The Achilles tendon connects the muscles in the calf (gastrocs and soleus) to the heel bone (calcaneus). It is one of the thickest tendons in the body.
The Achilles, calf and foot act as a spring, absorbing energy when we land from tricks and using that stored energy to give us the power to move again. Studies say that the Achilles can be put under loads of 4x the body’s weight or more, depending on the level of the gymnast and the tricks they are working on – that’s pretty amazing!
Problems in the Achilles vary. These include Sever’s (also known as “growing pain”), tendinopathy (pain and swelling) and ruptures. The best way we can minimise the risk of these injuries is to strengthen the Achilles, foot and calf to cope better with the load.
Try doing calf raises with a bent knee in your conditioning. This targets the soleus muscle (bottom part of the calf), compared to a straight leg raise. The soleus is very important for helping to shock absorb when we land from a tumbling sequence or from an apparatus.
Bent knee calf raises on 2 legs (try 10-20 reps). Make sure the knees stay at the same angle, so we are lifting the body up and down, rather than just sending the knees forward.
Try your bent knee calf raise on 1 leg.
Try adding a hand weight if your coach or physio says it’s okay to do so. This is an important step for our teens and up- remember when we are landing from tricks the legs absorb at least 4x body weight, so training with 1x body weight may not be enough.
Check out this video for a more in-depth explanation!