Did you know that without the soleus, one of the main calf muscles, you wouldn’t be able to stand up?
This hard-working, behind-the-scenes muscle keeps up a constant pull so you can maintain a standing posture. Otherwise, without the soleus, you’d simply fall forward. And falling is one thing you don’t want to do, especially if you have low bone density!
So keeping the soleus in good shape stabilizes your standing posture, reducing the risk of falls and strengthening the bones in your lower leg. While this is something that applies to everyone who wants to conquer osteoporosis, research tells us that it is of particular importance for women. According to a recent study, a comparatively weaker soleus predisposes middle-aged women to more falls than men.
Let’s get started!
The soleus gets its name from the Latin word for sandal, solea. It’s a powerful muscle, running from right below the knee to the heel, and its involvement in walking and standing is likely what gave rise to its name. It’s connected to a more visible and more familiar muscle of the lower leg, the the calf muscle or gastrocnemius,. Together, these muscles are referred to as the triceps surae.
As mentioned earlier, the soleus is involved in standing and walking, and it regulates these actions by plantar flexion. This refers to decreasing the angle between the back of the leg and the bottom of the foot, such as pointing your toes or pushing down on a car’s gas pedal. When you walk, you engage in plantar flexion over and over as you step forward.
In a much more subtle action, your feet flex and extend ever so slightly while you’re standing still. It’s almost a rocking motion, but it’s pretty much imperceptible.
Interestingly, the soleus helps pump blood back to the heart, making it one of the “skeletal muscle pumps” found in various places throughout the body. It’s composed mostly of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are more fatigue-resistant and proficient at endurance than fast-twitch muscle fibers. The latter come into play for quick, powerful actions like sprinting.
This sheds some light on why it’s important to strengthen the soleus. And science provides even more reasons; researchers found a marked difference in the strength of women’s solei compared to men’s. Weaker solei mean a greater need to hone in on this muscle in an attempt to strengthen it.
The study volunteers consisted of a random cross-section of 25 people, 12 women and 13 men. Researchers tested the strength of both muscle groups together – the triceps surae – and just the soleus. Even after researchers normalized plantar flexion strength with body mass, the women’s solei were found to be consistently weaker than the men’s. They found that when the triceps surae was included, the differences in strength “no longer existed between the sexes.”1 So they concluded that the soleus is the specific muscle that’s weaker in women, predisposing them to falls at an early age.1
The study authors go on to note “that the soleus muscle should be a focus of strength training for women during middle age.”1
So exercises like the Targeted Fall Preventer are highly relevant and, fortunately, not complicated – but there are some specifics that should be observed, as you’ll soon read.
Targeting The Soleus
With traditional lower-leg exercises, it’s easy to work the gastrocnemius only and neglect the soleus. To make sure the soleus is getting a good workout, your knees need to be bent, your heels raised in plantar flexion, and the moves need to be done slowly. Since the soleus is a slow-twitch muscle, fast, powerful movements will not engage it.
At first, it’s a good idea to do this exercise near a chair, table, bed, or something stable that you can hold on to if needed.
- With your feet shoulder-width apart, place your hands on your thighs and bend your knees to achieve a fairly shallow squat. Your knees should be bent at about 45 degrees.
- Raise your heels up so you’re on your toes. Hold this position for several seconds, and then slowly touch the floor with your heels.
- Repeat the heel raises 10 to 15 times (or as many times as you comfortably can), keeping your knees bent the entire time.
Balance And Strengthening Exercises Should Be A Part Of Your Osteoporosis Exercise Routine
This weekend’s challenge is quite simple in form, but it’s very effective, especially when practiced regularly. And you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you are being proactive in preventing falls and fractures.
The Targeted Fall Preventer can be performed every day, or you might want to incorporate it into your Densercise™ routine. To do this, simply begin or end your Densercise™ session with this exercise. You’ll be adding to the many other fall-prevention exercises in the Densercise™ Epidensity Training System, and also strengthening the bones in your lower legs.
Please feel free to share exercise tips and other thoughts about this weekend’s topic by leaving a comment below.
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1 Chimera, Nicole J., and Manal, Kurt T. “Sex Differences in Soleus Strength May Predispose Middle Age Women to Falls.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 27. 9. (2013): 2596-2602. Web. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Citation/2013/09000/Sex_Differences_in_Soleus_Strength_May_Predispose.30.aspx
Hi Vivian, Thank you, I so appreciate all your hard work keeping people like me so well informed! I am sincerely grateful for enabling me to take control of my bone and general health. I have found that in looking after my bones with bone friendly food, acid/alkaline balance I have also less troublesome facial hair. My dentist also said that my teeth had NO calculus inbetween them !! I was wondering (delighted) why it is lately so much easier to clean my teeth, must be due to improved diet. Kind regards.
Hi Vivian, what exercises should I do to correct scholeosis of the spine? Looking forward to your help. I just love how you are helping us build our bones naturally instead of relying on those awful drugs for osteoporosis.
I am going to order the “Densercise” book, but I need other help too.
I am 84 and in fairly good health.
I’m interested in exercise that concentrates on preventing falls. While I still drive, I’m
beginning to experience some balance difficulties while walking.
I forgot to mention that i’m supposed to have an advanced case of osteoporosis.
Also, I’m planning to resume doing regular exercises.
Thank you much.
It’s a great exercise I am going to add to my daily routine. How about walking across a room on your toes? Is that also good to maintain or improve your balance? I have been doing that too. Thank you Vivian for all your invaluable help. It is much appreciated – Nicole
Hello Wonderful Vivian!
Thank You so much for all your incredible research and sharing!
I live on the 1st floor in a 7 story condo and every day before I go on my walk I climb to the top of the building. Would that stair climbing exercise strengthen my calf muscle as much as the above exercise? And also, strengthen my thighs and help my hip flexors ?
Thank you for all the information and exercises you send our way! Everything is appreciated very much and I am always surprised to find that what looks so simple can really be challenging if done properly!
Wow! I tried this exercise barefoot, and really felt those muscles working. Thanks for your dedication to keep us and our bones strong!
Great exercise, Vivian! I’m a hair stylist and spend many hours on my feet, and I feel that with age my leg muscles are getting weaker. Will do this exercise every day.