Have you ever wondered, “Why Do Calf Raises Hurt My Feet?”
If so, you’re definitely not alone.
In fact, foot pain during calf raises is probably the most common complaint with the exercise (well apart from the calves not growing).
So, I’d like to introduce you to a few things you should know, which will help to reduce foot pain, and increase calf activation.
Why Do Calf Raises Hurt My Feet?
One of the main reasons calf raises hurt your feet is that you push through the toes. There is a tendency to concentrate more on pushing through the toes in order to raise the heel. However, this takes the emphasis away from working the calves and places it more onto the feet.
1. Concentrate of Calf Contraction Not Toe Push
I know I’m definitely guilty of this when it comes to calf raises.
However, there is a tendency to push through the toes in order to raise the heel.
By pushing through the toes you will feel some form of stimulation in the calves, but you are bringing the feet much more into the exercise.
I guess this is more about focusing on the mind-muscle connection while performing calf raises.
What I try to do is to really concentrate on contracting the gastrocnemius muscle (the upper calf) throughout the movement.
That being said, I’ll admit that I have on occasion shifted my focus to bending at the toes.
However, contracting the target muscle and really concentrating on using this muscle throughout a movement works well with most exercises.
You could look at pull ups as an example.
You impulsively want to pull with your arms, as opposed to using your lats.
The same could be said for deadlifts.
There is a leaning towards pulling with your arms rather than using your glutes and hamstrings.
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So, the exact same principles apply to calf raises.
The aim here should be to really concentrate on using the calf muscles to lift your heels.
And not trying to achieve this by pushing through your toes.
I will also say that not only does this affect the feet, but you’re also placing additional stress on the Achilles tendon.
Basically, by focusing on using your toes, you’re “working” just about every muscle bar the calves.
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2. Slow the Calf Raise Exercise Down
If you don’t mind, I just want to run through a really quick anatomy lesson, which should help you to understand how to train the calf muscles better.
So, the calves are made up of 2 main muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles.
The gastrocnemius is the calf muscle that is visible to the naked eye.
Its function is to raise the heel, or put the foot in “plantar flexion” (point the toes downwards).
It is primarily a type II muscle fibre, or a fast twitch muscle fibre.
This means it best responds to explosive contractions, or heavy-weight, low-rep resistance training protocol.
Typically, your working set should be kept to under 30 seconds.
The soleus actually lies underneath the gastrocnemius.
It has the exact same function as the gastrocnemius, i.e. to raise the heel, however the soleus is better worked when the knees are bent.
So, in effect, standing calf raises work the gastrocnemius better, while seated calf raises focus more on the soleus.
It is also important to note that the soleus is actually the larger of the two muscles and makes up approximately 60% of the calf.
The soleus is a type I muscle fibre, or slow twitch.
This means it responds to slow contractions and high reps.
Typically, a working set for the soleus muscle should last longer than 30 seconds.
Here endeth the anatomy lesson.
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What Has This Got to Do With The Speed of Calf Raises?
Basically, from this information we are aware that seated calf raises should be performed in a slow and controlled manner throughout.
Plus, the exercise should be performed with a higher number of reps.
As for standing calf raises, you should explode on the up portion of the movement, but then slowly lower yourself back down.
And the exercise should be performed with lower reps and a heavier weight.
However, for both exercises you will always lower yourself in a slow and controlled manner.
When it comes to standing calf raises there seems to be a trend of performing these very quickly for both the raising and lowering parts.
Unfortunately, what happens here is that the “pushing through the toes” comes into play again.
And this simply activates the arches of the feet and Achilles tendon more.
So, remember it’s fine to explode up with standing calf raise, but always lower yourself back down very slowly.
That being said, if calf raises do hurt your feet, you may be better off just performing both types of calf raise in a slow and controlled manner.
Hopefully, this slight change in technique could make all the difference.
3. Don’t Stretch Too Far At The Bottom of the Movement
You’ll often see trainers explaining that you should stretch the calf at both the top and the bottom of the movement.
Now, while this is great advice, you shouldn’t overdo this at the bottom of the movement.
In fact, if you regularly feel foot pain when doing calf raises, I would recommend that you only take your feet down to a level position.
As your calves become stronger, you can start to stretch more at the bottom.
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The more you stretch at the bottom, or dorsiflexion, the more are likely to activate the plantar fascia.
This is the thick set of ligaments at the bottom of the foot that connect your heel bone to the toes.
More often than not, any pain felt in your feet, especially the arches of your feet, will be down to the plantar fascia.
4. Is This Plantar Fasciitis?
This could of course be a case of plantar fasciitis.
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia.
So, basically the ligaments between the heel and the front of the feet have become inflamed.
This is typically a repetitive strain injury of the plantar fascia ligament.
Most commonly caused by excessive walking, running, and jumping.
It can also be caused by inadequate footwear.
In the vast majority of cases plantar fasciitis can be relieved through rest, or the use of ice packs.
Plus, you should also look at wearing more comfortable shoes when you train and during everyday life.
If the pain persists, or even becomes unbearable, then should speak to your doctor or a foot specialist.
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5. Roll A Ball On The Soles of the Feet
Staying with the theory of plantar fasciitis, you could help to relieve the pain through manipulation of the ligament.
The easiest way I’ve found to do this is with either a tennis ball or golf ball.
If you find that you have persistent foot pain whenever you perform calf raises, then this could be a great option.
You can simply roll a ball on the soles of your feet for 2-3 minutes each night before you go to bed.
The reason I say at night is that many people seem to suffer from plantar fasciitis while they’re asleep, or feel it first thing in the morning.
I guess this is due to the fact that the feet are no longer on a flat surface, which typically allows the ligament to be stretched out.
This may also explain why you feel excessive cramp in your feet at night.
You can also repeat the process first thing in the morning if you’ve “suffered” during the night.
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6. Do Calf Raises With Bare Feet
I think most people would agree doing calf raises, whether standing or seated, while barefoot works much better.
You typically feel the calves really contracting and being put through their paces when you’re not wearing training shoes.
I would also say that due to the flexion of the foot involved with calf raises you are almost “fighting” against your shoes as well.
Of course, this does depend on the type of shoes you’re wearing, but this could certainly be the reason for your foot pain.
Personally, I’m not a great one for doing any exercise in the gym barefoot, so I guess this does make me a hypocrite.
However, try calf raises shoeless and see how you feel.
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Hopefully you now understand why calf raises hurt your feet.
The most common cause is that you’re pushing through your toes, thereby activating the feet.
Try to use the mind-muscle connection and really concentrate on using your calves to get your heels off the floor.
With that being said, if you regularly have pain in your feet, especially the arches, this could be a sign of plantar fasciitis.
Initially, you’ll want to stop doing calf raises and see if the issue goes away.
If the pain persists and becomes somewhat unbearable, it’s time to speak to a medical professional.
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Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.