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Engaging in ‘Soleus Pushups’ While Seated May Impact Your Metabolic Rate

The most recent TikTok fitness craze isn’t a novel treadmill regimen or push-up competition: It’s seated calf raises.

Specifically, it targets the soleus muscle, which extends from beneath the knee to the heel. Discussed in the journal iScience, a study by researchers from the University of Houston revealed that performing “soleus pushups” (SPUs)—involving the elevation and descent of your heels while seated—can assist in regulating your body’s glucose levels and enhancing fat metabolism.

TikTok users have caught wind of the research, and several have shared viral videos promoting this apparently simple method to boost your metabolism.

In reality, experts consider these findings to be noteworthy. Prolonged periods of sitting can cause a slowdown in your metabolic processes, so SPUs could introduce an impactful activity for individuals who would otherwise be sedentary for extended periods.

“The intriguing aspect here, which I have not previously encountered, is the formulation of a framework that could counteract some of the adverse effects of inactivity while remaining seated,” mentions exercise physiologist Sharon Gam, PhD, CSCS, who was not part of the study. “This has the potential to be highly effective.”

Some of these adverse effects of being stationary include an increased susceptibility to developing diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, heart disease, and other ailments.

Specifically, the University of Houston study highlights that SPUs can heighten your “local oxidative metabolism.” Brittany Masteller, PhD and research scientist at Orangetheory Fitness (unaffiliated with the study), explains that local oxidative metabolism pertains to “how effectively your body can generate/utilize energy.”

An improved local oxidative metabolism converts fats and carbohydrates into energy without spiking your glucose levels in either direction, while a sluggish metabolism processes these molecules less proficiently. (Consider the low energy you may experience from sitting sedentarily on the couch or at your desk without movement.) Individuals spending extensive time being sedentary may find it beneficial to enhance their metabolism in order to manage blood glucose levels (or energy levels), burn fat, and deter metabolic complications.

“These results have unveiled a potential strategy for enhancing muscle metabolism rates during periods of inactivity,” states Masteller.

A low-energy activity you can perform while seated, enhancing your metabolic function and offering protection against diseases? Sounds fantastic! However, there are key considerations to bear in mind.

Foremost, Gam points out that the study methods entailed continuous SPUs for three to four hours at a stretch, at a minimum pace of 50 repetitions per minute, with no breaks exceeding four minutes.

“The study indicated that participants did not report discomfort or fatigue from sustaining this activity for that duration, which genuinely surprises me,” states Gam. “If I were to do calf raises for four hours, even without additional weight apart from the mass of my lower legs, I believe I would eventually get fatigued. However, I have not attempted it, so I cannot say definitively.”

The authors of the study clarify that these muscles do not tire because they do not rely on glycogen as the primary fuel source, unlike most muscles.

“The soleus’ reduced dependence on glycogen aids in its effortless endurance for hours without fatigue in this sort of muscle activity, as there is a distinct limit to muscular stamina induced by glycogen depletion,” explains study author Marc Hamilton, professor of health and human performance at the University of Houston.

Nonetheless, Masteller holds doubts regarding the practicality of this method.

“We should be cautious about extrapolating the findings to real-world scenarios,” she cautions. “The study was conducted in tightly regulated laboratory settings, which differ from individuals performing SPUs at their workstations in a real-life environment.”

Ultimately, the research indicates that engaging in three to four hours of uninterrupted seated calf raises could promote glucose-regulating metabolism. However, the potential effects of performing anything less than that, let alone conducting SPUs independently outside the meticulously structured environment of a lab, remain uncertain.

Gam views SPUs as “a valuable resource to reduce health risks.” But is it a miraculous solution for metabolism acceleration and fat burning? Well, in the world of fitness, if something appears too good to be true, it often is. In the case of the soleus pushup, it underscores a familiar tale of research showing promise but being oversimplified and overstated for social media. A narrative as old as time (or at least as old as TikTok).

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