Physical Activity Participation Barriers for People with a Disability

Disability | NDIS | STARTTraining

Physical Activity Participation Barriers for People with a Disability


Physical activity barriers exist in many different forms for various populations. Particularly for those living with a disability, barriers to physical activity can be extremely limiting and impact quality of life. As of 2015, 18.3% of the population have a disability which equates to approximately 4.3 million people of the Australian population. ABS studies from 2010 indicate 68% of people with a disability participate in physical activity compared to 79% of participants without a disability. Although this figure may have decreased over the past decade with a rise in technology driven sedentary behaviour, the margin between groups is expected to have stayed similar.


People with a disability are more likely to have a sedentary lifestyle and develop chronic disease conditions over their lifetime. This highlights the ongoing need for intervention assistance and promotion of healthy lifestyle choices including exercise and/or sport. However, one of the major barriers that impacts on physical activity participation is the individual’s co-morbidities. These include conditions such as Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, Mental Well-Being/Health etc. In many cases they prevent the participate from certain activities, therefore narrowing the scope of appropriate activities.


The Australian Sport Commission state that individuals with a disability are just as keen to participate in sport and physical activity even when limitations are experienced and there is no doubt however that inclusion and opportunity to participate in physical activity for people with a disability is increasing. For example, the success and exposure of the 2018 Invictus Games will no doubt increase for injured, sick, or wounded Veterans participating in the fifth Invictus Games in the Netherlands May 2020. The 2018 Commonwealth Games also saw continued inclusion at a global level. This does not necessarily mean that more people with a disability are participating in sport and exercise but that more pathways are emerging for participation in such activities.


On a national level, many individuals and families are grateful for the introduction of the NDIS. Commencing in various states in 2013, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) aims to provide support for all Australians under the age of 65 living with a permanent and significant disability. Recent figures indicate 17 730 individuals utilise exercise therapy and services within their plans. (COAG Disability Reform Council, 2019). Registered providers such as Exercise Physiologists can offer expert services to participants as part of their plan. Often an Exercise Physiologist will collaborate with the individual’s multidisciplinary team to maximise interventions in order to enhance functional activities apart of daily living. As the NDIS continually uptakes more participants with a disability, the demand for Exercise Physiology related services are expected to increase.


A lot of my work within the disability field consists of less traditional versions of sport activities in a gym setting. Often, conventional sport and physical activity were not enjoyed due to past experiences that created negative attitudes towards these particular activities and overall greatly impacted on current weekly physical activity levels. Additionally, other work consists of exercise based interventions that assists the participant’s current sporting pursuits. In some cases this is performance based exercise in more of a resistance exercise setting, while other examples include games revolving around the participant’s selected sport. This can be a useful tool as if the sport is already an interest and a link can be made from the exercise to the sport, then participant buy in is generally achieved.


Furthermore, removing barriers to exercise is a massive area within an Exercise Physiologist’s role. This applies to all Exercise Physiology populations that are worked with but can sometimes be more of a challenge for people with a disability. However, I believe that once you can truly understand someone and what keeps them motivated, then it is now up to you to facilitate the environment to achieve what this individual requires.


Loxlee Blacket (Accredited Exercise Physiologist)

Cervicogenic Headaches

Aaron Vibert | Physiotherapy | START Training
Do you suffer from headaches, neck pain, neck stiffness or all of the above?
You may be suffering from cervicogenic headaches (CGH).
CGH’s are headaches that originate from the neck and occipital region of the head. CGH’s are often misdiagnosed for a primary headache as presenting symptoms are
very similar. Primary headaches are headaches that do not originate from a secondary source
such as the neck. CGH’s are usually associated with a limited range of motion in the cervical spine or
pain in the neck, shoulder or arm. Headache pain is aggravated or changed with specific neck movements or sustained postures.
Causes of CGH’s:
 Poor posture
 Overloaded and tight neck muscles
 Muscle imbalances
 Cervical spine joint stiffness
 Whiplash injuries
 Stress
 Sleeping posture

Diagnosis of CGH’s is made through a number of different techniques such as:

  • A subjective examination to differentiate between other types of headaches such as
  • An active range of motion assessment to analyse cervical spine movements.
  • Palpation of the neck muscles to asses muscle tightness and associated trigger
  • Joint mobilizations to asses stiffness of the cervical spine.

Static and dynamic postural assessment of the neck and shoulders.

Do you suffer from headaches, neck pain, neck stiffness or all of the above?
You may be suffering from cervicogenic headaches (CGH).
 CGH’s are headaches that originate from the neck and occipital region of the head.
 CGH’s are often misdiagnosed for a primary headache as presenting symptoms are
very similar.
 Primary headaches are headaches that do not originate from a secondary source
such as the neck.
 CGH’s are usually associated with a limited range of motion in the cervical spine or
pain in the neck, shoulder or arm.
 Headache pain is aggravated or changed with specific neck movements or sustained
Causes of CGH’s:
 Poor posture
 Overloaded and tight neck muscles
 Muscle imbalances
 Cervical spine joint stiffness
 Whiplash injuries
 Stress
 Sleeping posture

 Diagnosis of CGH’s is made through a number of different techniques such as:
 A subjective examination to differentiate between other types of headaches such as
 An active range of motion assessment to analyse cervical spine movements.
 Palpation of the neck muscles to asses muscle tightness and associated trigger
 Joint mobilizations to asses stiffness of the cervical spine.
 Static and dynamic postural assessment of the neck and shoulders.

 Treatment consists of manual therapy to address muscle stiffness with stretching
and associated trigger points.
 Muscles treated include the Sternocleidomastoid, Trapezius, Scalenes, Levator
scapulae and the Suboccipital muscles.
 Mobilizations of the cervical spine to increase range of motion and decrease muscle

 Postural analysis to address any factors that may be the cause excessive muscle
tightness around the cervical spine. For example, anteriorly rolled shoulders may be
contributing to overactivation of the upper trapezius muscle which causes excessive
tightness of the muscle.
 Corrective exercises may be prescribed to address the postural abnormality if
appropriate such as scapular stability exercises.

Written by Aaron Vibert (Physiotherapist) if you have any questions regarding headaches
Please don’t hesitate to contact the clinic on 0411 299 110.

Achilles Tendinopathy

Achilles Tendinopathy | Physiotherapy | START Tranining

Part 1 of 3: Achilles Tendinopathy 

Achilles Tendinopathy | Physiotherapy | START Tranining
Achilles Tendinopathy

Have you ever felt pain in the back of the ankle, particularly when jumping and running? If so, you are not alone. 


Achilles tendinopathy is often described as an overuse injury of the tendon attaching your calf muscle to the bone at the back of the foot.  It is one of the most commonly injured tendons, especially in running and jumping sports.


So what does the achilles actually do?

The tendon is responsible for storing and releasing tensile forces (energy) to propel your body forward. Think of it in a similar way to how a spring works. As you press down on the spring it stores energy, and when you release the spring it will quickly propel in an outward direction.


Tendinopathy, is caused by a tendon not coping or adapting to a change in environment or load.  


There are a few different forms of tendon pain, one being an acute inflammatory reaction, the other being a cellular change (don’t worry we will go into more detail about this in the next blog post!)


This can be for a number of reasons, these include;


Changes in loading 

  • Change in distance 
  • Change in intensity 
  • Change in weight
  • Change in training volume
  • Reduction in rest or recovery time
  • Change in technique or training 


Genetic/Biomechanical Factors

  • Foot position 
  • Some chronic health conditions
  • Obesity 
  • Reduced calf length
  • Reduced calf strength 
  • Reduced hip or pelvic control/stability 


Environmental Factors

  • Change in surface 
  • Change in shoes
  • Change in equipment 


Let’s talk through some examples to understand these concepts better. 


Recreational runner: Joe

Joe usually exercises on and off (1-2 x weekly). Jo decides to ‘START training’ for a half marathon and increasing his running from 1-2 x weekly, to 5-6. He progressively adds on kilometres to each session. Joe has nearly tripled his loading/volume in the space of a week. This is a perfect example of someone loading too aggressively and forcing their body to attempt to adapt. Whilst not everyone would pull up with a tendinopthy, Joe is increasing his risk significantly. 


Elite Athlete: Sally 

Sally is a 100m sprinter training for nationals. Sally’s coach wants her to change her shoes for the upcoming competition. Sally also adds plyometric exercises into her conditioning program. The change in footwear and the additional plyometric loading cause a reactive tendon response. 


So… how do we attempt to prevent this from happening? 

  • Gradually increasing or decreasing your load;
  • Ensuring you have adequate strength in the calf, legs and hips;
  • Monitor how your body feels, does the pain last longer than normal exercise soreness?
  • Ensure you have an appropriate warm up and cool down; 
  • Schedule rest and recovery! 


Need help with? Call our friendly staff at START training to learn how to appropriately tailor your training volume and load! Alternatively follow the link to make an online booking:

Keep tuned for Part 2 and 3 of this topic!


Chantelle Bailey – To read a bit more about Chantelle, follow the link to her bio!

Physiotherapist (Hons)

Fostering an Active Childhood for an Active future

Kids | Classes | Loxlee

Fostering an Active Childhood for an Active Future

As of 2019, 1 in 4 Australian children aged 2-17 were considered overweight or obese. The World Obesity Federation predicts that up to 250 million children worldwide will be obese by 2030, which is a massive jump from recent data of 150 million obese or overweight. There are many reasons as to why this is steadily increasing and although important, this article does not aim to address such issues. Rather, explore the benefits of creating a starting point and building a strong foundation for continued physical activity into adulthood.


It is no surprise that physical activity has noted tangible benefits for children. Such benefits include improved motor patterning, cognitive development, healthy body weight, social skills, self-confidence, and attention within school. A more recent view has considered the concept of physical literacy. This term is defined as “… the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.”, which basically means recognising how and when to move your body, why you should, as well the social skills to be active with others.

In order to assist development of physical literacy, it is imperative that we consciously reflect on the benefits for engaging in movement. These may include observations of skill improvements, positive experiences, and connection to people and place. Failing to realise noted benefits may not reinforce and reward participation from physical activity, lessening the likelihood of continued physical activity and movement into adulthood.

The development of physical literacy is not just relevant to children but also elite athletes. A holistic approach to exercise from an early age is needed in order to create a well-rounded athlete that can successfully overcome barriers in their career. Some examples include the internal motivation to overcome injury for the first time; the self-awareness as to why training may need to be altered due to injury; and developing social skills for strong relationships and awareness away from the physical performance sense. Promoting physical literacy from a young age has the potential to be carried through for life and is important to ensure an active adulthood.

Creating an exercise environment that is enjoyable or fun can help promote physical literacy. At START Training, that is a major consideration when programming for children and our highly qualified exercise professionals are well adept in this area. Feel free to check out our social media outlets or call the clinic on 3356 9119 for more information!

Kids | Classes | Loxlee
Loxlee Blacket running kids classes at START Training

Written By Loxlee Blacket – AEP

How to Deal with Injury as an Athlete

Lisa | Pole vault | START Training


Lisa | Pole vault | START Training

So as part of our job as exercise physiologists we work really hard to try and keep athletes injury free. This comes in many forms, specifically education around recovery strategies, injury prevention training and strength and conditioning. However, sometimes things just happen, and when they do it’s important to remember that this is not the universe spiting you. It’s usually an accumulation of variables. At the time, each of these variables seem uniquely unlinked but as you start to process these in hindsight (the god of all reflection) you start to see how you managed to get that injury.

So today I thought it prudent to talk about the toughest part of being an athlete… being injured. As I am injured at the moment, most of what I am about to say really rings true, I can honestly say I am speaking from experience. So for all those athletes out there who are going through injuries, this is my 5 point guide to surviving!


One of the hardest parts of being injured for an athlete is the inability to do what they love, mainly training for their chosen sport. What I have learnt over the last 6 weeks is that this is a great opportunity to find the joy in other areas of your life. Although nothing will fill the void of training for what you love, sometimes you may find a variety of new things that bring you joy. I am a big believer in everything happening for a reason, so I have taken this time out to find balance in my life. Who knows what that means for you, but for me I started a range of new activities that I will continue once I am back jumping at my best!


One of the things I have really struggled with is pre-planning and forethought. ‘When I get back to training I’ll do this…’ The key to surviving injury is to remind yourself that you can only perform with the skills and capacity you have on that day in that moment. If that means 60min in the pool is what I can do, then I will do that will all the gusto I can! Thinking too far ahead at the road back can become overwhelming, so best to do what you can in each day and focus on doing that with all your energy!


Something that my newfound skills in improvisation acting has taught me is that sometimes when life throws something at you, all you can do is put a smile on your face and just go with it! I am not saying this is easy, trust me I have had my fair share of moping moments. However, this doesn’t help anyone, least of all you! Take the time to be sad and process the fact you are injured but remind yourself that out of something bad can always come something good. For me I have really taken this time to rekindle my love for the sport. I have never been so excited to get back to jumping. Seeing the positives really helps remind you that although it may feel like it, the world is not collapsing around you and the sun will come up tomorrow! Oh, and let’s be honest it will probably be a cracker of a sunrise so get out of bed and enjoy it!


Injury is more mentally taxing than anything else! You are constantly reminded of how much you can’t do things you really want to! So, it’s important to really lean on your team in these periods. These are the people who remind you how awesome you are and importantly how you don’t forget how to run, jump, play cricket and do backflips in 6 weeks. These are the same people who remind you to get up off the couch and go and watch the sunset rather than watching repeats of pole vault meets over and over again. Injury is not easy, don’t feel like you have to do it on your own, lean on your team because even in the moments when you don’t love yourself, they will remind you to embrace your awesomeness.


This one is my favourite, although you can’t do what you love, you can do a multitude of other things that are just as hard, maybe even harder. You may even surprise yourself and find something you really love! If I’m honest, I haven’t found something amazing, turns out bike and swimming is not my cup of tea but I challenge anyone to enjoy an hour on the bike as a runner! In saying that though, at least the weather is good for swimming, this is how you take the positives. 😊 Everything you do today, every experience, every injury is just making you a better athlete. When you are injured you are building mental resilience, so go hard, do the right things and you will be back better than ever in no time!

Shout out to all my awesome athlete friends who are currently injured, can’t wait to see everyone back on the track!

Follow this link to see another one of my blogs!

By Lisa Campbell

Australian National Champion 2019

Commonwealth Games Representative 2018

Accredited Exercise Physiologist

World Cup Representative 2018

Oceania Representative 2019

Movement is Key

Movement is key. The statement says it all, however I feel it may be beneficial to elaborate just a little more… We as health professionals can sometimes get caught up seeing everyone as needing rehabilitation in whatever field we may be in. But it is important to remember that not everyone is ‘broken’, and that sometimes just moving is important. I have previously written an article called “movement helps recovery” (link below), however I thought I would expand on this in respect to the topic of rehabilitation. I will rehash my main points from the previous article, however there are many other reasons why movement is key, such as mental, heart and lung health.

Two major ideas we try to instill in all clients that come through START Training are:

  1. Something is better than nothing.
    1. It doesn’t matter if you are walking, swimming or spending hours in the gym. Doing something is always better than nothing. If you are having a busy week and are still able to exercise 2 days as apposed to your regular 5, then that’s still awesome. If you aren’t exercising the your ‘ideal’ amount but are still trying, that’s magic.
    2. We need to remember to stop comparing ourselves to others. Which I know is much easier said than done. But my point remains.
  2. Enjoyment!
    1. If you enjoy an exercise or activity you are more likely to continue doing it and it won’t feel like a chore. If its something you want to do, then you find it easier to make time for that activity.

YOUR BODY IS BUILT TO MOVE! This is crucial to keep in mind. As much as exercise or sport can seem like a burden or an avenue to injury, the body actually functions better when it moves. It has been proven that movement improves joint health, increases muscle strength and durability, whilst also helping with a plethora of chronic diseases ranging from between heart disease, lung issues and cancer.

The first step is remembering to move and building a habit. Start small and what you are capable of and build from there. One of the best ways to start is make a regular time around work or other commitments. But make it regular. I recognize that this becomes more difficult with shift work, however, the premise remains, and you can work out how it will fit into your days best. If you are organised, it becomes easier.

Habit building and encouraging movement is imperative when talking about weight loss. If you build a habit this works best in conjunction with a well-structured meal plan. The exercise and movement help bring the energy expenditure higher than the energy input, causing the deficit necessary for weight loss. The important thing to remember is that you move!

As I have mentioned previously, maintaining movement and strength is important when rehabilitating an injury. This is vital to maintain strength and range of movement. REST is often advised with an injury, however we need to remember active rest is what we should be aiming for. Active rest means adjusting exercises to prevent any exacerbation of the injury, and/or changing the mode of exercise to simply maintain fitness levels. By preserving maximal movement, we are able to limit range of motion lost, muscle wastage, and keep muscles active and functional. For more information on this topic of movement and rehabilitation please follow the link

Exercise has been shown to not only assist rehabilitation of injuries, but also many chronic diseases in terms of prevention and treatment. This includes a broad range of conditions such as; diabetes, heart conditions, COPD, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, cancer and the list goes on. With more Australians not hitting the daily recommended targets for physical activity, it’s an important time to remember to MOVE. It can be as simple as walking to dog.

One of the biggest benefits of movement is the positive effects it has on the brain. It has been shown to help many mental illnesses such as memory loss, depression and anxiety. Exercise stimulates release of particular chemicals (like endorphins and serotonin) in the brain which help improve your mood. Regular exercise is best. Its extremely important to remember to carve time out of your day for exercise. There are so many health benefits of exercising that everyone should  aim do it as often as they can.

Far too often we as clinicians can focus on ‘moving correctly’, or someone not exercising in the ‘right way’. We need to remember that movement is key!! Getting too focused on correct technique or viewing everyone as a rehabilitation case is far too common. We must be more accommodating to make sure we are helping everybody stay active and moving and always remember that something is better than nothing!

Why Load is Key during an AFL Pre-Season

As the off-season nears a close, many Australian Rules Football clubs across
the country will commence their pre-season. One reason pre-season exists is
to develop the physical qualities required to complete in-season matches.
Additionally, increased opportunity to participate in a greater proportion of
training allows the body to prepare for the spike in load once the first trial
games are underway.
Essentially, players need to “load to withstand load”, and this is a great way of
understanding a major element behind performing pre-season. Smart coaching
staff will consider this, all the while monitoring load in order to avoid the upper
threshold to overloading and increasing injury risk. Research from 2017 found
that AFL players who completed less than 50% of pre-season training were 2x
more likely to sustain in-season injury than those who completed greater than
85% of the pre-season. A strong relationship occurred between training loads
completed during the pre-season period and in-season weekly loads, as well
injury during the season in elite AFL players.
Those that completed more in pre-season were able to complete a greater
proportion of main training sessions as well matches than either a player
completing moderate or low levels of pre-season. Getting the load in during
the pre-season enables more in-season training which was favourable for
match availability. For those that completed a greater amount of pre-season
training, they also spent less time in rehab during the season. Coaches must
look to incorporate strategies which promote strong participation rates and
where applicable, find ways to include injured players within the larger playing
group, therefore promoting greater squad numbers for the upcoming season.
This comes into line with similar evidence in cricket and rugby league,
suggesting that building fitness capacity and a chronic load foundation aids in-
season injury prevention.
Here are several tips for Australian Rules Football coaches and strength and
conditioning staff:
o Injury rates are highest during the pre-competition phase, where teams
will usually play trial games and even higher for a player with low loads
in pre-season
o The highest injury risk period for players is in the trial games as well it
was found between games 12-17 in the season
o Potential special consideration should be given to those with a low pre-
season accumulated volume
o High training loads during the pre-season timeframes allowed players to
develop adequate physical qualities which geared them up for increased
training and competition in-season
Players should aim to complete as much of the planned pre-season training
program as possible in order to develop the resilience to tolerate in-season
training and matches. However, for athletes who are currently injured and in
pre-season, do not forget the importance of your own rehabilitation programs.
It becomes a balancing act between completing the rehab program and
participating in training with the rest of the team.
START Training is currently based at Wilston-Grange AFL Club, Stafford. If you’d
like more information or guidance about what to do in your AFL off-season,
START Training have experienced Exercise Physiologists who specialise in sport
specific periodisation and programming. START Training have the expertise to
maximise your on-field performance in both individual and team sports
through tailored exercise programs.
Contact the clinic on 0411 299 110 or via
email [email protected] to find out more!
By Loxlee Blacket – Exercise Physiologist
-Relationship Between Preseason Training Load and In-Season Availability
in Elite Australian Football Players (Murray et al., 2017)
– Preseason Workload Volume and High-Risk Periods for Noncontact
Injury Across Multiple Australian Football League Seasons (Colby et al.,


For a full time dancer it’s often hard to know how to approach a long rest period and find the perfect balance between allowing the body to rest and recover whilst maintaining fitness and condition. If managed well a summer break can be used to rest the body and also allows an opportunity to improve on other areas. At times of the year when workload is high any auxiliary strength and conditioning has to be treated as second priority. Summer break can open up time to work on building strength, power and other aspects of fitness that improve a dancer’s aesthetics or their body’s ability to cope with classes, rehearsals or performance loads.

After an initial period of recovery or active rest it is best to begin preparing the body for what it will go through in the months ahead. Below is a guide to the main areas dancers should consider when planning a holiday maintenance regime:

DANCE The only way to really prepare yourself for your return to dance and maintain your dance fitness is to continue at least SOME dancing whilst on break. Compare your endeavours as a full time dancer to that of a runner training for a half marathon. If a runner went into an event with no training they’d hope to be able to physically complete the race but would have to deal with the high probability of a below potential performance, poor recovery and the high risk of sustaining anything from an annoying niggle to a more serious injury.

It’s crucial to recognise the effect that all the jumping, landing and leaping and general impact in that the choreography and class work has on the joints and soft tissue. Like any form of sport or activity the soft tissue has to adapt to the load over time and any sudden increases in dancing load leave the dancer at risk of developing niggles and injuries that could easily be avoided. It is easy for dancers to fall into the trap of ignoring these principles and feeling they are able to physically cope and keep up with what’s required of them when they return. In addition to the injury risk concerns from a performance point of view the only way to maintain dance specific fitness and technique is to keep up some dancing in your time away from your full time training.

ACTIVE REST: In most cases it is recommended to treat the first 1-2 weeks of an extended break as a period of ‘active rest’ in the same way that an athlete would approach the start of an ‘off-season’. When workload has been high and the body has been pushed to it’s limits it is imperative to allow some time for both soft tissue and the neurological system to recover. Active rest involves light movement or activity that places minimal stress on the joints and physiological system so that the person is able to keep moving without eliciting a level of stress that hinders the recovery process. It can be as structured as a pilates or yoga class, light cardio or gym session or can be as casual as going for a jog on the beach or playing frisbee with friends.

Active rest is advised over passive or complete rest for a number of reasons including but not limited to:

* Enhanced recovery process due to increased blood flow etc.
* Decreased muscle tightness and general stiffness
* Hormonal responses that contribute to mood regulation
* Helps maintain strength, fitness and range of motion
* Decreases likelihood of niggles or overuse injuries when dance or exercise is resumed.

AEROBIC FITNESS: The point of maintaining aerobic fitness is not only to ensure you can make it through a class or a routine. Increasing aerobic fitness also has a massive impact on your body’s ability to recover both day to day, week to week and when rehearsal or performance volumes increase. Working on this area requires a combination of aerobic cardio (i.e running, bike, rower etc) and also full body weights based training incorporating bodyweight to light weight exercises, high volume with minimal rest. These sessions could be circuit style sessions or class based and exact intensities depend on exactly which component of the cardiovascular system you are wanting to improve.

CORE STRENGTH, FLEXIBILITY: These are all areas that come naturally to a lot of dancers however even a small decline in any one of these things can increase the risk of injury or have an impact on aesthetics or control of movement. Incorporating a combination of activities such as yoga and pilates can be a good option and it is also advisable to maintain a regular routine of stretching and flexibility right through the break. Additionally methods such as foam rolling, trigger ball release and voodoo banding can be used to help maintain soft tissue and generally joint mobility.

STRENGTH & POWER: There is huge variability here depending on your style of dance, your current areas of strength and your areas in need of improvement. Areas of focus can include:

* Joint control & stability
* Lower Body Strength & Power
* Upper Body Strength and Overhead lifting abilities
* Core strength and overall control
* Force transfer
* Jumping and landing mechanics

As a full time dancer it’s wise to think of at least the second half of your break as an opportunity to build yourself to be able to comfortably handle and recover from a full dance load. This could be done with a combination of class work (perhaps including alternative styles to what you do most of your training in), work in the gym or even other outdoor activities or exercise. Everybody’s holiday maintenance plan will look a little bit different depending on individual strengths and weaknesses, predominant style, body type etc. Regardless of how you choose to approach it you should see it as an excellent opportunity for rest and rejuvenation as well as a chance to improve in areas you cannot focus on when your classes, rehearsals and performances are priority.

Calf Tightness in Runners

Calf Tightness in Novice Runners

Calf tightness in novice runners is something we see quite commonly in the clinic. It’s important to remember that when you first start running there will be a certain level of tightness, just due to using different muscles and a different application of force through the ankle, knee and hip. However, problems can occur when we try to continue running without the appropriate supplementary strength and conditioning. Furthermore, secondary issues can occur when we begin to increase our volume of running, change to a firmer surface or even add speed.

As you can see there are many variables that need to be taken into account with a novice runner, but without the appropriate treatment, calf tightness can lead to overuse injuries such as achilles tendinopathy, “shin splints,” compartment syndrome, stress fractures and the list goes on. Therefore, it’s really important to make sure you address ongoing tightness and movement mechanics early as you begin to increase your running volume.

The two most common mechanisms for calf tightness in novice runners are:

1.       When people first start running they often start slow. Whilst shuffling along may feel like a good place to start it heavily limits hip extension. The problem with this is your glutes and hamstrings should contribute to hip extension propelling you forward and increasing stride length. Regardless of whether you are not strong enough to do this or your body just doesn’t know how the result is the same. Instead of increasing stride length by using upper hamstrings and glutes to propel you forward, you recruit through the lower hamstring and calf in order to move you forward. Therefore, the running action occurs from knee flexion instead of hip extension. This does two things, firstly you run up and down on the spot and get no forward momentum, and secondly, you overrecruit and tighten up through the calf.

2.       A second cause of calf tightness in novice runners relates to proprioception around the ankle. There are very few people who haven’t had some kind of ankle injury at some point in their lives. The problem occurs when the appropriate ligament retraining doesn’t occur post ankle injury. In the ligaments that surround our ankles we have specific receptors that send signals back to our brain to tell us when our joints are getting too close to end range, and to pull them back in line to avoid injury. Very simply put, if we create ligament laxity around the a joint due to an injury, we then have to retrain those ligaments to sense when the joint is moving outside of comfortable ranges and bring it back. This allows the body to make continual small adjustments that keeps the joints within controllable ranges. Therefore, if the body has poor proprioception at the ankle you get an over-recruitment of musculature in the lower limb trying to stabilise the ankle often presenting as calf tightness.


So, what do we do about it?

Well when dealing with novice runners the key is often to address poor neuromuscular development. So, if we take the first scenario the key is teaching the right muscles to do the right movements. If you are over-recruiting through the calf and the upper hamstrings are weak you need to first engage the muscles and then teach them to work within a functional movement. Doing your pre-engagement exercises before going on any run is important to encourage the weak or less dominant muscles to fire and do their job. Upper hamstrings are best engaged in a straight legged position, with the pelvis tucked under. Once you have fired up the upper hamstrings and glutes, use a functional exercise such as a sprinter squat to teach the muscles to work together.


If we take the second scenario you are going to be more focused on dextral control of the ankle. You will start doing this in isolation but, this will need to be integrated into the strength program. Single leg balance on the bosu as well as lateral and forward steps on and off the bosu is key in the beginning. However, this needs to be integrated into reverse lunges onto the bosu and other key unilateral movements that both encourage appropriate neuromuscular development but also teach proprioception at the ankle joint.

As with anything, each person is an individual with their own specific considerations and will require an individualised training program. However, if you are struggling with ongoing calf tightness, this is a good place to start. Feel free to give us a call on 0411 299 110 to book in me for an assessment!

For more articles by Lisa follow the link

 By Lisa Campbell

Accredited Exercise Physiologist – AEP

Australian Representative – Women’s Pole Vault