As I write this, I'm icing my right calf muscle; the little bugger has been a bit cranky as of late so I'm being proactive and giving it a little TLC. Let's be honest, a runner's reality comes with the creaks and squeaks, the moans and groans from the muscles and body. We're like our own Tin Men and Tin Women. To keep those creaks from turning into the full-on screams of injury, we need to get out our oil cans. In other words, we need to ice, massage, stretch, and the like.
Everyone is different and after a while, we get to know where our squeaks tend flare up. For some it’s the perpetually tight hamstring, the plantar fascia that rears its ugly head now and then, the Achilles, the IT band and so forth. Knowing our weak points is important because we can focus on being extra diligent with these areas, and do all we can to prevent a flare-up.
More: How to Aggressively Treat IT Band Syndrome
If the calf muscles are your weak point, listen up, because doing some strength moves in addition to stretching and icing will do you good. In fact, if your Achilles are your weak points, working on your calf strength will help with that as well. Actually, even if these aren't your known creaks and squeaks, strengthening them isn't going to hurt you and will help you as a runner.
More: 4 Strength Exercises for Runners
The 3-Way Calf Raise Trick and Achilles Care
Forward raise: Find a set of stairs and stand with the toes of both feet on the step; allow the arch and heel of your foot to hang off the back of the step and hold onto a rail for balance. Point both toes forward and lower your heels down until they are below your toes and as far down as you can reach without your toes leaving the step. Now raise up and onto your toes in a slow, controlled movement. Lower yourself back down and repeat for a set of 10 to 15 raises.
Inward facing raise: With your toes on the same step, point your toes inward so they are facing each other. Lower your heels down until they are below your toes on the step and raise up onto your toes just as you did the first time. Keep the motions slow and controlled to work the muscles; lower and repeat for a set of 10 to 15.
Outward facing raise: This time point your toes away from each other—your heels will be nearly touching. Do the same lowering and then raising motion, and repeat for a set of 10 to 15.
Start out with doing just one set of each raise, and gradually work your way up until you are doing 2 to 3 sets. Be sure not to just whip through each raise and cheat a bit with momentum. It's better to slow down so that the muscles really have to work.
Doing these exercises in three different directions works both of the calf muscles (the soleus and gastrocnemius) from three angles. You need this because when you're running you aren’t always on the same even terrain—you take turns, step on angles, rocks, etc—and you aren't always working those muscles from a single, laterally-forward position. This way, when you're out running, if you step on a curb or rock at an odd angle, your calf muscles won't be so shocked and you'll have less chances of injury.
The same theory applies to your Achilles tendon, and by strengthening the muscles around the tendon with the exercises above, you can stave off Achilles issues.
More: How to Prevent Achilles Tendonitis
Taking care of your little squeaks, creaks and injury-prone spots will not only save your sanity—you won't be faced with an injury that makes you take time off—but it will also vastly improve your running. We all know that consistency and being healthy enough to run those workouts are the keys to being your best.
More: How to Become a Consistent Runner and Nail New PRs
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