Coach: We are going to do some calf raises today.
Client: Ugh, I was so sore for three days after we did those last time for the first time. I could barely walk.
Coach: Three days?! That’s nothing for your first time. Most people are sore for a week after completing a set of single leg calf raises for their first time. You got this. You won’t be as sore this time, promise.
Client: Is that okay, to be that sore?
Coach: Yes, it is.
When I first started training clients one-on-one, the feedback after their first time doing calf raises was the same. Clients were terrified that they did something seriously wrong. I’d receive numerous texts about calf pain and how it didn’t seem to be going away. As a newbie trainer, it scared me that I may have injured my client, as my job was to do quite the opposite. I’d check in on the client daily to see how they were doing. What I quickly learned is that this happened with almost every person after their first calf raise session. And most took approximately seven days to feel completely functional again. I made sure to have my client do calf raises within two weeks of their last session, in order to maintain consistency. You can imagine what the reaction was when I asked them to do calf raises again. This time they were sore for two to three days. Every session after that, sure, my client could feel their calves had been worked, but that’s about it. From there on out, we maintained their calf strength.
Now, when I assign people calf raises for their first time, I let them know it is NORMAL to have calf pain for up to seven days, and that it will get better.
So why is it so painful anyway? When you do a calf raise there is a concentric (shortening of the muscle) and an eccentric (lengthening of the muscle) portion. It’s when you do the eccentric portion (when you slowly drop your heel so your ankle is completely dorsiflexed) that contributes to most of the delayed onset muscle soreness you’ll likely experience or have experienced already. It’s then that you’re creating microscopic tears in the muscle fiber. It just so happens that those fibers are more sensitive than other muscles in the body, and they take longer to heal.
How can I make my calves feel better quicker? Walk. There’s no need to go on a hard run. Wait until you feel better before you decide to do that. A gentle walk will get blood to flow away from your heart and into your muscle. This blood flow will help you feel better. That said, it’s not a cure. Some very soft stretching is okay too but do not overstretch, as that is exactly what we did to cause the pain in the first place. I’m also a fan of ice. Go ahead and throw some ice on those babies. After that, it’s just time, the ol’ waiting game.
Okay fine, I’ll deal with the pain, I understand it’s normal, but what’s the point? What is calf strength important for?
Injury Prevention & Rehabilitation: Calf strength can help prevent Achilles tendinopathy.
Most sports performance; To name a few:
Cycling- helps create a powerful downward pedal stroke.
Running- creates a stronger uphill stride.
Skiing- helps dissipate calf pain that first time in your ski boot, when you’re shredding the descent or jumping off cliffs.
Here is a gentle calf strength progression:
1st session: 3 X 12 Double-leg, body weight only
2nd session: 3 X 12 Double-leg, with weight
3rd session: 3 X 10 Single-leg, body weight only
4th session: 3 X 10 Single-leg, with weight
5th, 6th, 7th, etc. sessions: As you gain strength you can either increase weight or the number of repetitions performed or both, to continue to challenge your muscles.
Take Away: It is normal to be sore for a week after your first calf raise session. You will heal. Your recovery time will shorten as you become more consistent in exercising your calves. You will get stronger and reap the benefits of that strength.