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At the gym today, someone advised me to vary my foot position to better target the different muscles in the calf. Specifically, they advised that I laterally and medially rotate my foot. Intuitively, this seems like a bad idea, since the ankle is most stable when straight. Thus, it would seem, rotating it would put it in a compromised position, conceptually similar to squatting with bowed knees.

If it matters, the specific machine I was using was the inclined leg press machine.

Is there actually anything to what they said or is my intuitive reprehension correct?

  • I think this is one of those questions where opinions will vary. – rrirower Dec 24 '14 at 3:44
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The reason for that advice may have resulted from a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in March of 2011.

Riemann, BL, Limbaugh, GK, Eitner, JD, and LeFavi, RG. Medial and lateral gastrocnemius activation differences during heel-raise exercise with three different foot positions. J Strength Cond Res 25(3): 634-639, 2011-Despite little objective support, heel-raise exercises are commonly performed using varying foot positions in an attempt to alter medial (MG) and lateral (LG) gastrocnemius involvement. This investigation compared MG and LG activation during the concentric phase (CP) and eccentric phase (EP) of the heel-raise exercise using neutral (NE), internally rotated (IR), and externally rotated (ER) foot positions. Twenty healthy subjects (10 men, 10 women; age = 23.7 ± 3.1 years) with resistance training experience performed free-weight (130-135% body mass) heel-raise exercise on a 3.81-cm block. Surface electromyography activity was recorded during 10 repetitions of each foot position. Electromyography activity from 5 successful repetitions was normalized to maximum voluntary isometric contraction, ensemble averaged within phase (CP, EP), and the mean amplitude determined. Significant (p < 0.05) muscle-by-foot position interactions were revealed for both phases. The ER position prompted significantly greater MG activation than LG during both phases, whereas the IR position elicited significantly greater LG activation than MG. These data support the notion that altering foot position during heel-raise exercise will prompt varying degrees of MG and LG activation. Although this study cannot predict whether muscle-activation differences between foot positions will translate into greater training adaptations, it does provide some initial objective evidence upon which practitioners can base the selection of gastrocnemius exercises.

Additionally, this blog post does a pretty good job explaining the reasoning and thinking behind that study. I have only anecdotal evidence, but, I've been a proponent of varying foot placement not only on calf raises, but, on leg extensions as well. I think if you're careful with your form, you should not have a problem.

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    Interesting. So there is at least some evidence that it's useful. That's the benefit side of the equation. I'd still like to know why it's okay to lift with one's ankles is a seemingly compromised position - the risk side. – Tyler Dec 24 '14 at 4:42
  • @Tyler - As long as the lower leg remains in line with the foot, and you aren't cocking your knee in or out, the motion should still be stable. It's only if you actively move the knee inside or outside of the ankle creating an angle at the joint that it becomes unstable. – JohnP Sep 29 '15 at 2:38

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