Lower Leg

This is the one area that most people struggle to build size in, any quick look at instagram and you will find hundreds of memes about small calves and probably a few thousand articles about why you can’t grow them. Like you feet the muscles in your lower leg need to be strong the help absorb most of the forces during ballistic movements like running or jumping and act like a spring to redirect that force and recycle it into the next step or rebound jump. Most importantly they help to stabilise the knee and prevent injury.

Fortunately the calf muscles are built for strength (current record for a standing calf raise is 600kg).

The muscles of the calf

As you can see we have two big muscles, the gastrocenmius which is made up of mostly fast twitch muscle fibres and the soleus which is mostly slow twitch fibres. Both play a part in plantar flexion (the fancy name for pointing your toes) so the most common exercise is the calf raise.

Seated version puts more emphasis on the soleus, because its mostly slow twitch fibers its better targeted with longer sets (15-20 reps).

Standing version more emphasis on the gastrocenmius Its mostly fast twitch muscle and responds best at lower rep ranges (1-8 reps).

But what about the front of the leg??

Well, even though it feels like a big hard bony structure as you can see below there is quite a bit of muscle in there.

Muscles of the shin

These muscles work to stabilise the foot and ankle as well as dorsiflection of the ankle (fancy way of pulling your toes up). As any runner knows shin splints can be a real killer, slowing your progress and leading to other injuries. Anybody playing a sport that involves fast changes of direction will know how easy it is to roll your ankle. Being strong should be the first line of defence against injury, in the same way as its a base to build on for improved performance.

Just because there isn’t a machine for it in the gym doesn’t mean you can’t strengthen it. Sprinters have some of the most impressive lower leg musculature out there, the footwork drills that are used to develop technique naturally work these muscles, but these are specialised movements and take time to learn. If you are playing sport you should be doing some kind of sprint training it crosses over into pretty much everything.

For those of us who are training for strength and aesthetic value we need to look at other methods. This is one of my go to moves, first learned it after a bad bout of shin splints that had me sidelined for a few months.

Resisted plantar flection

As you can see a pretty simple exercise using a resistance band. Add it into your warm up to help you remember to do it.

I hope this helps if you have any questions or any topics you would like me to cover please get in touch.

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Strong Feet

When we think about strength feet and hands are often the two body parts most neglected in our training. Lets just take a moment to think about that…….

We all want to get stronger, but we don’t train the things that actually come into contact with objects we want to move (hands) or more importantly help us move and generate force -namely our feet!

Each foot is made up of 28 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligmaents all working together to provide support, balance and mobility.

Over the last 20 years a multi-million pound industry has sprung up around minamilst shoes and barefoot running. However much you want to you can’t just dive right into it, using this method to strengthen your feet actually takes some prep work.

Long before minamilst shoes and bare foot running coaching were a thing. Runners and other athletes were doing work on their feet to help prevent the injuries that come with training and competing.

I’m going to take you through two exercises I learned from an early age and have helped me throughout my training and coaching career.

The towel scrunch is a really easy exercise all you need to do is put a towel on the floor and scrunch it up under your foot. If you want a real challenge when you have pulled it all the way in try and push it back out just using your toes.

The Towel Scrunch

Another simple one put a pen on the floor, pick it up and put it down just using your toes.

Pen pick up and drop

Simple as that……

You can do these as part of your warm up or cool down routine, while your watching tv or working at your desk. When I was young my dad would make this a game, he was a postman for fourty three years and a distance runner his whole life so he knows a thing or two about looking after his feet.

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Strong from the ground up

Physical strength is dependant on the whole bodies ability to do what’s asked of it. Anybody who’s ever tried a heavy deadlift or squat will testify to this, the worst feeling in the gym is when you’ve warmed up well you feel good, strong and focused. You set yourself to the bar, take that deep breath in start to execute the move.

 All is going well until you hit the sticking point, the hardest point of any lift. You’re in that vulnerable position where something is going to give…If you’ve done right you power through the sticking point, re-rack the bar and feel like an absolute legend and straight on the social media to tell the world!

Then there is option 2, your grip starts to open, your weight all shifts onto one side, your core collapses. Your brain tells you to “bail out.” There’s a loud crash as the bar hits the floor, you suddenly find yourself the focus of attention in the weights room.

Lets be honest we all want to go for the first scenario.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a series of articles on how we can strengthen the body as a whole and avoid the second scenario.

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