Is calf training really a knee solution?
-Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist
Over 26 bones are below the knee that make up the lower leg and foot/ankle complex, and over 30 muscles. All of these have a purpose and all of these work together to perform movement. Yet we are still doing all the calf raises in the world to get our pump on.
I know, you aren’t doing these calf raises because you are worried about how buff your calves look, you have been told by some influencer that weak calves, tibialis, etc, muscle is the reason for your pain and dysfunction. Sadly, there really is no literature to back up this claim and this is coming from someone who ACTUALLY treats patients with rather significant lower body dysfunctions. There would be no reason that your lower leg muscles would be weaker than the rest of your body and would require specialized training.
Here’s the thing, no one single muscle is more important than the other as they all have purpose but yet I keep seeing it over and over again. Trying to isolate muscles like the gastroc or tib anterior as if they work alone. I have said it a million times, if we attempt to train in isolation it only enforces bad patterns, I like to call it dysfunctional training as it’s not how our body is meant work.
I’m always amazed how people think they can isolate any of these muscles, only one of these muscles would be weak and therefore become trained, and how they actually assess ANY of these muscles in functional movements to determine what is the true issue.
I get it, you something that has thousands of likes on social media so it has to be good, but if you really asked those individuals why they are doing what they are, 9 times out of 10 they have no clue (the 10th one usually says they got it from someone else)
To review though, no muscle works alone. If I asked you to pick up a pencil from the floor using only one muscle could you do it? Nope! I don’t know anytime in our daily lives where we use only one muscle to perform an action. These muscles are used a lot in locomotion, you think only ONE of them randomly became dysfunctional during your everyday actions?
So why do we keep trying to train them that way?
While in the therapy world isolated work has its place especially post surgically, post injury, non weight bearing patients and so forth. In the fitness world, not so much. If I have a healthy individual with no apparent deficits there is a lot more benefit in working the entire chain than trying to isolate it. The better the chain works the more efficient movement we produce. (this would all be done after a very thorough assessment of their complaints and examining movement in a host of different ways, it is never just my default.)
I tend to think the reason most people feel that isolated muscle is better, is that a lot of studies show higher EMG activity of a muscle when it is isolated or a max contraction is produced. Which make sense but when does that ever occur in our daily lives? When are were maximally producing a muscle contraction? Higher EMG doesn’t necessarily mean better. It simply means you produced a high muscle contraction. Like I have mentioned before the quote from Gary Gray, PT, “ is the muscle singing or screaming?” We want our muscles singing and working together in harmony to perform a beautiful song, not screaming a solo.
Which muscles do you feel when you walk or run? Can you pinpoint just one? Probably not, so not sure how everyone believes that one muscle is the root of all their issues.
So instead of doing your gastroc work like your calf raises, then your glute thrusts, rotator cuff exercises and so on… let’s look at the entire kinetic chain and how to improve strength there. If you want more resilient knees, stronger legs, and better performance, we have to look at training the body smarter and get away from any idea that our body is a group of randomly put together parts. Our foot controls our lower leg so these types of DVRT drills are the most effective ways to build a better overall lower body!
Jessica Bento, director of education at DVRT, has been a physical therapist for over 16 years practicing in orthopedics, neuro, and geriatric rehabilitation. Jessica is currently director of education for DVRTFitness.com where she has taught DVRT programs at national conferences and all over the world. You can get 30% off right now on Jessica’s DVRT Rx course HERE with code “pb30”