The calf muscle: It's back there working


Last updated 2/14/2019 at 10:05am

Sonja Hults photo

Exercise is the best approach to build strength and endurance for the calf muscle.

Megan Johnson McCullough

Special to the Village News

The calf muscle is actually made up of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the larger muscle that people see bulging out of the leg. It is a superficial muscle, meaning it is just under the surface of the skin, that has two heads. The soleus lives underneath the larger muscle. The two muscles taper together the bottom and head into the Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon leads down to the heel. When movement occurs, such as walking, running or jumping, the calf muscle takes the lead and pulls the heel up for motion.

The calf muscle plays a major role in lower body movement, so when its function is disrupted, it is cause for concern. A pulled calf muscle occurs when the calf has been stretched beyond its limit. It can lead to a strain caused by the over stretch that tears some of the fibers. These tears can be partial or complete and range in severity.

Rhabdomyolosis can also occur when there has been long term pressure on the muscle, although this condition usually affects more than just one muscle in the body. A "Charley Horse" in the calf muscle is common cramping condition. These cramps can result from fatigue, diet, dehydration and muscle imbalance. Stretching, massaging, wearing proper footwear and good diet are important factors. Exercise is the best approach to build strength and endurance for this muscle especially when someone's occupation involves constant standing.

To strengthen the calf muscle, different variations of raises can be done with body weight or added weight. Exercises can be done on one or both legs. Exercises can be done seated or standing.

The calf muscle can often go neglected when the common focus for exercise is on the major muscle groups; however, when the calf muscle isn't happy, it will let the body know. Soreness to this area can happen after a night in high heels, running after a long break from exercise, repetitive jumping and stair climbing.

Sometimes the hardest workers need attention too, and the calves should not be undervalued. In order to put one foot in front of the other, the calf has to move the body forward. So just because they live behind the leg doesn't mean they aren't worthy of making the to-do list at the gym. The body is a kinetic chain, and it is only as strong as its weakest link. So don't let those calves be the weak link to performance or movement patterns.

Megan Johnson McCullough holds a master's degree in physical education and health science, is a candidate for her doctorate, is a professional natural bodybuilder and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine master trainer.


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