The soleus pushup is an exercise that is likely to be new to many people, even the most die-hard of fitness fanatics. And, before you think it’s going to be a more extreme variation of a conventional pushup, the soleus pushup couldn’t be easier to perform and it could, according to science, be one of the most beneficial exercises you could ever think to perform.
So, what is a soleus push-up, how do you perform one and what benefits can it bring? Read on to find out.
What is the soleus muscle?
The anatomy of the calve. Image: Yoga International
The soleus push-up concerns the soleus muscle. This is found on the rear of the leg, just below what we consider to be the calf muscle – officially known as the gastrocnemius – and above the Achilles tendon. The soleus muscle actually makes up one half of the calf muscle, in combination with the gastrocnemius.
The soleus, as Andrew Huberman, professor at Stanford University and host of The Huberman Lab podcast says, is rather unique “because it’s designed to be used continuously over and over again for stabilizing your body when you’re standing upright or when you’re walking. It’s designed to contract over and over and over again, and in fact, you could walk all day on this muscle and most likely it would not get sore.”
To put this into context, one can compare the soleus muscle with the bicep or tricep, as an example. Andrew Huberman explains, “If I were to have you perform hundreds or thousands of repetitions, even with a very light weight, eventually it would fatigue. You would feel a burn there. The soleus muscle is designed to be used continuously.
What is a soleus push-up?
So if the soleus muscle is being used continuously throughout the day, why is there even a “pushup” to work it even more? Well, while the soleus pushup isn’t performed with the intention of making the muscle bigger and stronger, a team of researchers have now found that performing pushups with it can “improve the metabolic health in the rest of your body,” the University of Houston surmises.
WATCH: Personal Trainer Trevor McBride Explains How To Perform A Soleus Pushup
The soleus pushup is performed, as Andrew Huberman explains, “when you’re sitting down [on a chair] with your knee bent at approximately a right angle and pushing up, or lifting your heel, while pushing down on your toe and contracting the calve muscle, and then lowering the heel.”
This process is repeated over and over for either a specified number of repetitions or for a specified amount of time. The theory suggests that you can perform soleus pushups constantly, all day, without ever feeling any fatigue or soreness.
It seems very similar to a seated calve raise, although in the case of the soleus pushup, you don’t necessarily need to add any extra weight.
What does the science say?
It was only in October 2022 that a team of researchers discovered the potential benefits of performing soleus pushups, and how they can positively affect your metabolism and blood glucose control. The study, published in iScience, had participants continuously perform soleus pushups so that the researchers could examine blood glucose utilization and metabolism, to name a couple.
The participant group “included an equal number of male and female volunteers with a wide range of BMI, age, sedentary time and habitual daily steps.”
After examining changes in metabolism and blood glucose utilization, the researchers found the group that performed the soleus pushups while seated in the laboratory – some performed them for up to 270 cumulative minutes, ie 270 minutes worth of pushups, spread throughout the day – “experienced dramatic improvements in blood sugar regulation and in metabolismdespite the fact that the soleus is just 1% of the total musculature.”
Why should you care?
So, while it’s all well and good saying the researchers found performing soleus pushups can have a positive effect on your body, what does it mean in the real world?
Andrew Huberman, as ever, makes the information easy to digest. He says, “if you’re somebody who cares about blood glucose regulation or you want to keep your metabolism running, please don’t stop exercising. But if you’re somebody who wants to maximize your health, doing these soleus pushups fairly continuously while seated, is going to be beneficial.”
“In addition to that, they offer benefits with very low investment and zero cost.”
So, while the soleus pushup can’t replace a full workout or gym routine, they certainly can offer some other incredibly beneficial health benefits.