Connect With The Calf - A Runner's Guide to Movement Prep

By: David Howatson-Begg

At the Gray Institute of Applied Functional Science, its founder Dr. Gary Gray has spent over 40-years developing a three-dimensional understanding of the human body and the forces that act upon it. His fascination with biomechanics, natural forces and human function have allowed for some ground-breaking insights, spawning strategies to help people move that little bit extra, perform that little bit better and for some, hopefully live that little bit longer. To the layperson, running can be described as merely falling with control; a simple yet powerful summary of one of our most basic and necessary movements. However, thanks to the education provided by Dr. Gray and his colleagues, Power Plate “die-hards” now have a greater understanding of the role vibration plays in this controlled falling task. Applied Functional Science shows us the muscles of the calf, like all tissues in our bodies, will allow and control motion in all three different planes, therefore we need to build a strategy to help the calf prepare for movement in those planes.

A traditional approach to running preparation often involves a deep static hold that lengthens the calf muscles in one isolated direction - straight up and down (from origin to insertion). If pointing your big toe towards your chin up against a wall (foot on the wall not your chin...hopefully) or pushing your heel toward the ground from the edge of a step is the extent of your calf warm up, then please try our method written below which combines whole body vibration and a three dimensional movement strategy. Performing these movements as part of a bigger preparatory program can help keep the dreaded shin splints and the evils of plantar fasciitis at bay.

Step 1 - Anterior Foot Reach to Posterior Foot Reach (Sagittal)

Place the left foot firmly on Power Plate toward the back edge (behind you), just right of centre with your hands lightly holding the top of the handlebars. From there we want to get the foot, ankle and calf tissues to move forward. This is done by leaning your weight into the handlebars slightly to create some length in the calf and reaching your right foot forwards as if you were dipping your toes into water. Alternatively, you can take the right knee up toward the chest and ease the hips forward to add more extension throughout the left side. We've gone forward (anterior reach) so let's take the right foot backwards (posterior) and reach it in the direction of the floor behind us. These two movements create plantar/dorsiflexion at the foot with flexion/extension of the knee and hip. Both prepare the musculature of the calf to aid the explosive movement and be ready for the force generated when the rubber hits the road, with each step of our run.

Step 2 - Same Side Lateral Reach/Toe Touch to Opposite Side Lateral Reach/Toe Touch (Frontal)

In the same starting position as the prior exercise, take that right leg laterally to the same side reaching it as far to the right as you can, at platform level, before the left edge of that left foot rolls or comes off the surface. And you guessed it, we now want to take that right foot and drive it to the left across the front of the standing leg making sure not to let the left foot roll outwards. Now we have the hips going through adduction and abduction meaning the calf tissues follow suit.

Step 3 - Same Side Rotational Reach/Toe Touch to Opposite Side Rotational Reach/Toe Touch (Transverse)

Returning to that starting pose before the rotational fun begins; I want you to imagine a big clock face on the ground. Take your right foot and reach it around to four or five o'clock adding a toe touch if you feel off balance. Bring the foot back to its starting point (12 o'clock) then guide it around to nine o'clock. If you look down hopefully your feet are making a “T” shape. Feel free to try the same movement with the right knee flexed high toward your chest to create more length in the left side. With those two motions you have internal and external rotation of that left hip, knee and the part we are interested in, the calf. A failure to prepare for rotation could hugely affect your performance due to a lack of mobility and stability in the transverse plane.

Try it and feel the effects and body connections, remembering that your movement and range of motion are unique to you; this calf preparation is a small link in the chain of running mechanics. Sounds simple right? Right?! After all, it’s just a tiny part in the sequence of falling with control.

By David Howatson, Performance Health Systems UK Master Trainer