Learn the benefits of the heel raise with Ashwini Ponnappa
© Ali Bharmal
The ace badminton player describes one of her favourite workouts that she has been practicing for many years.
Ashwini Ponnappa is one of India’s most prominent badminton players.
She is known for her fitness levels that have helped her stay at the top of her game with few injury interruptions over several years. She revealed that this is because of dedicated fitness work away from the court.
Here she reveals one of her favourite exercises, the heel raise, which she has been practicing dedicatedly since she broke into the badminton world as a junior player.
Name of the exercise: Heel raises
The heel raise is an exercise that works just as well for beginners or seasoned athletes. Ashwini has been practicing it for many years now because it is essential for badminton players. A few years ago, her trainer had her move onto a variation of the exercise, the eccentric heel drop.
“It is an exercise which is very important for badminton players as we are on our toes most of the time while playing and use the calf and Achilles tendon below it considerably. I’ve done heel raises since I was a junior,” says Ashwini.
What is a heel raise?
The heel raise (also called heel lifts or calf raises) is a simple exercise, usually performed without weights. The exercise primarily strengthens muscles of the calf and can be useful for athletic fitness, physical therapy, general fitness, and more.
Targeted muscle groups
This exercise primarily targets the muscles of the calf, namely gastrocnemius and soleus. These muscles connect to the Achilles tendon in the heel.
Benefits of the heel raises
The exercise strengthens the muscles in the calves, and helps with ankle strength and stability.
“In the past couple of years, my focus has been on eccentric heel drops which is the same as heel raises but focuses on taking the heel down much slower to focus on stretching and strengthening the calf and Achilles tendon together,” says Ashwini.
“My strength and conditioning coach got me started on heel drops. I had really bad Achilles tendon pain and it helped me overcome it,” she adds.
How to perform the exercise
For the simple heel raise, start by standing upright with your feet flat on the ground. Balance your weight on the balls of your feet and lift your heels up as far as comfortable; try to squeeze your calf muscles at the top of the lift. Slowly drop your heel back to the ground and repeat.
Eccentric heel drops require a step or raise platform so your heel can drop lower than your toes.
“The eccentric heel drop – which is what I’ve been focusing on doing – is a regular two-legged calf raise while going up. But you use only one leg while going down and do it slowly, taking five to 10 seconds to lower the heel from the topmost position (to the bottom position),” says Ashwini.
How heel raises help Ashwini in badminton
Since Ashwini is always on her toes when she is on the badminton court, her calf muscles are always active. The calves muscles are stretching and contracting constantly during a match as she moves forwards, backwards, sideways and changes direction. So strengthening the calf and ankle muscles with heel raises helps a lot.
“It helps keep our Achilles tendon and calf muscles strong, (which are important) especially since we are on our toes so much when we play badminton. The heel drops exercises the ‘brakes-applying-capacity’ of how my calf and Achilles works while playing. So that helps keep the calf stretched, strong and less prone to injury,” says Ashwini.
What to avoid when doing heel raises
Ashwini stresses that full range of motion is important when practicing heel raises and also says that maintaining slow, controlled movement is very important.
“Do go down and up fully for improved ankle mobility. Don’t bounce up from the bottom with fast actions,” says Ashwini.
Variations that can help you further
A simple variation to the standing heel raise is the seated heel raise, which works on the soleus much more; the soleus is activated much more when the knee is bent.
There are many other variations but Ashwini’s go-to exercise is the eccentric heel drop, which her coach advises her through.
“You can do regular double-legged calf raises, single-legged calf raises, machine calf raises, or seated calf raises. I do eccentric heel drops while holding a dumbbell in the hand next to the moving leg,” she says.