The soleus muscle belongs to the muscles of the leg, the portion between the knee and ankle, and is located in the posterior loggia of this anatomical district. This muscle can be considered to have a postural role as it works almost constantly when the weight of the body is discharged to the ground. The soleus together with the gastrocnemius forms the triceps of the sura, which is a set of muscles that occupy the back of the leg.
The soleus is a monoarticular muscle: it originates from the head of the fibula and from the upper third of the diaphysis of the fibula (both origins are on the posterior portion of this bone), it also originates from the popliteal line and the arch of the soleus. The insertion is common to that of the gastrocnemius: the triceps of the sura is inserted with a common tendon on the tuberosity of the calcaneus, in the posterior portion. The tendon of insertion of this muscle is called the Achilles tendon and is the largest and most robust tendon of all.
The main function of the soleus is that of plantar flexion. Being mono-articular, this muscle always works in the plantar flexion movement; the gastrocnemius, on the other hand, also participates in knee flexion as well as plantar flexion. This means that if the gastrocnemius is functionally inhibited (knee flexed) the soleus has to do most of the plantar flexion work on its own.
The other function of the soleus is to contribute to the maintenance of the arch of the foot. This role should not be neglected as being a mono-articular muscle it has an important action on the joint on which it is inserted; combining this with the fact that the soleus is a relatively strong and large muscle, we can deduce that its role is decisive in a correct physiology. Another function of this muscle is to participate in the small movements that the fibula head makes with respect to the tibia.
One of the best exercises for the soleus is running, this movement can be considered a kind of multi-joint exercise for the soleus. This type of exercise should be part of any type of training, not only for the cardio vascular benefits but also because it is a physiological movement: the body is "built" to be able to run. The most productive type of running is "sprinting" or running relatively short distances in the shortest possible time. Trying to have maximum speed should not be at the expense of running technique: as with all exercises, incorrect execution only leads to disadvantages.
If the path is uphill, the work of the posterior kinetic chain increases considerably, including the soleus. 5 sets of uphill sprints of 200-250 meters, 2 or 3 times a week, are a great workout for the whole body, including soleus. Outlined a multi-joint exercise, some isolation exercises are needed.
A classic exercise is the bent knee calf raises. To perform this exercise there is no need for a special machine: just put yourself in a deep squat position in which you do not perform active work to maintain the position but simply lean on the joints. From here bring the knees forward so as to detach the heels from the ground and remain in support on the toes. This allows to maintain a constant tension on the soleus. from here perform some repetitions of calf raises: push on the part of the foot between the toes and the arch of the foot. Get to the maximum flexion and hold the position for a couple of seconds and then return to the final position in a slow and controlled way.
It is necessary to focus on maximal contraction and lengthening of this muscle. Since the tension is constant, there is the double benefit of stressing this muscle as long as it remains in position and also of increasing the mobility of the ankle once back in the resting position. Another exercise could be the glute ham raise, keeping the foot area before the toes as a fixed point. In this way the soleus is subjected to a constant planti-flexion work with decidedly high tensions. Furthermore, you do not perform a dedicated exercise but simply adopt a small change to an exercise that is already excellent in itself.
In conclusion, a good training scheme for the soleus muscle could be the following:
- Uphill sprinting: 4-5 series of 200-250 meters. 2 or 3 times a week
- Glute Ham raise with plantar support: 3 or 4 sets of 10-12 repetitions
- Calf raise in deep squat: 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions with 20 seconds of isometry in maximum
elongation at the end of the series