Going from running with a heel strike to a forefoot strike changes the function of the calves such that in forefoot running, plantar flexor moment is higher than in heel strike running, resulting in greater muscle force within the calves. This is why many new forefoot runners get back of the calf pain really bad.
Back of the Calf Pain When Forefoot Running
A study by Rooney and Derrick (2013) found that one of the greatest differences between habitual forefoot strike and heel strike runners was that the calves provided more support during stance in forefoot running than in heel strike running. In the habitual forefoot runners, plantar flexor moment was 50% higher during the stance phase as compared with the heel strike runners. On top of that, work at the gastrocnemius, soleous and peroneal was greater in the forefoot runners than the heel strike runners, suggesting that newbie forefoot runners are expected to experience sore calf muscles. In all, increased plantar flexor work, increases the work at the ankle which puts additional work on the calf musculature — that’s just the way it goes in forefoot running. But the advantage of this is that it draws mechanical work away from the knee!
In the meantime, work on strengthening your calf muscles by doing 3 types of calf raises. The pain however, will subside when the calf muscles have fully adapted.
These calf strengthening exercises are great for when you don’t have time for the gym as they can be done anywhere. Be sure to do 3 sets of 15 reps of each exercise, daily. Increase the amount when you feel comfortable and confident about your calf strength. Also, if your ankles are wobbly when performing these exercises, this is a good indicator that your balance needs to be improved, in which case these calf exercises come in handy for that as well. You can also try balancing barefoot on a wobble board. And, you can also balance yourself on one leg when barefoot with your eyes closed –this is great for ankle strengthening and will help lighten the load on your calves when you are forefoot running.
More From Run Forefoot:
Using Pose Running to help your forefoot running form.
Why your back hurts when or after you run.
Who is Tirunesh Dibaba and why I think she has the best running form.
My reviews and recommendations on the best minimalist running shoes for forefoot strike running.
The older you get, the more you need to go minimal when running and walking.
Rooney BD and Derrick TR. Joint contact loading in forefoot and rearfoot strike patterns during running. J Biomech, 2013, 46, 2201-2206.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.