Calf Strength in Running and Walking
Running and Walking are both movements that propel us forward, but did you realise that we use a different amount of energy from our lower limb muscles to perform both of these activities?
These differences in the amount we engage our different muscle groups in our lower limb, depending on whether we go for a run or a walk, are important to understand so that you can target your training effectively.
Why is Calf Strength Important?
What you may find most surprising is that both in walking and running our calves do most of the work in our lower limbs, so calf strength is super important to consider in our training. If you want more power in your strides for either running or, walking then spending some time each week on specifically improving your calf strength will definitely help your movement efficiency.
According to research (Novacheck, 1997) when we go for a walk our calves do 53% of the work, whereas when we go for a run our calves do 41% of the work. This is also why our calves are often sore after a walk or run. This can be especially so if we are new to the exercise or have had a break from walking or running for a while. Post walk or running calf stretches and or foam rolling will also help you keep your flexibility in calves.
At Saanich Physiotherapy and Sports Clinic we recommend that if you are going to start doing strength training, it is best to stretch and foam roll your targeted muscles first . Remember each stretch should be held for at least 30 seconds and foam rolling can done for approximately 1 minute on each leg. Now you are ready to tackle your strength training exercises. If you think about it, trying to contract a muscle that is already super tight it won’t be as effective as you will not have as much available muscle length to work with.
Here are some stats on other important muscles groups:
Lower limb muscle use during walking
Hip Extensors – 7%
Hip Flexors – 30%
Hip Abductors – 6%
Knee – 4%
Lower limb muscle use during running
Hip Extensors – 14%
Hip Flexors 20%
Hip Abductors 3%
Knee – Quads 22%
WEIGHT TRAINING INJURIES
Improper weight-training techniques can lead to weight training injuries. The most common areas to be injured are the back, shoulders, and knees.
Back sprains and strains most commonly result from improper lifting technique when performing exercises such as bench presses, deadlifts, and rows. Sprains involve stretching of ligaments while strains involve stretching of muscles or tendons. Initial treatment involves the R.I.C.E. method (i.e. Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). Assessment and treatment by your physiotherapist are also valuable. At Saanich Physio your Physiotherapist can help you minimise the risk of obtaining weight training injuries.
Training Tip: The risk of back injuries can be reduced by maintaining a neutral spine and avoiding flexing or extending the lower back under heavy load.
Lifting weights overhead incorrectly can lead to injuries such as shoulder impingement syndrome and rotator cuff damage. Shoulder impingement syndrome is when swelling and inflammation of structures in, and around the shoulder results in pain in the front and side of the shoulder/upper arm. Rotator cuff damage causes pain and weakness of shoulder movement. Treatment for these conditions may include physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory medication in minor cases; and cortisone injections and potentially surgery in more serious cases.
Training Tip: The risk of shoulder injuries increases with excessive repetitions. Ensure you also train other body parts to give your shoulders adequate recovery time between training sessions.
Repetitive knee exercises such as squats, lunges, deep knee bends, jumps, knee extension and leg lifts can cause pain at the front of the knee. Injury to the patellar tendon (the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shin bone) can occur with overuse. Small tears develop in the tendon leading to pain just below the kneecap. Treatment in the form of physiotherapy and a patellar tendon strap often helps to reduce symptoms and your doctor may also recommend anti-inflammatory medications.
Training Tip: Ensure that your kneecap tracks correctly (i.e. over the outside of the foot) during squat and lunge exercises.
If you feel pain from weight lifting in the gym seek treatment and corrective strategies from us at Saanich Physio. The longer you keep training with an injury or small niggles that can turn into bigger injuries, the longer your recovery time will be. Seek help early and keep yourself in the gym – there is no need to suffer from weight training injuries.
Aasa U, Svartholm I, Andersson F, et al. Injuries among weightlifters and powerlifters: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med 2017; 51:211-220.
Kerr ZY, Collins CL, Comstock RD. Epidemiology of weight training-related injuries presenting to United States emergency departments, 1990 to 2007. Am J Sports Med 2010; 38(4): 765-71.
Mazur LJ, Yetman RJ, Risser WL. Weight-training injuries. Common injuries and preventative methods. Sports Med 1993; 16(1): 57-63.
Siewe J et al. Injuries and Overuse Syndromes in Competitive and Elite Bodybuilding. Int J Sports Med 2014; 35: 943-948.
Siewe J et al. Injuries and Overuse Syndromes in Powerlifting. Int J Sports Med 2011; 32: 703-711.
Weisenthal BM, Beck CA et al. Injury Rate and Patterns Among CrossFit Athletes. The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine 2014; 2(4): 1-7.
Tendinopathy TOP TEN By Jill Cook PhD
Tendon pain and dysfunction are the presenting clinical features of tendinopathy. Research has investigated many treatment options, but consistent, positive, clinical outcomes remain elusive. We know that treatment should be active (eg, exercise-based), and that a consistent and ongoing investment in rehabilitation is required. It is important to maximise this investment by understanding (and conveying to patients) treatments that do not help. The following 10 points high- light treatment approaches to avoid as they do not improve lower limb tendinopathy.
1. Don’t rest completely.
Rest decreases the load tolerance of tendon, and complete rest decreases tendon stiffness within 2 weeks.1 It also decreases strength and power in the muscle attached to the tendon and the function of the kinetic chain,2 and likely changes the motor cortex, leaving the person less able to tolerate load at multiple levels. Treatment should initially reduce painful, high tendon load (point 2) and intro- duce beneficial loads (eg, isometrics3). Once pain is low and stable (consistent on a loading test each day), load can be increased slowly to improve the capacity of the tendon.4
2. Don’t prescribe incorrect exercise.
Understanding load is essential for correct exercise prescription. High tendon load occurs when it is used like a spring, such as in jumping, changing direction and sprinting.5 Tendon springs must be loaded quickly to be effective, so slow exercises even with weights are not high tendon load and can be used early in rehabilitation. However, exercising at a longer muscle tendon length can compress the tendon at its insertion.6 This adds substantial load and should be avoided, even slowly, early in rehabilitation.
3. Don’t rely on passive treatments.
Passive treatments are not helpful in the long term as they promote the patient as a passive recipient of care and do not increase the load tolerance of tendon.Treatments like electrotherapy and ice temporarily ameliorate pain only for it to return when the tendon is loaded.7
4. Avoid injection therapies.
Injections of substances into a tendon have been shown to be no more effective than placebo in good clinical trials.8 Clinicians who support injection therapies incorrectly suggest they will return a pathological tendon to normal. There is little need to intervene in the pathology as
there is evidence that the tendonadapts to the pathology and has plenty of tendon tissue capable of tolerating high load.9 Injections may change pain in the short term as they may affect the nerves, but should only be considered if the tendon has not responded to a good exercise-based programme.
5. Don’t ignore tendon pain. Pain usually increases 24 hours afterexcess tendon load. An increase in pain of 2 or more (out of 10) on a daily loading test should initiate a reduction in the aspects of training that are overloading the tendon (point 2). The overload is likely to be due to excessive spring-like movements such as jumping, running and changing direction.
6. Don’t stretch the tendon.
Aside from the load on a tendon in sport, there are compressive loads on the bone-tendon junction when it is at its longest length. Stretching only serves to add compressive loads that are detrimental to the tendon.10
7. Don’t use friction massage.
A painful tendon is overloaded and irritated (reactive tendon pathology). Massaging or frictioning the tendon can increase pain and will not help pathology.7 An effect on local nerves may reduce pain in the short term only for it to return with high tendon loads.
8. Don’t use tendon images for diagnosis, prognosis or as an outcome measure.
Abnormal tendon images (ultrasound and MRI) in isolation do not support a diagnosis of tendon pain as asymptom- atic pathology is prevalent. There are also no aspects of imaging, such as vascu- larity and ‘tears’, that allow a clinician to determine outcome.11 Pathology on imaging is usually very stable and does not change with treatment and reductionin pain, so images are not a good outcome measure.12
9. Don’t be worried about rupture.
Pain is protective as it causes unloading of a tendon. In fact most people who rupture a tendon have never had pain and do not present clinically, despite the tendon having substantial pathology.13
10. Don’t rush rehabilitation.
Tendon needs time to build its strength and capacity. So does the muscle, the kinetic chain and the brain. Although this can be a substantial time (3 months or more), the long-term outcomes are good if the correct rehabilitation is completed.14
The above 10 treatment approaches take valuable resources and focus away from the best treatment for tendon pain—exer- cise-based rehabilitation. A progressive programme that starts with a muscle strength programme and then progresses through to more spring-like exercises and including endurance aspects will load the tendon correctly and give the best long- term results.
The Role of Physical Therapy
Physical therapy with a trained professional may be useful if pain has not improved after 3 – 4 weeks. It is important for any person who has chronic low back pain to have an exercise program. Professionals who understand the limitations and special needs of back pain, and can address individual health conditions, should guide this program. One study indicated that patients who planned their own exercise program did worse than those in physical therapy or doctor-directed programs.
Physical therapy typically includes the following:
Education and training the patient in correct movement.
Exercises to help the patient keep the spine in neutral positions during all daily activities.
Incorrect movements or long-term high-impact exercise is often a cause of back pain in the first place. People vulnerable to back pain should avoid activities that put undue stress on the lower back or require sudden twisting movements, such as football, golf, ballet, and weight lifting.
Exercises performed after a simple diskectomy do not seem to provide much added benefit over time.
Specific and regular exercise under the guidance of a trained professional is important for reducing pain and improving function, although patients often find it difficult to maintain therapy.
Exercise and Acute or Subacute Back Pain
Exercise does not help acute back pain. In fact, overexertion may cause further harm. Beginning after 4 – 8 weeks of pain, however, a rehabilitation program may benefit the patient.
An incremental aerobic exercise program (such as walking, stationary biking, and swimming) may begin within 2 weeks of symptoms. Jogging is usually not recommended, at least not until the pain is gone and muscles are stronger.
Patients should avoid exercises that put the lower back under pressure until the back muscles are well toned. Such exercises include leg lifts done in a facedown position, straight leg sit-ups, and leg curls using exercise equipment.
In all cases, patients should never force themselves to exercise if, by doing so, the pain increases.
Exercise and Chronic Back Pain
Exercise plays a very beneficial role in chronic back pain. Repetition is the key to increasing flexibility, building endurance, and strengthening the specific muscles needed to support and neutralize the spine. Exercise should be considered as part of a broader program to return to normal home, work, and social activities. In this way, the positive benefits of exercise not only affect strength and flexibility but also alter and improve patients’ attitudes toward their disability and pain. Exercise may also be effective when combined with a psychological and motivational program, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.
There are different types of back pain exercises. Stretching exercises work best for reducing pain, while strengthening exercises are best for improving function.
Exercises for back pain include:
Low Impact Aerobic Exercises. Low-impact aerobic exercises, such as swimming, bicycling, and walking can strengthen muscles in the abdomen and back without over-straining the back. Programs that use strengthening exercises while swimming may be a particularly beneficial approach for many patients with back pain. Medical research has shown that pregnant women who engaged in a water gymnastics program have less back pain and are able to continue working longer.
Spine Stabilization and Strength Training. Exercises called lumbar extension strength training are proving to be effective. Generally, these exercises attempt to strengthen the abdomen, improve lower back mobility, strength, and endurance, and enhance flexibility in the hip, the hamstring muscles, and the tendons at the back of the thigh.
Yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Kung. Practices originating in Asia that combine low-impact physical movements and meditation may be very helpful. They are designed to achieve a physical and mental balance and can be very helpful in preventing recurrences of low back pain.
Flexibility Exercises. Flexibility exercises may help reduce pain. A stretching program may work best when combined with strengthening exercises.
Specific Exercises for Low Back Strength
Perform the following exercises at least three times a week:
Partial Sit-ups. Partial sit-ups or crunches strengthen the abdominal muscles.
Keep the knees bent and the lower back flat on the floor while raising the shoulders up 3 – 6 inches.
Exhale on the way up, and inhale on the way down.
Perform this exercise slowly 8 – 10 times with the arms across the chest.
Pelvic Tilt. The pelvic tilt alleviates tight or fatigued lower back muscles.
Lie on the back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Tighten the buttocks and abdomen so that they tip up slightly.
Press the lower back to the floor, hold for one second, and then relax.
Be sure to breathe evenly.
Over time increase this exercise until it is held for 5 seconds. Then, extend the legs a little more so that the feet are further away from the body and try it again.
Stretching Lower-Back Muscles. The following are three exercises for stretching the lower back:
Lie on the back with knees bent and legs together. Keeping arms at the sides, slowly roll the knees over to one side until totally relaxed. Hold this position for about 20 seconds (while breathing evenly) and then repeat on the other side.
Lying on the back, hold one knee and pull it gently toward the chest. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat with the other knee.
While supported on hands and knees, lift and straighten right hand and left leg at the same time. Hold for 3 seconds while tightening the abdominal muscles. The back should be straight. Alternate with the other arm and leg and repeat on each side 8 – 20 times.
Note: No one with low back pain should perform exercises that require bending over right after getting up in the morning. At that time, the disks are more fluid-filled and more vulnerable to pressure from this movement.