Editor's Note: This Q&A has been modified from its original version per the author's request.
Can you provide some information on how the standing calf raise machine is biomechancially incorrect? I have a SCR machine from Universal that I am trying to replace and a few members swear by it. Is there anything that might help them change the minds? Thank you!
You present a dilemma for a health club provider, which is the need for certain pieces of “non functional” equipment and satisfying the needs and desires of your members.
First, as we know, the calf raise machine is designed to train the calf group in a concentric manner and to strengthen the action of plantar flexion. This piece of equipment has been a common mainstay for years. Yet, if we examine the true action of the calf group in gait and function, the calf group actually decelerates dorsiflexion as the tibia moves over the foot during the gait cycle, stabilizes the ankle, indirectly helps to stabilize the hip and assists to accelerate plantar flexion.
Imagine the foot on the ground. As the hip passes over the foot, this causes the tibia to move toward the foot as it glides over the talus. This action is dorsiflexion. The calf lengthens to decelerate this motion in the sagittal plane. As the tibia is moving over the foot, the calcaneus (heel) is everting or pronation. The posterior tibialis is quite active in decelerating this motion. Concomitantly, the tibia internally rotates as it glides over the talus, and the calf, especially the soleus, strongly assists in controlling tibial internal rotation. Please keep in mind, the gastrocnemius, soleus and posterior tibialis all work synergistically to decelerate dorsiflexion in the sagittal plane, calcaneal eversion in the frontal plane and tibial internal rotation in the transverse plane. None of these muscles work independently of each other. After the hip passes over the foot and the heel begins to raise from the ground, the stored energy of the gastrocnemius has a dual action of assisting in knee flexion and also helps to plantar flex the ankle.
When looking at muscle function, all muscles have a tri-phasic action, deceleration (eccentric), stabilization and then acceleration (concentric). To efficiently and economically be effective, all muscles need to eccentrically load first, then concentrically unload. Selectorized machines work primarily by concentric muscle action and in one plane of motion. This is detrimental to people who run as this will shorten the muscle group and is opposite of what they require, which is a strong ability to eccentrically control the action of the tibia, ankle and foot. Additionally, these machines also work in a single plane of motion.
You must consider the needs and wants of your entire membership. Getting rid of your SCR machine may negatively affect your members and ultimately your business. I have learned to blend the traditional model of training with the more functional, integrated methods. My recommendation is to have your clients take an active tri-plane warm up to load all muscles and joints, do the SCR first but then offer a complementary exercise to functionally work the calf group. You can achieve this by having the client face the wall, standing about six to eight inches from it. Have him keep his torso very neutral, do not flex at the hip and lean toward the wall. Keep the heels on the floor! When he feels like his heels are about to come off the floor, have him press his toes into the ground (this is relative plantar flexion) and return to the start position. This exercise lengthens the posterior calf group as it decelerates dorsiflexion. You can add a transverse plane component to this by having your client slightly turn into the wall, then turn the other way. This adds a rotational stress to the muscle group. This approach covers both ends of the strength and conditioning spectrum. The rationale of this approach is that the isolated exercise shortens the muscle group, and then it is followed by the tri-phasic action of integrated training by allowing lengthening to occur first, stabilization and then the propulsive shortening action follows.
I hope this helps. Good luck!