Soleus Strength Exercises for Runners

In this article, I’m going to not only show you how to strengthen your soleus muscles, but also explain why it’s so important for runners like you and me to do so.

Soleus is such an under-appreciated muscle, and its neglect often causes significant weak links in the calf complex.

Let’s fix that…

Why Are Soleus Strengthening Exercises Important for Runners?

Over recent years, I’ve come to better understand a common pattern that often presents itself in runners with various lower leg injuries, particularly Achilles tendinopathy and recurring calf strains.

These injured runners often test as having a significant strength imbalance, between gastrocnemius, the biggest of and most superficial of the calf muscles, and soleus which sits deeper and lower in the calf region.

Here’s a quick visual aid:

Where is the soleus muscle?

It often appears that runners who struggle with Achilles tendon injuries and calf strains are also weak in their soleus muscles.

Physiotherapist Seth O’Neill and his colleagues discuss the role of soleus muscle deficit in Achilles tendinopathy further in this paper.

How to Strengthen the Soleus Muscle

With this topic in mind, I wanted to share the video above to show one of my favourite soleus strengthening exercises for runners: The balance-reach drill.

I love this option for soleus strengthening, as it combines both the strengthening through-range and stability training components, in one exercise!

You can simply perform this exercise as a bodyweight drill, or grab some dumbbells to add some additional resistance.

Aim for 3 sets of 15 reps on each leg.

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If you have a gym available, you might also want to try incorporating seated calf raises into your calf strengthening programme.

There are lots of variations of the seated calf raise, all of which will strengthen the soleus muscles of your lower legs. The key is to work through a full range of motion.

Aim for 3 sets of 15 reps on each leg, or both legs together (adjust the load accordingly!).

Let me know how you get on!

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Last updated on June 18th, 2019.
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23 Comments

  1. While it has some importance, I would say the Hip Flexors are much more important “running muscles”. Wouldn’t it be more useful to look at ankle and hip mobility rather than the strength or perceived weakness of the Soleus?

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Steven.

      I don’t remember suggesting that Soleus function was the *most* important…

      I certainly agree that hip mobility for example is a huge limiting factor for so many runners. Worse in triathletes, in my experience!

      See this previous post: http://www.kinetic-revolution.com/running-its-all-in-the-hips/

      While I want to see a runner with great hip and ankle mobility, it’s also important that they can control the effects of ground reaction force from bottom-up during weight bearing.

      Mobility shouldn’t come at the expense of control. That’s what this exercise is all about!

      Whether mobility or stability, at the hip or ankle, or any of a myriad of other variables, is the biggest bang for the buck for a given runner to work on is entirely subject specific.

      We each need to identify our own most limiting factor and work on it.

      Cheers,

      James

  2. Hi
    I have torn my soleus twice in six months …it seems it’s down to my gait , which I have hopefully sorted with the help of a experience sports injury person.
    I am told I should be able to resume running in a week or two ,do you think i should start doing this exercise or wait a while…thanks Keith

    1. Hi Keith, thanks for taking the time to comment!

      If you’re 1-2 weeks away from running again, you should be ok to start this exercise now. Be sure to check with your therapist.

      Best of luck with the rest of your rehab.

      James

  3. Hi James,
    Thanks for taking up my comment of using diagrams to show where the muscles actually are, its really helpful to feel where you are working and see it on the diagrams to check you are doing the exercises correctly!

    Just one more question …. do you know where I can get an extra hour a day to do all my training, lol! 😉
    Tina.

  4. The soleus video was very timely as I’ve just ‘tugged’ my soleus on my last run. Being a new runner, I really want to nip this problem in the bud. I have a constant issue with my R hip with running as well, but I’ve signed up for the 30 day challenge and just reviewed the information on the glutes so I’m going to add in more hip hikes with my challenge.

    Cheers!

  5. Hi James
    Very interested in this video as am currently in transition to barefoot running and have been having niggles and pains in both calves. Currently I only have a dull ache when running in my right calf or behind it so will be starting the excersies tonight.

    Keep up with the good work as have found many articles a help and very informative

    Cheers

  6. like the use of multiple planes, few have advocated it previously despite the clear benefits good stuff james

  7. I have a runner who is very much a forefoot runner, her heel never touches the ground! She has a history of lower leg issues including tendonosis of the tib post tendon. I could see this exercise working well for her as soleus, in constant plantar flexion under load, will be constantly engaged. Would you advise this exercise for such an issue or is there a variation you would suggest?

  8. Hi James

    like the rationale for the exercise- very similar to a quarter pistol squat? Where, if at all, should the execution of this differ from a 1/4 pistol squat?

  9. Hi James
    i am keen to try this as i am just trying to return to running following an overuse injury to my soleus. At present the area is still sore when I do my run/walk and the following rest day.
    would you advise that I do this every day even though I am sore or to do it on a rest day until the tenderness subsides. Keen to build up strength again before XC season next month

  10. Thanks James – I’ll try this.
    Similar to Trudy’s question above, is it safe to carry out this exercise if the soleus is already hurting or should you wait. Further, after the pain subsides should you wait a period before recommencing running?
    I’ve been doing some of your other exercises and found them really good, so I’m hoping this does the trick too.
    Thanks
    Charlotte

  11. Hi, I’ve had Achilles tendinopathy for over a year, lucky it’s improved a lot after doing calf strengthening exercises. However it’s still not quite there and I’ve plateaued with my current calf routine. Could you add a dumbbell to this exercise to make it harder or is high reps the best thing? Any other Soleus exercises I might not have herd of? Bent and seated are my standard ones at the moment.

    Thanks,

    Harry

  12. Hi James,

    I have been suffering with Achilles tendinopathy repeatedly over the last 2 years and it has heavily impacted on my running (I’m now in month 5 of no running!). Is there any chance you could go into more detail on this injury and ways to recover from it aswel as prevent it.

    Keep p the good work
    Mark

  13. Hi James. Regarding achilles tendinopathy, I’m curious how I should incorporate the single-leg soleus plantarflexion/deceleration exercise with my eccentric heel drop routine?

  14. Hi James,
    Is it reall safe for the knee reaching 45 degrees either side like that? Feels twisty and unsafe, especially reaching in.
    Thanks
    M

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