Reason for pain in running training could be a neglect of the calves. A targeted training of these muscles is not only optimal injury prevention, but also helps to exploit their full performance potential while running.
The main muscles under the knee are the two calf muscles, the larger gastrocnemius and the smaller soleus. Both contribute to the ankle extension. Gastrocnemius is the larger of the two and lies in the outer part of the lower leg, while the soleus is smaller and lies in the inner side.
The calf muscles interact with the ankle using a variety of smaller muscles that stabilize and control the movement of this joint and the foot. Of crucial importance within the movement chain of the soft tissue from the lower limb is the Achilles tendon. This soft tissue area connects the heel bone with the calf muscles. It acts as a kind of cable that "pulls" on the heel through the action of the calf muscles to trigger an ankle movement. It also has an important shock-absorbing function that can significantly contribute to developing the athletic power needed for running, jumping and agility movements (more on that later).
To the front of the lower legs, running over and around the tibia, there is another soft tissue that also stabilizes and controls the ankle and foot movement. This includes the muscle peroneus longus and tendons such. For example, the tendon of the extensor hallucis longus. The foot structure contains over 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as 24 bones. As we will see later, this can also contribute significantly to athletic power, balance and stability.
The action of the lower leg while walking, running and sprinting
Researchers from California spent some time analyzing the function of the major muscles of the lower leg involved in walking. (1) The team studied the individual contributions of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles at a walking speed of 1.5 meters per second. At each moment of the gait cycle (walking or running), the activity required of these muscles to support the body and move forward is defined. This was done by their contribution to the vertical and horizontal speed of the trunk as well as their contribution to the forward movement of the legs during the swing phase of the gait cycle.
The stance phase occurs when one foot is on the ground and the other is swinging forward (swing phase) in preparation for the following step (ground contact). During the stance phase, the body is normally held in an upright position.
For the lower leg muscles, the researchers found that the gastrocnemius and soleus provide support to the trunk during the one-leg stance phase and the forepart stages of walking. As the body moves forward in the early phase of the standing leg position, the muscles accelerate the trunk vertically, but slow down the forward motion of the trunk. In the middle phase of the leg position, the gastrocnemius supplies energy to the leg, while the soleus slows it down.
However, these functions are reversed in the hull movement. At the end of the stance phase, just before the foot leaves the ground, both main calf muscles perform a concentric muscular contraction as they accelerate the trunk forward and slow down the fuselage (basically, they act to prevent the ankle from falling to the floor) strikes back). However, the soleus causes the trunk to be accelerated forward while the gastrocnemius uses almost all of its energy to accelerate the leg to initiate the swing phase.
Running / sprinting
The activity of the lower leg muscles is very similar during running / sprinting, although the hip muscles play a far greater role in generating speed with respect to the upper legs. (2) Sprinting also involves far greater impact force than walking (until triple body weight), although in an elite Sprinter the foot could only touch the ground for about 0.8 seconds. During the footpads of the early and middle stance phases, the calf muscles must absorb this force before they can help push the athlete forward into the next step while stabilizing the trunk. This is related to walking, but linked to a much greater shock absorption requirement.
The calf muscles work with the Achilles tendon to absorb and return that force. This is achieved by stretching while contracting (eccentric muscle contraction). Sports scientists point out that this muscular activity during the sprinter requires a considerable "stiffness of the joint". It is believed that reduced stiffness hinders speed generation. Imagine a pogo stick made of jelly instead of very elastic rubber; Of course, the latter will return much more energy than the former. In fact, sports scientists argue that the main function of the ankle (and knee) during sprinting is to create high stiffness before and during the contact phase. The flexor muscles of the hip (muscles at the top of the thighs) acted as the main cause of the body's forward motion . (3)
During the foot strike phase of the sprint / running movement, the calf muscles and even more frequently the Achilles tendons can be strained. Conditioning the lower limbs to develop greater eccentric force can reduce the potential for injury and improve performance by increasing "stiffness").
Also read: Prevention of Achilles tendon problems in running
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Reduce injury by strengthening the lower limb
There are a lot of exercises that can be used to strengthen the lower limbs (examples are given below) and to avoid sports injuries. But how effective are they?
A Norwegian study examined how knee and knee injuries in youth handball players could be reduced during the 2002/2003 season. (4) 1, 837 players were divided into an intervention group and a control group. The intervention group performed exercises designed to improve awareness and control of the ankles and knees while standing, running, cutting, jumping and landing. The exercises included those with a ball, the use of wobble boards as well as isolated warm-up, sports technique, balance and power units. The control group continued with their normal training methods. The main results were the following:
- Within the entire group, 262 players (14%) injured themselves at least once during the season;
- With regard to acute knee or ankle injuries, the intervention group had a lower risk than the control group;
- The occurrence of moderate and severe injuries (defined as absence from play for 8 to 21 days) was lower for all injuries in the intervention group.
The researchers found that "if the players were following a structured program designed to gain control over their knees and ankles during play, the rate of acute knee and ankle injuries and injuries to the young handball players could be halved to improve."
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Running tips: with this running style your joints stay healthy
Strength exercises for lower limbs
Jumps with straight legs
Stand apart with your feet a little over shoulder width. Swing your arms behind your body and bend your knees a little bit. Swinging your arms down as they pass your hips will jump you in the air, with your calf muscles and ankles giving you the most energy. Land and jump immediately to the next jump.
Suggested program: 3 x 10 exercises with 1 minute break between sets.
Eccentric calf raises
Eccentric calf raiser has been identified as an equally effective method of controlling and treating most Achilles tendon injuries, as well as other treatments, including surgery. When doing this exercise, you should concentrate on the lowering of the movement, counting down to 4 when lowering and up to 1 when raising. As you become familiar with the exercise, you should choose a medium to heavy weight that is 10 repetitions leads to fatigue. After that, you can progress to heavier weights that cause fatigue after 4-6 repetitions. Use a standard calf hoist. After gaining confidence and strength in this exercise, execute freestanding versions out of a two- and then one-legged position-using similar weights and reps.
Note: Standing calf raises aim at the gastrocnemius, while seated calf raises hit the soleus. In order to fully strengthen the calf's main muscles, you should combine both exercises in your exercise plan.
Foot and toe strengthening exercises
To do this exercise you should stand on a carpet barefoot. Put on the toes of one foot and try to claw forward. Hold on, you will be able to move forward a little bit over time. When you have achieved this, continue alternating with your toes to move forward.
Run sprinting exercises / walk barefoot
Olympic medalists Roger Black (40m) and Jason Gardener (4x100m) both used barefoot training to develop greater foot and ankle strength and flexibility. You can also strengthen your feet by doing barefoot sprints and even by running (although you should take care of the latter). If you walk barefoot, do so only over short distances (40-60 m) and on soft grass. Also make sure that there are no sharp objects lying around. The stretches should only be increased gradually, while your lower and upper limbs get used to the higher forces that walking without shoes entail. This reduces the risk of injury and gradually conditions the feet, ankles and legs.
Note: Barefoot running involves more impact than barefoot sprinting and therefore the need for extra caution.
Barefoot high kneeling with ankle stretching
Stand with your feet slightly apart. Lift the thigh of one leg until it is parallel to the ground. At the same time press up on the toes of the standing foot. Grasp forward with your raised leg, then lower your foot to the floor as you lift the foot up toward your buttock while performing the following step. They basically perform a slow running motion. Coordinate your arms and legs (arm to opposite leg). You will see that your feet and ankles will have to work harder to control your movement and balance, and thus be strengthened.
Suggested program: 4 x 20 m with a slow return to recovery.
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1st Journal of Biomechanics2001; 34 (11): p. 1387-98
2nd Journal of Sport Sciences 2001; 19 (4): pp. 263-72
3rd International Journal of Sports Medicine 2002; 23 (2): pp. 136-41
4. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 1981; 13 (5): p. 325-8
5th Journal of Biomechanics 1997; 30 (11-12): p. 1081-5