What is calf muscle endurance?
Dancers need to be able to take a lot of load on their lower legs when they are dancing, from travelling movements to petit allegro- we put our lower legs through a lot.
So, there is little surprise when studies have illustrated that the most common injuries in dancers occur in the lower extremities (knee, ankle, foot).
Muscular endurance is the ability for a muscle or group of muscles to be able to contract and work repetitively over an extended period of time…the better your muscular endurance the more repetitions you can perform.
Why is it important?
As dancers we are constantly moving through the feet, walking, running, jumping, moving through the space, often for hours at a time. So we need to ensure our calves are capable of performing these repetitive movements for all that time without getting tired or fatigued and opening ourselves up to injury.
The calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus, are the muscles that work to pull the heel up, or in other words, point the toes away from the leg (plantarflexion), which is why they are so important within dance. Any traveling movement you perform on your feet, any rising onto the toes, any jumping, hopping or leaping, will all use the calf muscles.
The Australian Ballet conducted a study in which they screened all their dancers in 2003. They found that dancers who were not able to perform 25 or more single leg calf raises had reported ankle pain within the 6 months previous.
In 2005, the Australian Ballet then decided to add single leg calf raises (SLCR) into their ballet classes, they performed 16-24 a half foot after barre.
Having done this, they have found they have had less ankle injuries within their company with only 3 ankle surgeries since 2005.
How can we improve calf muscle endurance?
These can be done every day or every other day. Like any other exercise or strengthening, this should be built up gradually. The goal is to work towards 24 single leg calf raises on each leg. These need no equipment so can be done straight after warm up
If you struggle with single leg calf raises, then start performing up to 24 calf raises on both feet.
Then move on to rising on both feet to lowering on one foot and perform 16-24 for each foot.
Then we can build up the single leg calf raises 16-24 repetitions on each foot.
What we need to think about:
· Keep the feet in parallel
· Keep the knee neutral, not bent or locked straight.
· Rise all the way up, using the full range of motion (as long as there is no pain and you can control it)- no need to perform these off a step
· Keep your toes long and flat (try not to scrunch them up)
· Control your speed, slow and controlled calf raises work better, think 1 second up and 1 second down.
· Keep the whole movement as smooth as possible
· Focus on going straight up, avoid rocking forward
· Keep your calf muscles (gastrocnemius) engaged throughout
· Maintain alignment, think mid shin over mid foot
· No stretching afterwards! If the muscle feels tense afterwards try massage or foam rolling