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Strengthening calfs help runners maintain performance as they age

As runners get older they should focus attention on strengthening their ankle calf muscles, scientists from American College of Sports Medicine have discovered.

The study into changes in running biomechanics in runners aged 20 to 60 found stride length and running speed, two important markers of performance, decreased 15% over the 40 years.

However the studies found only ankle calf muscles had reduced function, while hip and knee muscles actually remained unchanged.

This could suggest that strength or power training of the calf muscles may be a way to slow reductions in running biomechanics with age.

The yearly rate of decline in calf muscle function, stride length and running speed could be used to track an individual’s current performance level or used as targets for making improvements by coaches, medical personnel, or runners.

The scientists captured motion and force data from experienced healthy runners (male, 54%). Kinematics, ground reaction forces (GRF), and lower limb joint torques and powers were then correlated with age using Pearson product–moment correlations and linear regression.

These results are novel, say the researchers because they show “the rate of decline in running biomechanics on a per-year basis and that mechanical reductions at the ankle but not at the hip or knee were correlated with age, confirming a previous observation of biomechanical plasticity with age showing reduced ankle but not hip function in gait.”

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