The real anti-ageing muscles.
What if I told you there was a group of muscles that can help prevent the changes in running and walking gait associated with age?
What if I also told you that this muscle group shows predictable deterioration with age and that this deterioration usually occurs in advance of other muscles?
You’d probably guess that everybody over the age of 50 would be training these muscles wouldn’t you?
You’d think so but the surprising answer is no. If fact these muscles receive very little attention past a brief stretch post workout.
The muscles in question are those of the lower leg.
Specifically those that bring you up onto your toes or the plantarflexors to give them their proper name. These include Gastrocnemius, Soleus, Plantaris, Posterior tibialis and Peroneus longus.
They are the first muscles to react to sudden changes in posture (such as when stepping on an uneven pavement) and they are responsible for both cushioning the impact of running or walking and providing the necessary propulsion to move us forwards.
Why people often don’t train their plantarflexors.
Firstly I think there’s a common misconception that these muscles will get trained when you participate in multi joint lower body exercises such as squats and lunges. This is true to a certain extent, but these exercises won’t work the plantarflexors through their full range of motion. This is rather like eating chocolate with the wrapper on. Only half good.
Secondly most people exercise either to lose weight or put on muscle in specific areas. Few think about optimising how their body’s function. It’s possible to do all three if you’re intelligent about it. In fact optimising how your body functions improves both weight loss and muscle gain outcomes.
The best way to train your plantarflexors.
A calf raise pictured below is a great place to start. Aim for slow repetition speeds to begin with (5 seconds on the upward phase and 5 seconds on the descent) and make sure you get as high as you can on each repetition by focusing on lifting the medial arches of your feet away from the floor as much as possible.
After a couple of weeks reduce the time of the upward phase to 2-3 seconds and add a further 4 repetitions on each set. After a further 2 weeks do the same for the lowering phase. Past this point you will need to think about adding more resistance either in a gym or by switching to a single leg raise.
If you’ve recently sprained your ankle and you’re looking for a full ankle sprain rehab programme go here.
Take some time to focus on these muscles and the results will be worthwhile, both in terms of improvements in function and your health in the long term.