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In today’s blog we want to take a quick peek at the often-overlooked calf muscles. Many people (and professionals) focus on the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, forgetting that the calves play a crucial role in fall prevention, efficient gait mechanics, injury prevention, and sports performance.

Here’s what we’re going to cover in this week’s blog:

·      A quick review of the anatomy and functions of the calf muscles.

·      Key research findings on the importance of calf strength.

·      Detailed instructions on performing two essential calf strength tests: the Heel-Rise Test and the Calf Raise Senior Test.

Understanding the Calf Muscles

The calf muscles, also known as the triceps surae, consist of three primary muscles: the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris. The gastrocnemius, the most superficial muscle, originates from the femur’s medial and lateral condyles and inserts into the Achilles tendon. This muscle is involved in fast, powerful movements. The soleus, located beneath the gastrocnemius, originates from the tibia and fibula and also inserts into the Achilles tendon. It is more involved in postural and endurance activities, such as standing and walking. The plantaris, a small muscle running between these two, assists in flexing the ankle and knee joints.

The primary function of these muscles is plantar flexion, which involves pointing the toes downward and pushing off the ground, making the calves critical in walking, running, jumping, and climbing stairs. Obviously, this means that they are subject to significant stress, making their strength and endurance vital for overall mobility and stability.

Research on Calf Strength and Its Importance

  1. Fall Prevention: Strong calf muscles contribute to better balance and stability, reducing the risk of falls. 
  2. Gait Efficiency: Efficient walking and running require strong and flexible calf muscles. The soleus muscle, in particular, is crucial for maintaining gait efficiency. Stronger calf muscles improve both walking  and running economy by reducing the energy cost of movement.
  3. Sports Performance: In sports, calf strength is essential for explosive movements like jumping and sprinting. Research generally indicates that athletes with stronger calves have better sprinting and jumping performance.

How to Test Your Calf Muscles

There are two primary research-validated tests for the calf muscles that are fantastic assessments to identify potential problems: the heel-rise test and the calf raise senior test.

How to Perform the Heel-Rise Metronome Test

The Heel-Rise Test is an effective way to assess the relative endurance of your calf muscles. Here’s how to perform it:

  1. Equipment Needed: A metronome set to 60 beats per minute and a 10-degree slant board or wedge.
  2. Starting Position: Stand on one leg with your hands resting lightly on a wall for balance.
  3. Execution:
    • Start the metronome at 60 beats per minute.
    • While keeping your knee straight, perform a calf raise focused on using your full range of motion.
    • You should be at the top of the calf raise on every beat of the metronome.
    • Continue this motion until you can no longer maintain the rhythm or achieve a full calf raise.
    • Write down your total number of repetitions and then repeat on the opposite leg.
  4. Scoring: The number of repetitions you complete is your score. Compare it to the age-adjusted norms in the table below. 

Quick Tip – This test can be VERY hard for many people and because it can be very challenging to maintain balance, it may be less appropriate for your clients over 65. Which is why we have included the next test.

How to Perform the Calf Raise Senior Test (CRST)

The CRST is a field/office test used to assess plantar flexor muscle strength specifically in functionally independent older adults over the age of 65. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Equipment Needed: A wall and a ruler or carpenter square
  2. Starting Position:
    • Barefoot
    • Fingers lightly touching wall at shoulder height for balance
    • Feet hip width apart
    • Knees straight
  3. Find Your Calf Raise Maximal Height
    • Athlete performs a maximal calf raise.
    • Coach places a ruler or square in contact with the wall and the top of the athlete’s head.
    • This will be the reference point for each calf raise to make sure a full range of motion is reached on every rep.
  4. Execution:
    • Set a timer for 30 seconds
    • .At the signal the athlete will begin bilateral calf raises up to the maximum height as determined above
    • .Lower all the way to touch the ground and repeat
    • .Perform as many repetitions as possible in 30 seconds.
    • Record your number.
  5. Scoring: The number of full calf raises completed in 30 seconds is your score. Compare it to the normative data below.
     

Photo Reference: Andre, Helo Isa; André, Helô-Isa; Moniz-Pereira, Vera; Ramalho, Fátima; Santos-Rocha, Rita; Veloso, António; et al. (2019). Responsiveness of the Calf-Raise Senior Test in community-dwelling older adults undergoing an exercise intervention program. figshare. Dataset. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.10282877.v2

Conclusion

Assessing and improving calf strength is crucial for preventing falls, enhancing gait efficiency, and improving sports performance. With these two tests you can get a very clear picture of where you and your clients currently stand, and what may need to be prioritized in training. 

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