, then slowly return to a neutral position.

Frequency

You can perform each of these exercises two to three times a day, one or two sets each time, with each set consisting of 10-15 repetitions. If a person is recovering from an injury, it’s important to start at the lower end of sets and repetitions. This is in order to avoid calf strain or calf tightness. As a person’s strength improves, they can increase the number of sets and/or repetitions. Most people will begin to notice improvements in strength in four to six weeks.

Summary

If you’ve experienced a calf injury or would like professional advice on how to improve your strength and fitness, physical therapy can help. A trained physical therapist can design a safe plan to improve your calf strength, range of motion, and posture. They can also identify possible impairments in order to prevent re-injury. Contact Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab at 570-208-2787 for more information.