Running athletes are often on the lookout for ways to improve their performance, striving to achieve faster times and greater endurance. Many focus on strengthening the calf muscles, namely the gastrocnemius, but often overlook the significant role that the soleus muscle plays in running. In this blog, we’ll explore the crucial function of the soleus in running, its anatomy, and how to effectively train and strengthen it. 

What is the soleus muscle? 

The soleus is a deep muscle located in the lower leg, lying beneath the more superficial gastrocnemius muscle. This plantar flexor muscle is responsible for flexing the ankle joint and propelling the body forward during running. With its unique structure and function, the soleus muscle is essential for running athletes, offering support, stability, and power to their movements. 

What does it do? 

The soleus muscle works throughout each step of the running gait cycle, providing stability, shock absorption, and power. Its endurance capacity enables runners to maintain a consistent and efficient stride, even during long distances. Additionally, the soleus contributes to knee flexion, aiding in the propulsion phase of running, and serves as a vital component in preventing injuries, such as shin splints and Achilles tendonitis. 

Identifying weakness in the soleus muscle 

As a running athlete, it is crucial to recognise the early warning signs of soleus muscle weakness. These may include tightness or discomfort in the lower leg, reduced ankle mobility, and a decline in running performance. Ignoring these symptoms can lead to more severe issues, such as overuse injuries or diminished running efficiency. 

How to strengthen the soleus muscle 

To maximise running performance and prevent injury, it’s vital to include soleus muscle strengthening exercises in your training routine. Some effective exercises to target the soleus include: 
Seated Calf Raises: This exercise isolates the soleus muscle, allowing for targeted strengthening. 
Soleus Stretch: Regularly stretching the soleus can improve flexibility and mobility. 
Heel Drops: By performing heel drops on a step, you can enhance both strength and flexibility in the soleus muscle. 
Toe Walks: This simple exercise can be performed anywhere and offers an effective way to engage the soleus. 
Alongside targeted strengthening exercises, it’s essential to incorporate recovery and maintenance practices into your training regimen. This may include foam rolling, massage, and regular rest days to promote healing and prevent overuse injuries. Additionally, wearing appropriate footwear with ample support and cushioning can help protect the soleus muscle and enhance overall running performance. 
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Tagged as: muscle, racing, recovery, Running
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