Do Calf Raises Help Shin Splints?

Shin splints are a frustrating and niggling injury that can significantly hold back an athlete's training. As someone who suffered from shin splints for more than two-and-a-half years, I understand the struggle. However, weak calves are not the only cause of shin splints.

You need a more targeted and complete program to fix your shin splints beyond just completing lots and lots of standing calf raises, fortunately, we have reverse-engineered a highly effective rehab protocol to help you overcome your shin splints for good. In this article, we'll explore the role of calf raises in treating shin splints and provide you with more effective alternatives.

Calf strength and shin splints

Calf strength plays a crucial role in preventing and treating shin splints.

Calf raises for building strength and reducing shin splint pain

The calves provide both propulsion to push you off the ground with each stride along with the force absorption capacity to help your absorb ground reaction forces with your running stride.

So while calf strength is crucial for running performance and general injury prevention, when it comes to the root cause of your shin splints (particularly posteior shin splints), it’s the smaller muscles of the calf and foot that require attention.

The soleus and tibialis posterior, two smaller muscles that sit below the gastrocnemius (the main larger calf muscle) help stabilize the lower leg during running. When these muscles are weak, it can lead to increased running stress being passed into the shin bone and surrounding tissues, making these two muscles a key causing factor in shin splints.

Calf Raises for Shin Splints

The typical prescription for shin splints is standing calf raises, and lots of them. Three sets of 30 single-leg standing straight leg calf raises done every day is a pretty common prescription for fixing shin splints.

But standing calf raises just do not target the soleus or tibalis posteior to a high enough level to be effective.

The Problem with Standing Calf Raises for Shin Splints

While standing calf raises can help strengthen the calf muscles are great for running faster and jumping higher, they may not be the most effective exercise for treating shin splints. Here's why:

When you do a standing calf raise, because of the open knee angle, your gastrocnemius is doing the majority of the work. This means that the tibialis posterior, the real shin splint muscle, isn't truly being challenged.

The second issue with standing calf raises is the short range of motion and short lengths of time you spend moving. Compared to say a squat or bench press, the time under tension for a calf raise is really short, meaning the muscle can spend a lot of time resting and not getting an enormous amount of work in a traditional set.

A Better calf raise for shin splints: Seated Calf Isometric Holds

The first step is to switch from standing calf raises to seated raises. Bending the knee has the gastrocnemius muscle become a much smaller player in the movement, now the soleus and the tibialis posterior can really be isoalated and strengthened to a much greater degree.

Based on Bruce Gray's Achilles tendinopathy methods, we hcve devised a powerful and effective treatment solution for fixing shin splints involving heavy seated calf isometric holds.

Whether dealing with a tendinopathy (such as with Osgood Schlatter Disease) or a periosteal issue (enthesiopathy) such as shin splints, the driving factor in the injury is collagen that is in distress and not able to keep up with the amount of work being asked of it. For this, heavy isometric work in specific joint angles can have a beneficial effect through the power of mechanotransduction — an approach to rehabilitation that both stengthens the muscles and calms down the collagen of tendons, bones and entheses.

How to Perform Seated Calf Isometric Holds

The updated protocol is simple, you will need a seated calf raise machine to complete these exercise, start light in weight and progress as your strength increases:

  1. Sit in the machine with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle and knees under the pad
  2. Lift your heel slightly off the ground/step into a slightly plantar-flexed position (above neutral)
  3. Hold this position for 45 seconds with a focus on keeping the foot straight and the force being pushed through your big toe
  4. Perform three sets with 30 seconds rest between each

The focus on keeping the weight on your big toe will help prevent the arch of the foot from collapsing inward. The big toe is also our last point of pushing off when running and has connections to the tibialis posterior.

Benefits of seated calf raises for shin splints

This technique specifically targets the soleus and tibialis posterior muscles, which are crucial in preventing and treating shin splints. The isometric hold also helps to strengthen the muscles and tendons without putting excessive stress on the shin bone.

Exercises for Shin Splint Rehabilitation & Prevention

While seated calf isometric holds should be a key component of your shin splint rehab, they shouldn't be the only exercise you do. Incorporate them into a well-rounded strength training program that includes exercises for your entire lower body.

Can tib raises help shin splints?

When dealing with posterior shin splints, tibialis raises may not be the most effective solution. While they can help strengthen the anterior shin muscle, they do not address the root cause of the pain, which is often related to the tibialis posterior muscle and tendon.

Other Exercises to Support Shin Splint Recovery

In addition to seated calf isometric holds, consider incorporating the following exercises into your routine:

  1. Single-leg balance exercises
  2. Heel walks
  3. Toe walks
  4. Ankle strengthening (tracing the alphabet with your toes, etc)
  5. Squats and lunges for overall leg strength
  6. Glute med strengthening exercises
  7. Foam rolling and foot release work
  8. Stretching for the calves and feet

Creating a Balanced Strength Training Program

Remember, shin splints can be a result of not just calf weakness but a combination of local weakness, overall weakness in the lower body, and load management, technique, genetic and many other factors, not just weak calf muscles. Create a balanced strength training program that includes exercises for your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core, in addition to your calf exercises.

Shin splints can be a frustrating injury, but with the right rehab protocol and preventive measures, you can overcome this condition and get back to training at your best. By understanding the causes, focusing on the appropriate exercises, and gradually managing your load, you'll be well on your way to beating shin splints for good.

For guidance and assistance with your shin pain, get in touch with me (Jacob) directly, I'd be happy to help (free online programs and advice)!

Email coach Jacob here →

Remember, while strengthening exercises are crucial, it's also important to address other factors like running technique, proper footwear, and gradual increase in training load. A comprehensive approach is key to effectively treating and preventing shin splints.