Description. These are the three significant muscles below the knee. The "gastroc" plantar flexes the ankle when the knee is straight, and the soleus does the same when the knee is flexed. The tibealis is the primary dorsiflexor of the ankle. The gastrocs and soleus are antagonistic to the tibealis anterior.
Martial Arts Applications. The gastrocs are strongly involved in all sprinting, jumping, and kicking activities. The tibealis is important in grappling disciplines for controlling the opponents position. In kicking, it allows extension of the heel for more focused kicks. The soleus helps to provide overall ankle stability during walking, running and jumping.
Unique Characteristics. Many people do not realize that the gastrocs, in addition to their role as ankle plantarflexors, also contribute to knee flexion in certain positions. For this reason, dorsiflexing the ankles during hamstring exercises makes these movements easier. Another interesting fact is that the gastrocs are mostly fast-twitch muscle fiber so training them with low to moderate intensities may be less than productive! Conversely, the tibealis are mostly slow-twitch. Try rapidly dorsiflexing and then plantarflexing either foot back and forth a few times. Which is faster? This is a great exercise for understanding the difference between fast- and slow-twitch muscles!
In bodybuilding circles, the belief is that calf size is a genetically-inherited trait—one either has it or not.
Length Assessment. To assess minimal standards for gastroc length, the athlete lies supine (face up) on die floor, with hips, knees, and ankles neutral. Cupping the heel with one hand, use the other hand to direct the foot into dorsiflexion. Minimal acceptable length is indicated by a 20-degree angle of the sole of the foot to the lower leg. Limited ROM at the ankle causes the athlete to lean forward during squatting and deadlifting exercises, exposing the low back to unnecessary risk.
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