How to strengthen the Achilles tendon

What is the Achilles tendon & why should we strengthen it?

The Achilles tendon is the biggest and strongest tendon in the human body. It is a thick cord that connects the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in the calf to the heel bone. It assists in the plantarflexion of the foot, where the heel lifts and toe points, and provides shock-absorbance for impact of the foot. Therefore the Achilles tendon is used constantly in everyday life for movements such as walking, running and climbing stairs; in the gym for movements such as lunging or jumping, and in sports such as tennis or football.

Types of Achilles injury

Damage to the Achilles tendon can be caused by overuse, prolonged use of high-heeled or incorrectly fitting shoes, or acute trauma caused by jumping, running uphill or fast changes in direction.

Whilst Achilles tendon pain is fairly commonplace, the pain care vary from mild to severe, according to the type of Achilles tendon injury incurred.

Achilles tendonitis is caused by overuse of the tendon, most commonly seen when runners increase the speed or distance of their runs. The pain from Achilles tendonitis is generally felt as a throbbing or ache in the heel or lower calf area which may come with a little swelling, and is often worse in the mornings or after periods of inactivity. In most cases, Achilles tendonitis treatment comprises of rest and some physio-prescribed exercise; however, severe cases can result in Achilles tendon rupture.

If the Achilles pain is severe, or if you heard a popping sound at the onset of the pain; you may have suffered an Achilles tendon rupture. A torn Achilles is common in sports or exercise where speed or changes of direction are involved. An Achilles tendon rupture will require physical therapy and possibly surgery, so it’s important to be seen by a doctor as quickly as possible.

Exercises to strengthen the Achilles tendon

Strengthening the Achilles, along with the calf muscles is therefore key to preventing Achilles tendon injuries; so here are a few exercises and Achilles tendon stretches to improve mobility, build strength, and reduce the risk of Achilles tendon pain…

1) Banded Achilles & Calf Stretch helps to lengthen the tendon so it doesn’t get too tight which can limit ankle mobility. Hold for 20-30 seconds each side and repeat 2-3 times.

2) KOT Calf Raise is similar to the standard calf raise but the bend in the knee in the standing leg puts more emphasis on the soleus muscle and the Achilles. Perform 10-15 reps for 3 sets.

3) Standing Tibialis Raises work the tibialis at the front of our shin which connects the shin to foot. Having a strong tibialis ensures the lower leg can absorb the forces of jumping and impact effectively, therefore supporting the Achilles. Aim for 12-20 reps each side for 3 sets.

4) Jumping Bulgarian Split Squat are an advanced plyometric exercise which focus on landing and jumping through the foot effectively; helping to strengthen and condition the Achilles and calves for activities that involve single leg impact, such as running. Work around 5-10 reps each side for 3 sets.

Preventing Achilles tendon pain

Please note that these exercises are for injury-prevention and should not be used if you are already suffering from any type of Achilles tendon pain or Achilles tendinopathy.

Since the Achilles tendon connects to the calf muscle, strengthening your calves will help to take stress off the Achilles tendon and reduce the risk of Achilles tendon pain. Read more about the benefits of Calf Training HERE.