The soleus push up looks a lot like a seated calf raise, but the benefits touted and real-world impact could potentially go far beyond that.
The soleus push up shot to fame after a recent study (discussed below) showed it has the ability to help the body regulate glucose and improve the metabolization of fat… i.e. it has the ability to help manage of all sorts of diseases associated with sedentary lifestyles.
But what can the average person take from this study, how do you actually do soleus push ups properly, and should this change the way you approach workouts?
This exercise guide provides a clear overview of what the soleus push up likely means for you…
How We Got Here
The hype around soleus push ups comes from a recent research study from the University of Houston, led by professor Mark Hamilton.
Stanford University professor, Andrew Huberman, also discussed the research on his podcast, helping introduce it to a large audience as well.
And the result has been hundreds (if not thousands!) of fitness influencers telling everyone on TikTok and Instagram to start doing soleus push ups…
So, we thought we’d help you filter through the bold claims and headlines to help you decipher the science behind this trending exercise.
As Huberman highlights, the research is interesting because it illustrates how someone can fire up their metabolism, without actually doing what most would consider “exercise”.
It leverages the unique properties of the soleus muscle which is designed to work constantly, without fatigue… which is unlike most muscles in the human body.
Located on the lower leg, the soleus muscle runs from behind the knee down to the Achilles tendon. It makes up what is generally referred to as the “calf” along with the gastrocnemius muscle.
Our guide on tib raises mentions the importance of activating the soleus muscle along with these other forgotten lower leg muscles and tendons, such as the tibialis anterior.
What is a Soleus Push Up?
A soleus push up is basically a seated calf raise, which involves lifting and lowering your heel in a seated position. A soleus push up also requires doing the movement for a long duration (as cited in the research study).
Although there aren’t any explicit recommendations for the duration, the research had participants doing the movement continuously for around 4 hours at a time and not stopping for more than 4 minutes during your soleus push up workout.
The duration is important, because if you simply did 10 repetitions of seated calf raises, you wouldn’t get the benefits that the research has identified from soleus push ups.
How to Perform a Soleus Push Up
To do a soleus push up:
- Sit on a chair with a straight back and your knees stacked over your feet (knees at a 90 degree angle).
- Lift your heel off the floor to activate the soleus to a reasonable height.
- Slowly lower your heel back to the floor.
Soleus Push Up Vs Calf Raise
The biomechanics of a soleus push up and a calf raise are very similar. The difference is the duration they are performed for and the benefits. Soleus push ups require doing the movement for a long period and the benefits (as discussed below) are focused on metabolic changes. In contrast, calf raises are usually performed for 6-12 repetitions, repeated for 3-5 sets, with a focus of building strength and muscle.
Although we’ll outline some important things to consider about soleus push ups and the real world implications below, something that is clear, is that doing the exercise is likely better than just sitting.
If you find yourself sitting for long periods and are disciplined to see the exercise through the full duration, it’s hard to argue against doing it.
So in that sense, it is unquestionably better than just sitting.
It may also be very useful for those who struggle to walk for long periods, such as the elderly… who may benefit from exercise programs that include these sorts of movements.
Being sedentary increases all sorts of risks, such as heart disease and diabetes, so any movement that helps tackle this is certainly worth taking note of.
Finally, and the reason why the research probably got so much attention, is the ability of the soleus muscle to use energy, without spiking glucose either up or down. This is very unique and unlike most forms of exercise and physical activity.
Things to Consider
Although the research around soleus push ups is certainly interestingly… if not even exciting… but there are definitely some key things that need to be addressed about what this means for most people.
Firstly, it’s important to stress the hype around soleus push ups all comes from a recent research study out of the University of Houston. The benefits of soleus push ups are only just being discovered and understood, so it’s still quite early to make big sweeping statements of what this movement can do for most people.
We’ll likely see additional studies and research around the benefits over the coming years to help improve this understanding.
Secondly, it’s important that this research isn’t seen as an acceptance to live a sedentary lifestyle and think soleus push ups can replace the value of other physical activity like strength training.
The research was also done in a controlled environment and there would need to be more research around the effectiveness of the movement when participants did it on their own. For example, how influential would it be if the foot positioning was slightly off, or if the participant paused for 10 minutes during the workout? These sorts of questions would help demonstrate how it could be used in real-world exercise programming.
Finally, the praised benefits of soleus push ups actually requires you to do the movement for a long time… which begs the question whether it has real-world benefits for most people. Although the movement is simple, it does require concentration to keep it up for a long period. If given the choice, many of us may just prefer to go for a shorter walk if the benefits were the same.
Ultimately, Hamilton’s research around the soleus push up is likely the first phase of a whole new series of research that will follow around the soleus muscle and how it can be used to positively impact our metabolism.
As of yet, the soleus push up is intriguing, but likely isn’t something most of us need to try and include into our weekly fitness routines just yet. As new research emerges and advice on how to incorporate scientific findings into exercise programming, we are excited to see where this might take us.
The soleus push up shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to exercise. For now, we’d recommend focusing on avoiding being sedentary for too long during the day and participating in physical activity, such as walking, strength training and stretching.
Talking to a Physical Therapist or Personal Trainer would be a good starting point if you want help getting personalized recommendations for a new fitness routine.