Runners sometimes suffer from tight calves, especially if warm up and cool down routines have been neglected. What you may not know is that commonly it is the outer calf muscle, the gastrocnemius, that gets the most attention. Underneath the outer calf lies another muscle that is incredibly important, especially for middle distance and barefoot runners. It’s the soleus, and this article will tell you how to look after it and avoid soleus muscle injury.
What is the soleus muscle?
Soleus muscle injury and soreness is often experienced by longer distance runners. The outer calf muscles are powerful and built with fast-twitch fibres – they’re perfect for sprints and fast, explosive movements. Slow twitch muscles power the longer distances at steady paces, and that’s where the soleus comes in. If the soleus is overworked in distance training, you may experience a deeper throbbing that clearly feels separate from outer calf pain. The outer muscles can remain relaxed while the deeper muscles are tensed, cramped or inflamed.
Which runners experience soleus muscle soreness?
Runners that prefer to run wearing low profile shoes, soft-soled shoes or naturally incline toward a forefoot gait can be more likely to experience a soleus muscle injury. This is because the soleus controls plantar flexion – that is, the moment your toes point and press downward. Runners who land and push off on the forefoot will be asking a lot more of the soleus than heel strikers. This repeated flexion and impact shock absorption can lead to overused and achy soleus muscles.
How to avoid soleus muscle injury
Focus on strengthening the soleus muscles in between training sessions. This exercise can be done with bodyweight only to begin with until you are familiar with the technique. After that, begin to use weights in order to mimic the additional force that the muscles would naturally be under while running.
Take a ‘wall sit’ position, where your back is against the wall and your feet are pointed straight ahead. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor. Roll up onto the balls of your feet and roll back down, ensuring a controlled descent. Turn your toes inward and outward, repeating the rise and fall each time. You may also like to train on softer surfaces when possible to decrease impact shock.
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Whilst Enertor has over 18 years Orthotics experience, our blog content is provided for informational purposes only and it is not a substitute for your own doctor’s medical advice. Enertor advises anyone with an injury to seek their own medical advice – and do not make any health or medical related decisions based solely on information found on this site.