Time and time again we instruct users on what exercises to AVOID at the gym. Well, here’s another one we can toss into that pile. The over-utilized “calf raise” machine at the gym or using heel raises to strengthen your feet. This linear up/down contraption or motion may seem like a great way to get stronger, but like most machines… it doesn’t promote function nor is it specific to running.
The gastrocnemius (gastroc for short) muscle is the most superficial of the two and is most associated with the word “calf”; however, it’s partner in crime, the soleus, plays a significantly larger role in running.
For simplification, I can assure that when your knee bends, the gastroc goes on slack and your soleus is put on stretch. So let’s think about the running motion. Your foot advances under you (fixed to the ground) as your shin glides over your foot. What does the calf raise machine promote? Well think about it… as you push the weight up, your shin is staying still and your foot is moving… the exact OPPOSITE of what happens when you run.
What does this mean users of the calf raise as a means to strengthen their calf? Well first of all, the calf muscle they’re training is the wrong one of the two, as most calf machines promote a straight knee. Second, you’re training the foot to move on the shin, not shin on foot. Jumping sports mimic the calf raise machine more than anything.. and still yet, there’s better ways to train this muscle group for that population.
You want your muscles to strengthen the way they function. Sure my hip abducts (kicks out to the side), but when do you do that in life? The main role of the hip is to stabilize your pelvis. This can be replicated throughout the body. You need to train movements, not muscles. Train the movements that mimic your sport.
Add this to the growing list of useless machines that are provided as means to make us stronger & faster. We always look to train MOVEMENTS, not muscles.. but that’s a story for another day.