Getting you running quick means getting you strong in all the right muscle groups. For those that have missed it, I have already detailed why lifting weights will not make you slow and the importance of strengthening the hamstrings as knee flexors, the hamstrings as hip extensors and the quadriceps. Now it is time to talk about some of the other muscle groups that will really get you rocketing along; whether you are running a marathon or 100m sprint.
The triceps surae is basically the combination of the two heads of the gastrocnemius and the soleus or in non-anatomy talk, the calf! These muscles are responsible for plantarflexion at the ankle and provide vital propulsive forces at the end of the stance phase (remember running can be divided into three basic phases: stance phase or how long you spend on the ground, stride length and stride frequency). The more force the triceps surae can exert on the ground, the greater the ground reaction force is generated. This means you travel further with each stride that of course equals an increase in your stride length and running speed. Triceps surae function is also an important part of the triple extension movement, which is why Olympic lifts are so popular amongst strength & conditioning circles.
The triceps surae also plays a role in injury prevention of the both the ankle and knee. At the ankle it obviously acts on the Achilles tendon and if your strength in the triceps surae is poor or you have a lot of soft tissue problems in that muscle group, you are going to be more prone to Achilles tendon issues. Also because of the intimate involvement with the plantar fascia, it is a good bet the worse the function of the triceps surae the worse plantar fascia type symptoms. (A note for soft tissue practitioners like ART/Trigenics is that clinical outcomes seem tremendously improved with attention to the posterior calf and even distal hamstring in plantar fascia problem clients!). One of the best exercises to improve Achilles tendon health (and plantar fascia) is the 2 to 1 Calf Raise below – which is also a great strength exercise in its’ own right! Now it also acts very similarly as the hamstrings as knee flexors at the knee by providing stability for medial/lateral rotation and reinforcing the posterior aspect of the knee. And this is not just the gastrocnemius that is involved at the knee contrary to popular belief. The tendinous arch of the soleus is basically attached to the medial hamstrings at the knee and also has a number of important nerves and veins (posterior tibial and popliteal) pass through it. That is why for all knee rehabilitation programs time should be devoted to bring up the strength in seated calf and standing calf raise movements.