Are Calves Important for Sprinting?
Sprinting is crucial to performance in numerous sports, from track and field to football. The calves are muscles in the lower leg vital to one's ability to sprint.
The calves are very important for sprinting, as they both support your body during the stance phase and help to propel you forward during push-off.
In this article, we will dig deep to cover how and why the calves are essential for sprinting, so you can train them effectively and set yourself up for sprinting success.
The Relationship Between Calf Strength and Sprinting Performance
Calves are one of the most important sprinter muscles in the body.
Through research and caching experience, we know that proper function and high levels of ability in the calves can help make you a faster sprinter.
The Impact of Calf Strength on Short Sprints
A study investigated the correlation between an individual's one-repetition maximum (1RM) in a calf raise and their sprint performance in runs up to 30 meters.
This study found that significant correlations exist between dynamic maximum strength in the calves and an individual's sprinting ability. This correlation increased as the sprint distance progressed, which suggests that the calves play a strong role in both acceleration and maximal velocity sprinting.
This makes sense, considering that the calves help control plantar flexion, which is the action of the foot and ankle that causes the athlete to push themselves off the ground.
Put simply, having stronger calves in dynamic movements makes you a better sprinter.
Ankle Plantarflexors: The Unsung Heroes of Sprinting
The ankle plantar flexors, which include the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, play a significant role in achieving maximal-effort accelerated sprinting. Soleus, in particular, acts primarily as a supporter by generating a considerable fraction of the upward impulse at each step. Gastrocnemius, on the other hand, contributes significantly to both the propulsive and upward impulses, functioning as both an accelerator and a supporter.
Randy Huntington, who coached the Asian record holder in the 100m dash (Su Bingtian), has regularly stated that the soleus muscle is vital for acceleration, as it stabilizes the ankle joint and allows the athlete to transfer horizontal force into the ground.
The soleus can be trained using seated or bent-leg calf extensions, and this exercise should be included in strength training for sprintersc.
Sprinters vs. Non-Sprinters: The Achilles' Tendon Moment Arm
The Achilles' tendon moment arm refers to the perpendicular distance between the center of rotation of the ankle joint and the line of action of the force exerted by the Achilles' tendon.
In simpler terms, it is the distance from the ankle joint to where the Achilles' tendon applies force on the heel bone.
The moment arm is an essential component in the biomechanics of the ankle joint, as it affects the mechanical advantage of the triceps surae muscle group, which comprises the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris muscles.
These muscles are responsible for plantar flexion, the movement that propels a sprinter forward by pushing off the ground with their toes.
Research comparing the Achilles' tendon moment arm of collegiate sprinters and height-matched non-sprinters found that sprinters had a 25% smaller moment arm on average.
Additionally, sprinters had longer fascicles (the bundles of muscle fibers) and a larger fascicle length-to-moment arm ratio. Moreover, sprinters were found to have longer toes and shorter lower legs compared to non-sprinters.
These differences in the Achilles' tendon moment arm and foot anthropometrics might seem trivial at first glance, but they profoundly affect sprint performance.
The smaller moment arm and longer toes in sprinters allow for a greater generation of forward impulse, ultimately improving propulsion during sprints.
Training The Calves For Sprinting
With a clearer understanding of the roles played by calf muscles and other leg muscles in sprinting, athletes and coaches can better tailor their training programs to focus on the most important muscles for sprinting performance.
Exercises targeting the ankle plantar flexors, hamstrings, and gluteus medius can help maximize acceleration during sprints.
Athletes can perform calf raises, bent leg calf raises, squats, and a variety of other lifts and plyometric exercises to help develop these muscles.
In conclusion, calf muscles, alongside other leg muscles, play a crucial role in sprinting performance. Athletes should build their calf strength through strength training, sprinting, and plyometrics. You can become a faster sprinter by enhancing your force production capability in the calves.
Frequently Asked Questions About Calves In Sprinting
Does sprinting build calves?
Yes, sprinting is one of the best ways to build your calves. I have seen significant calf development in myself and my athletes as a result of sprinting, even without doing any strength training focused on the calves themselves.
If you want nicer calves, you should do some sprinting.
Are high calves better for sprinting?
In general, having high calves is better for sprinting. This is because it distributes mass higher on the leg, which allows the leg to swing more quickly as a sprinter moves through the stride cycle.
If you attached a weight to your foot, it would be a lot harder to swing your leg than if the weight was placed higher up on the leg. The same applies to your calves, where having higher calves makes it easier to swing the leg than if your calf mass was distributed lower on the leg.
Do sprinters have big calves?
Sprinters have well-developed calves, but they are not always big. Typically, athletes who are more driven by muscular force will have larger calves, while athletes who rely more on elasticity will have smaller calves.
Regardless, both groups of athletes will show a strong ability to produce force from the calves, whether they are big or small.
Should sprinters train calves?
Sprinters should train their calves, using a variety of exercises and methods of training. Some of these may include:
- Bent-leg or seated calf raises.
- Straight leg or standing calf raises.
- Pogo hops or stiff-ankle hops.
- Drop jumps.
- Sled sprints.
- Hill Sprints.
- Heel-elevated hip thrusts.
Möck S, Hartmann R, Wirth K, Rosenkranz G, Mickel C. Correlation of dynamic strength in the standing calf raise with sprinting performance in consecutive sections up to 30 meters. Res Sports Med. 2018 Oct-Dec;26(4):474-481. doi: 10.1080/15438627.2018.1492397. Epub 2018 Jul 2. PMID: 29963928.
- , , , . How muscles maximize performance in accelerated sprinting. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2021; 31: 1882– 1896. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.14021