Don’t Laugh At The Calve
Okay, so it’s a play with words. The “calves” I’m speaking of are not of the bovine variety. In fact they reside on that lower portion of the leg below the knee and comprise the “meat” of the lower leg.
The human calves, can be a site to behold whether they are small and thin, or take on the appearance of pomegranates for those who through genetics, inherited larger volumes of muscle in this lower portion of the leg.
While the lower leg demonstrates the majority of it’s appearance through the gastrocnemius (calve) which resides on the inside portion of the lower leg, the outside is comprised of a muscle called the soleus (so-lee-us) that also assists in plantar (think pushing the ball of your foot forwards) flexion.
While the whole thing can be confusing, the combination of these two muscles work together to allow a person to push themselves upwards on the balls of their feet.
In sports or recreation, the force that is applied in this flexing the ball of the foot downward completes a series of calculated and domino-type contractions that begin with the raising of the leg and bringing the knee upward (hip flexor), driving the heel or ball of the foot into the ground (glutes and quads) ultimately completing the stride or gait (step) with the squeezing of the calve muscle to propel a person forward or upwards.
The amount of weight that can be pushed upwards by flexing the foot downwards utilizing both the soleus and gastrocnemius can be significant. In the world of physics, much like a child’s see-saw, when the resistance (body weight) is located between the axis and the force (think nutcracker and wheelbarrow) you have what is known as a second class lever.
The mechanics of the human body, exemplify countless physics in explaining the role muscles play as they move various limbs and their related bone anatomy towards or away from a given joint. One of the reasons that the gastrocnemius is so powerful, is that it is the force that activates a second class lever – one of the most powerful inside or outside of the human body.
Ironically, while strength through the calve muscle is vital for pushing through the ball of the foot, it does not necessarily have to play a role in the speed by which this event occurs. It is for this reason, that the person with the largest calf muscle will not necessarily be the highest jumper or the fastest runner.
In the weight room, building calf strength is important and plays a contributing role in the mechanics of movement of the lower body, regardless of the sport or activity.