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Muscle of the Week: Gastrocnemius

As we pointed out last week with a bit of help from The Onion: bones are cool.  We at Level Up maintain our position on this issue, and earnestly hope that you are doing your part to keep your bone mass and density at healthy levels through proper nutrition and regular exercise.

However, muscles are also very cool.  Indeed, they are the necessary element in getting those cool bones to move around and do the awesome stuff we like to do.  Anatomy is a rich and complex science, and is a good field to study if you are interested in the isolated mechanical components of the body as well as the integrated functional units and systems that are at work within us every day.  For those of us who don’t have a ton of time to crack open the anatomy books or google search every body part we think is cool (admittedly, I totally do this), I think it is a good practice to at least familiarize ourselves with the details regarding one muscle each week, as well as some movements and exercises that can be used to strengthen and stretch that muscle.  This week, we’ll look at the Gastrocnemius!

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Here are some cool facts about this important muscle:

  • The name Gastrocnemius comes from the Latin (originally from Greek) meaning: “Stomach” and “Leg.”  Essentially, the bulging shape of the calf led people to call this muscle the “stomach of the leg.”
  • It is a two-headed (that means it has two origin points, not that it is a mythical monster) superficial (that means that it is close to the surface of the body, not that it lacks emotional depth) bipennate muscle that forms a common tendon with the soleus muscle (more on that another week) and inserts at the posterior surface of the calcaneus (heel).
  • It’s primary functions are planar-flexion and flexing the leg at the knee joint.  Important stuff for mobility whether you are an athlete or just walking to the store!

You definitely want to have these guys nice and strong for general gait mechanics and certainly for any sports/athletic activity.  Additionally, it’s important to properly stretch them out before any strenuous exercise.  Spider-Man knows what to do:

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But seriously, that’s a pretty useful gastroc stretch that ought to be integrated into your routine.  Here’s the breakdown (this is the current NASM protocol from their 4th Edition Personal Fitness Training Textbook):

Preparation

1. Stand facing a wall or stable object.

2. Extend one leg back, keeping the knee and foot straight and the back heel on the floor.

Movement

3. Draw navel inward

4. Keep rear foot flat, with foot pointed straight ahead.

5. Bend arms and lean forward towards the wall (or stable object).  Keep the gluteal muscles and quadriceps tight and the heel on the ground.

6.  Hold for 30 seconds.

That last bit is important because you need to allow enough time for the stretch to stimulate your golgi tendon organ to produce an inhibitory effect on the muscle spindles, thus relaxing and elongating the tissue.

I hope this has been helpful, and that you think muscles are cool too!  Stay tuned for some great gastrocnemius strengthening techniques!

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One comment on “Muscle of the Week: Gastrocnemius

  1. richwootten
    February 5, 2014

    Reblogged this on Richs Kickboxing Training.

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This entry was posted on February 5, 2014 by in Anatomy, Everyday Exercise, Stability, Strength and tagged , , , , , .
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