I have a million-dollar exercise secret to share with you.
It’s the secret to a long, happy, healthy life.
It’s a little thing. It takes 5-15 minutes a couple times a week to train. And studies show that regardless of your weight, nutrition, other exercise habits, steps/day, and stress and sleep patterns, training THIS muscle group will cause you to beat the mortality statistics for your age group and make you less likely to be depressed than your demographic would be otherwise.
Are you ready?
If you want to live a long, happy, healthy life –you have to train your calves.
What’s a Calf?
Your calf complex is the muscly region between your ankle and your knee. It is comprised of 4 primary muscles. The medial and lateral (middle and outside) gastrocnemius and the soleus make up the meaty part behind the lower leg. You flex these when you point your toe (plantar flexion). The anterior tibialis is in front of the leg. You flex this muscle when you pull your toe up toward your shin (dorsiflexion).
Together, these four muscles affect your posture, joints, and subsequently your athletic freedom from the ground up. If under-activated, maladapted, or weak, that affect is heavily negative resulting in the degradation of knees, hips, and back and decreased motivation to be active. Such affects lead to preventable surgeries and even reduced cardiovascular health that could kill you.
You could say that NOT training your calves is as bad for you as smoking.
Sounds harsh, I know, but this isn’t my opinion.
In one study featured in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology with 434 participants over 4 years found that after correcting for age, sex, race, body mass index, ankle-brachial index, smoking, physical activity, and comorbidities— calf density, strength, and power were indicators of all-cause mortality.[i]
In other words, stronger, denser, more powerful calves were found to result in a lower chance of dying from all causes.
Unconvinced? A more recent review of 16 different studies spanning 1998-2013 showed that despite difficulties standardizing leg power measures, calf power was indirectly proportional to incidence of diabetes, osteoarthritis, and cardiovascular disease in aging populations.[ii]
Again, in layman’s terms, the evidence is overwhelming that the better-developed your calves are, the longer, happier, and healthier you’ll live.
And here’s how to get that done.
Calve Stability corrects your posture
Stability training is an important way of exercising that teaches muscles to work together in order to allow joints to maintain proper alignment both during movements and while at rest. Without lower leg stability, undue stress is placed on feet, ankles, and knees as they move inward or outward to make up for the instability.
Over time, hyper-extended knees, pigeon-toed feet, pronation, flattening, and internally or externally rotated ankles can cause your standing and seated posture to be on that causes pain, wear and tear, or just plain looks bad.
All of these issues and their long-term implications for your health are easily corrected by creating stability in your calves.
Is calf stability an issue for you? Can you stand one foot, eyes closed, for 1 minute without those muscles screaming?
If not, you need to work on lower leg stability. Begin with one footed drills and foam rolling, then progress to heel-walks and blue-side Bosu balancing. You’ll be stable in no time!
Ask a trainer if you need a hand getting started or if you want a quick postural assessment to determine whether your posture has suffered from underdeveloped calves!
Calve Strength saves your joints
Strength training teaches your muscles to grow and fire to accomplish the many things demanded of them throughout the day. Stable muscles move correctly while strong muscles can absorb shock so that tendons, ligaments, bones, and cartilage don’t have to. Without lower leg strength, joints develop arthritis, chronic tearing, and even require surgery. No Bueno.
Is calf strength lacking for you? Can you complete 20 body-weight calf-raises at a 4:2:1 tempo on the edge of a stair with straight ankles?
If not, you need to work on lower leg strength. Begin with standing body weight calf raises with some balance help. 2 sets of 12 is a fine starting point. Work up to 3 sets of 20!
Please note that if you over-work your calves you will pay for it. Walking like a duck for a few days is no fun so start slow and work your way to stronger joint support!
Calve Power frees your athletic spirit
Power training teaches muscles to produce force quickly and uniformly. Power in your lower leg is responsible for the spring in your step (or lack thereof). If Power is lacking, you feel heavy, uncoordinated, and athletic feats are downright DE MOTIVATING.
When you run, walk, jump, hike, etc… Do you feel like a ninja or a Clydesdale?
To train lower leg power, start with seated explosive calf raises and work your way up to Pilates jump board, jump-roping, or bunny hops. 3 sets of 60 seconds time under tension.
Imagine how much more physically active you would be if every time you did something you were less like Mr. Ed and more like Bruce Lee!
The ninja version of you is way more likely to reap all the benefits of exercise and enjoy the process!
Live Long and Prosper
If Spock had known what we know about lower leg functionality today his message with carry a different charge.
After reading this article, I can almost see the pointy-eared logician bunny-hopping, one-footed, on the edge of a stair while he utters his good-will for your future. Way more helpful than a hand signal, Mr. Spock.
Calf stability, strength, and power will improve your posture, joint health, and overall exercise satisfaction allowing you be more active, pain-free, and healthy. So get to training those overlooked muscles today!
[i] Mary M. McDermott, MD, Kiang Liu, PhD†, Lu Tian, ScD‡, Jack M. Guralnik, PhD§, Michael H. Criqui, MD, MPH∥, Yihua Liao, MS†, Luigi Ferrucci, MD, PhD¶. Calf Muscle Characteristics, Strength Measures, and Mortality in Peripheral Arterial Disease : A Longitudinal Study. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Volume 59, Issue 13, 27 March 2012, Pages 1159–1167. Online: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109712001933
[ii] S. E. Strollo, P. Caserotti, R. E. Ward, N. W. Glynn, B. H. Goodpaster, Elsa S. Strotmeyer .A review of the relationship between leg power and selected chronic disease in older adults. The journal of nutrition, health & aging. February 2015, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 240-248. First online: 03 November 2014. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12603-014-0528-y