Strong Legs, Strong Finish: 8 Calf Workouts for Marathon Runners

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a woman running a marathon
Author Name: Beth Rush
Date: Friday June 28, 2024

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Marathon runners spend months training to be as fast as possible for their long-distance run. However, every runner knows the importance of exercise in preparation. Warm-up stretches are crucial to loosen your body, while calf workouts strengthen your legs for a more powerful push-off with each step. Here’s everything you should know about exercising your calves before race day, plus a few movements you can incorporate into your practice. 

Why Should Marathon Runners Do Calf Workouts?

Calf workouts benefit marathoners by improving their agility and performance, allowing runners to more easily beat their records for time and distance. 

Street running, in particular, adds pressure to your legs and feet. Building stronger calf muscles allows your legs to absorb the impact better and decrease your chances of injury.

Nearly 50% of runners get hurt annually with runner’s knee, stress fractures and iliotibial band friction syndrome in the hips. Likewise, 25% of all running injuries occur in the calf area and Achilles tendon.

8 Calf Workouts for Marathoners

Marathon runners undergo rigorous training to get in shape for their race — a combination of strength training and aerobics to ready their bodies and prevent bodily harm. It is especially necessary for them to work out their legs, as street running puts a lot of pressure on their feet, calves and knees. Here are eight calf workouts for marathoners to incorporate into practice. 

1. Single-Leg Calf Raises

For this exercise, stand on one leg and lift the heel of your other foot off the ground. Hold it for a few seconds and rest, repeating the move with the opposite leg. Some people prefer to hold weights while they do this calf workout, which helps them build stability and balance as runners. 

Woman running up stairs

2. Stair Sprints

Stairs sprints are an excellent cardio and strengthening workout for your calves. In fact, one study shows it can prevent cardiovascular disease and aid obesity. You have options for this exercise — sprint up and down stairs on your toes, walk up or run. Some people also do lunges or squat jumps. Just be careful not to trip and hurt yourself. 

3. Calf Raises on a Step

It is crucial to loosen up your muscles and widen your range of motion as you train for a marathon — calf raises help you achieve this by targeting the entire calf muscle. Use the balls of your feet to hang off the edge of a stair, then raise your heel and lower your feet slowly again. Like single-leg calf raises, you can use dumbbells for extra weight.

4. Toe Walking

You can walk on your tippy toes anytime, anywhere, to ready your calves for a marathon. This straightforward exercise is great for short distances, gradually increasing how far you go. Right away, you’ll notice a nice stretch in your feet and the back of your calves. 

5. Runner’s Stretch

The lunge is the world’s greatest stretch and among the most powerful calf workouts. Stand up straight and work your way into a lunge position with one leg behind you and your back upright. Lean into your knee until you feel a stretch in your calf. This exercise can soothe an Achilles tendon, too. 

6. Jump Rope

Who knew a grade school exercise like jumping rope could be the ultimate calf workout? Concentrate on making softer landings rather than a power jump — this will help prevent injuring foot ligaments. Modifying the jump rope exercise allows you to speed up your pace gradually. It also is an excellent aerobic workout.

orange and black resistance band

7. Resistance Band Workouts

A resistance band is your best friend when doing calf workouts. You can place the band around your feet, stretching your calf while standing on a flat surface — this will also help you build balance. Purchase a resistance band set for different strength levels and ensure it’s made from soft, elastic latex for extra comfort. 

8. Seated Calf Raises

Isolate the soleus muscle in your calf with a seated calf raise. Start by sitting in a chair with your feet on a step or platform. Simply lift your heels and keep them in the air for a few seconds, lowering them slowly. To make your workout more challenging, add weights.  

Tips for Doing Calf Exercises

Whether you’re running a marathon to win or just want to cross the finish line, you can do a few things to maximize your calf workouts effectively. 

  • Include calf exercises in your warm-up and cool-down routines. 
  • Always keep your back straight and your core engaged.
  • Keep your knees slightly bent at all times to prevent injury. 
  • Start with an easy load and gradually increase the difficulty of calf exercise. 
  • Add repetitions or sets for variation.
  • Choose exercises that utilize a full range of motion.

Most importantly, be consistent. Muscular calves are a crucial component of a fast run, so you should train them more often to build resilience.

group of people running a marathon

How to Care for Calf Injuries

Accidents and injuries happen when you’re a marathoner. What’s most important is you address your pain immediately so you can hit the ground running again. Care for calf injuries in the following ways:

  • Take ibuprofen and acetaminophen to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Apply the RICE principle — rest, ice, compression and elevation — by applying ice packs for 20 minutes several times for 24-48 hours.
  • Seek care from a physical therapist to rehabilitate your injury.
  • Ease back into running with low-impact exercises — like swimming and walking — and lightly jogging for short distances. 

Always listen to your body while training for a marathon. Note how intense your runs are and where bodily aches occur. If injuries happen often or you feel pain in the same spot, make an appointment with a specialist.

Stride Toward Stronger Runs

Running a marathon without adequate stretching and calf exercises risks serious injury, which can upend your dream of completing the race. The best way to prepare your body for long-distance running is to loosen and strengthen your leg muscles to their maximum range of motion. Take care of your body before, during and after runs to achieve your running goals safely.

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