The Gastrocnemius has been cut away to reveal the Soleus underneath.What is the Soleus muscle?
The soleus muscle makes up part of your calf muscle and sits under the main calf muscle called the Gastrocnemius (Gastroc). Its main job is to plantar flex your foot (point your toes down pivoting at the foot) as is the job of the Gastroc. The difference comes in when your knees are bent. As the Gastroc works across your ankle joint and your knee joint when your knee is bent, its effectiveness in this position is reduced substantially, but because the Soleus muscle only works across the ankle joint this is where it comes into its own. With the Gastroc out of action the Soleus is the main muscle to plantar flex your foot.
The benefits of working your Soleus are limited for the average person with no real need to push off from their feet whilst their knees are bent. It is a completely different story in the world of sport where the need for speed and power from the feet whilst the knees are bent can be the difference between winning or losing. Main users are sprinters, rugby players, American football players and football (soccer) players to name a few. Another benefit for the more vain of you is that it is very difficult to build up the size and definition of the calf muscle. More often than not people will ignore the Soleus muscle in favour of the Gastrocnemius muscle which is far more popular. However by training both muscles you can increase the size more than just training one muscle alone.
The most common exercise to train the Soleus muscle is the seated calf raise with a weight placed over the knees.
You will need to have a bench to sit on, a weight such as a dumbbell, barbell or a plate (the weights that go on the end of the barbell) and you will also need a step of sorts to raise your feet off the ground.
Place the step in front of the bench so that when you sit down you can place the front of your foot on the step and have the heels on the ground. Once in this position place the weight of your choice across your knees, just behind the knee cap so that it is as comfy as possible. I would recommend using a folded towel to add a bit more padding. Now you are in the start position and ready to complete your first repetition. All you have to do is to go on tip toe raising the weight and your legs upwards so that your heels are above your toe level. Once you are as high as you can go, slowly return to the start position. There you have it one completed repetition.
This exercise is a little invention of my own (to the best of our knowledge) and it uses a bench and step as before but this time it uses a popular piece of gym equipment that most gyms have: the adjustable leg extension machine – as shown in the picture.
Place the bench in front of the leg extension machine and set the leg extension machine’s leg support up so that it is just less than horizontal. Now place the step under the leg support so that you can sit with your legs under the support and toes on the step with your heels rested on the floor. Due to the design of the machines the leg that is nearest the arm that moves, usually your left leg, will get slightly more work than the right. To combat this I place a dumbbell on the outside of the leg support to counter balance it. There you have it, all you need to do now is raise your feet up so that your heels go above your toes and then slowly return them back to the ground and you have completed one repetition.
The soleus is an important muscle to work if you want to improve the look and function of your calf muscles. It is essential to exercise if you play a sport where immediate acceleration or contact and pushing is needed. I will be very interested to hear back from anyone who tries out my method of training the Soleus (exercise 2) to see if it works for you and receive a general feedback. A small warning that the strong ones of you may need someone to sit in the leg extension machine whilst you perform “Hugo’s Soleus Raise”.
Good luck with your training and stay healthy.