If I were Carrie Bradshaw I would write, The Calf Rise – The One That Got Away. Well, I’m not Carrie so I’ll spare you the season one chats to camera … but this simple movement is one of the few cure-alls that we should be shouting about.

As an upright, walking-for-locomotion species … humans rely on a system of pulleys and levers (muscles and joints) to get from A to B. Generally, we call this walking but may also involve hopping, skipping and running. I’ve talked about hip extensors and flexors in previous posts, in a Pilates studio we are forever talking about the hip, thoracic spine and shoulder girdle … and less about the lower leg and knee.

The front (anterior surface) of your shin houses some fine sinewy muscles and the back (posterior) has the meat…. the big guns … the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Woven through these surfaces are your tibialis (tibia is the main bone of the shin) anterior and posterior. Anatomy lesson nearly over …. the muscles on the front ‘do’ flexion (flexing the toes and ankle to the face) and the meaty boys at the back do the pointing / prancey stuff. Both the front and back of the shin have secondary features including working to keep the knee straight and of course as all muscles do, play an active role in acceleration and deceleration in transition from walk to jog etc.

After my years at The Australian Ballet, it was very clear through their research and interventions for injured dancers that doing daily calf rises was an absolute secret weapon that guarded dancers against all types of foot, ankle and lower leg injuries. While you might not know your jete from your glissade, this research has been welcomed in running-based sports and helped countless couch to 5k types avoid serious injury.

Can you do 10 high-quality single leg calf rises? Or, if you’re an athlete or distance runner… can you do 25?

How do I get calf rise / heel lift results?

  1. KEEP your bloody standing leg straight – the second your knee buckles or bends … take a break and remember the number you accomplished.
  2. SINGLE leg calf rises aren’t just an ankle exercise, it’s a full body moment … work your posture, your core/centre and breath to feel like your whole body is one piece lifting up to the ceiling with control
  3. CONTROL is the name of the game … decent alignment of the foot ankle are crucial. If you can only rise up a small way without rolling onto your little toe … that’s cool for now.
  4. AIM for more … height before pushing the reps. Let that calf complex fire up and work to it’s fullest pointe/heel lift AND on the way down without buckling at the knee
  5. If these are impossible, persist… but go back a step to basic intrinsic foot control exercises like ‘doming’, toe scrunches with a towel and even just standing on one leg for thirty seconds.

Go well, rise plenty.

In the Pilates studio we see this action in tendon stretch (or calf rises for our contemporary mates), soleus/achilles press on the Wunda and Electric Chair and many more including the foot corrector!