Friday, October 9, 2009

Lower-leg muscles - VIPs while working out Legs!

Sometimes we are so focused on fixing things which are not right, that we forget to be thankful for and take care of the things that are not wrong at all! That’s a spiritual tip apt for the muscles of legs!
Before you start wondering, let me tell you that I am talking about – lower leg muscles, especially the calf muscles, anterior tibialis, peroneus muscles.
Everyone- be it male or female is mostly focused on developing their hips and thighs muscles rightly. And the lower leg muscles which are not usually ‘problem areas’ are neglected, when in fact they are highly important muscles and need to be strengthened and made flexible proportionately. They are the Very Important Parts (VIPs).

In fact it is not un-common to find tight calf muscles correspond to referred pain in the upper back and shoulder muscles and also lower back pain! And the interesting part is that most of us have tight calf muscles, simply due to the way we sit and stand.

You may have tight calf muscles in case (unless you purposefully stretch it post exercise or otherwise) –

Sit on a chair with your legs crossed and heels above and not touching the ground or the footrest (most commonly found).
Sit on a chair where your legs don’t reach the ground or the footrest.
Climb stairs only using the ball of your feet and not placing the full feet on each stair
Do a lot of fast-paced or high impact aerobics or dancing (esp. bollywood dancing) where your complete feet does not have time to touch the ground. So the calves are always contracted.
Wear high heels for most part of the day and life
If your feet don’t touch the ground and you have to balance your heavy bikes on the ball of your feet over a period of time

The flip side of tight calf muscles are stretched muscles on the front and lateral part of the lower leg, like the anterior tibialis and the peroneus longus and brevis respectively, all which result in shin pains, inflammations and bigger problems.
the calves are the unsung heroes in case of legs and need as much attention as we give to the other leg muscles.

Moreover, since our posture could actually keep the calves in tension, an ideal workout for the calves must include stretching and strengthening exercises, both.
If any of the factors mentioned in the previous article that cause calves to shorten ring true with you, then you must initially stretch the calf muscle before focusing on only strengthening it.
An easy example of tense calf muscles could be consistent pain and burning feeling in the calf muscle when standing or squatting even for short periods of time or even when sleeping.

A few stretches would be –

Seated calf stretch –
Sit with your back against a wall, with your legs stretched out straight in front of you. Now slowly bend forward at the waist and try to pull your toes inwards with your hand or with the help of a towel looped around the mid-part of the sole, making sure that the knees touch the floor all the time. Hold it there for around 20 secs and then repeat. This can be done one leg or both legs at a time.
The same posture can be repeated in the standing position as well. So, as you stand, lift and place one leg in front of you, with the heel touching the floor and toes pointing towards you. Now slowly bend forward at the lower back and try and touch the toes, keeping this knee straight but bending the other knee as you go down. Feel the stretch and hold for sometime and then repeat.

Standing Calf stretch –
Stand 1 feet away from and facing a plain wall. Place one heel on the floor and the ball of that feet on the wall. Now slightly bend forward using your whole body, with the other leg behind you, until you feel the stretch on the calves of the foot that’s near the wall. With right placement, you can also stretch the calves of the rear leg, however, the stretch should pre-dominantly be on the front foot. Repeat the same process with the other leg.

You can do this even after you come home from work or shopping or anything that involved walking/standing, however making sure that you are not over-stretching the calves especially when they are cold!
As has been discussed, muscles of the lower leg, namely soleus, gastrocnemius, anterior tibialis, peroneus and more must be given equal importance while exercising.
Also as has been observed, that due to our posture, the muscles of the calves are already shortened, and hence before strengthening them, they must be stretched. The stretches discussed last time can be done on a daily basis after coming home from work as well and need not be restricted to only after exercise.

To strengthen the calves, the simplest exercise that can be done, even at home, is the Calf raise. Many gyms have machines for Calf raises, besides using the leg press machine or even some advanced machines like Soleus Trade for working out calves. Machines with adjustable weights can be used to increase the challenge on the calves, once the body is used to challenge offered by one’s own body weight. For most of us, the challenge offered by our own body weight is sufficient enough for generating good strength.

The exercise Calf Raises can be done as follows –

Stand facing a wall or object that can provide support and position yourself against this using both arms. Maintain an erect posture, with body weight distributed on both feet. Now keeping your feet close together, raise yourself, balancing on the ball of the feet, and at the same time, squeezing the calves. Slowly release as you are coming down and again raise yourself and repeat the procedure.

To increase the range of motion, you can stand off a step or an elevated surface, such that you rheels are hanging off the edge. Now when you raise yourself on the ball of the feet and release, the heels can go farther than ground level and thus increase the range of motion and the challenge of this exercise. Needless to say, placing weights on your shoulders will increase the challenge. Remember to keep the hands free to support the body, else you may lose balance and trip. Atleast around 20 repetitions will help to start with. You can increase the number as your strength increases. Remember to stretch the calves at the end of your workout!

No comments: