Calf Raises to Fatigue: Feel the Burn!
It doesn't matter if you're 25 years old or 85 years young, your calf muscles are important and the single leg heel raise test is a simple way to check your calf strength at home. The result can reassure you that your calf muscles are in good shape or can highlight if there is work to be done. If you're coming back from an injury hitting the normal scores should be a target as part of your rehabilitation programme.
The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are the two main muscles that make up what is commonly called the calf muscle. Calf muscles are the workhorses during walking and running, and they're also very important, especially as we age, for maintaining our balance when standing still.
In 2017 researchers Herbert-Losier et al studied the normal data for 600 males and females at different ages to see how many single heel raises they could perform to fatigue. This normal data gives us a reference to compare our own data to.
20-29 years: Females 30 reps, Males 37 reps.
30-39 years: Females 27 reps, Males 32 reps.
40-49 years: Females 24 reps, Male 28 reps.
50-59 years: Females 21 reps, Male 23 reps.
60-69 years: Females 19 reps, Male 19 reps.
70-79 years: Females 16 reps, Male 14 reps.
80-89 years: Females 13 reps, Male 10 reps.
Can you reach normal?
Is the number of reps you can heel raise the same on the right and the left? There should be no more than 10% difference between the sides.
Why does this matter?
As we said above if you're returning from injury aiming to hit these normal values is a great goal and should be part of your rehab programme. If you can't hit the normal values and you enjoy running try setting yourself a challenge to increase your reps to fatigue by 1-2 reps each week. Having good calf strength has been shown to be a good predictor when looking at runners who are less likely to develop calf muscle injuries.
How to test yourself? See the video demo below
Stand on one leg near a wall.
Lightly use your fingertips against the wall at shoulder height to help you maintain balance. Don't pull up, that's cheating!
Push through your toes and lift your heel as high as possible.
Keep your knee and body straight, no bending at the knee.
Aim for a tempo of one heel raise per second, then lower per second.
Ensure you push through the whole of the forefoot - don't bias to the outside of the foot.
Count until you lose your form.
Repeat on both side and compare.
Hebert-Losier, K., et al. (2017). "Updated reliability and normative values for the standing heel-rise test in healthy adults." Physiotherapy 103(4): 446-452.