Calf soreness and how to fix it
Calf soreness is a rather common occurrence but not a standard one by any means. Some get it and others don’t. It often appears at the beginning of the learning process in the Pose Method of running and ‘bothers’ the runner for around 2 weeks while he or she is adapting to the new neuromuscular coordination and to the new regime of muscle loading.
Is it possible to avoid this? Yes. And many do by following the recommended route of preparation instead of just diving in. Others have the luxury of skipping it simply due to already being prepared more or less. For example, if jumping rope is a normal routine for you, chances are you won’t suffer the calf soreness when transitioning to pose running.
The fact of having muscle strain is the first indication of getting DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) syndrome, which appears 12 to 48 hours after exercising and is characterized by tenderness and stiffness of muscles. The discomfort is caused by micro-tears of muscle tissue for a simple reason – resisting gravity.
The mechanics of the injury are very simple. During landing on support the body moves forward and down towards the ground. The final muscle groups responsible for accepting the body weight are lower leg and foot muscles, and calves are the strongest ones of them.
The main biomechanical goal of the body movement over the support is to provide redirection from the downward-forward flow to upward-forward one without loosing momentum and horizontal velocity and even try to gain a little there.
So, in the Pose Method this is achieved by landing the foot close to the point of projection of the General Center of Mass (GCM) on the ground, and proceeding with falling forward with minimum or no braking, i.e. maintain the Pose position while falling forward and quickly change support.
The downward movement of body weight is supposed to be finished before the beginning of falling forward. But very often calves resist this downward movement by getting tense, which is caused by our desire to hold the heel in a certain position and prevent the foot from touching the ground. Why is this happening? The reasons could be different: wrong understanding and over-doing of the command to keep the body weight on balls of the feet, another one could be attempting the push off. It could be done on the conscious or subconscious level, but the result is always the same – overloading the calf muscles.
Biomechanical basis of it consists of counteraction of two forces, gravity and muscles activity, resisting the body weight, working simultaneously in the opposite directions. Who wins and who loses is not difficult to guess. The muscles suffer the consequences.
The downward movement of body weight is finished when the body’s general center of mass is passing over the ball of the foot on support. The logical consequence of it is the following: the faster the body passes through the vertical line over the ball of the foot, the faster the calf muscles are released from the body weight load. If during the downward movement of the body the calf muscles are not active by holding or pushing the body weight, then they receive less loading.
Here’s how to avoid this
- Don’t put too much effort into staying on the ball of the foot.
- Don’t hold the heel above the ground, let it touch the ground and allow your ankle to move freely. The point is to keep your body weight on your forefoot.
- Don’t do any active propulsion or push off with the leg and the foot. Keep your perception of the foot as being not loaded, but on the opposite, as getting unloaded, when you start running.
- Do concentrate only on the pulling action of the foot from the ground.
Here’s how to prevent this
- Jump rope on regular basis before you start implementing the Pose into your running. Do it barefoot and in shoes to get different perception of foot touching down. Stay relaxed. Start with the minimal number of jumps to give yourself time to get used to it and gradually increase the number of reps.
- Do the prescribed running drills and strength exercises. If you want to follow a program – try the Transition Training program where we provide a structured approach & detailed instructions with a specific training schedule.
Here’s how to fix this if you got it
As the saying goes – this too shall pass. The temporary discomfort will go away on it’s own. It will do so faster if you help it of course.
- Use the above recommendations on preventing and avoiding
- Do a warm/hot lower leg or full body bath with sea or Epsom salt
- Don’t ice
Note: don’t do what’s called “calf raises”. A forceful and unnatural move can do serious damage to your calf muscle and has no purpose in running. Instead do light runs uphill or up the stairs.
Keep in mind the difference between discomfort and pain. This applies to every situation where we deal with pain. You have to be honest with yourself to properly assess your condition.
1. Temporary discomfort is not the same as pain
Discomfort is experienced when we do something new, our muscles are not used to that type of loading, it feels a bit straining but bearable.
Pain is a much higher degree of discomfort and it’s a different ball game. The cringe, the grimace, the limp, etc should be your indicators. Pain is a signal that you crossed the line, you’ve done wrong (simply stated).
2. Discomfort goes away on it’s own, pain doesn’t.
While discomfort will disappear on it’s own typically within the two weeks window or less, the pain will either stay or keep rearing its ugly head. Pain needs to be addressed appropriately and in timely manner. Your technique, your movement needs to be reevaluated and corrected.
It is very useful to do short runs barefoot to learn the proper neuromuscular coordination and to feel relaxation and looseness of the support foot and ankle. Jumps with the rope on one or both legs reproducing the Pose stance are good as well. These exercises teach you to synchronize the body weight moving down with relaxation of your calves. Start from these exercises and move on to faster and longer running without calf soreness.