TikTok Says This Sit-Down Calf Pushup Exercise Can Boost Your Metabolism (But There's A Big Caveat)

Americans apparently spend anywhere between six and a half to eight hours a day sitting down, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most desk jobs necessitate this, but working at a desk job can impact your health in strange ways — back pain, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are some concerns. 

Perhaps this is why TikTok is buzzing with a new trendy exercise called the soleus pushup or SPU, which is essentially a calf raise that you can do while sitting down. You sit with your feet flat on the floor, then raise your heel and bring it down, while keeping the front of your foot on the floor. The buzz is not entirely a TikTok creation, however. It's based on a 2022 study by researchers at the University of Houston and published in iScience. According to the study, doing these sit-down pushups for your calf muscles can boost local oxidative metabolism — the process by which your body uses oxygen to make energy from carbohydrates or fats. 

What is the benefit of increasing your local oxidative metabolism? Turns out, you will be able to burn these metabolites (blood glucose or fats) without spiking glucose levels. But there is a caveat. The participants in the study — both male and female of different body mass indexes or BMIs, ages, sedentary times, and habitual daily steps — performed soleus pushups for four and a half hours with just four-minute breaks in between. Let's take a closer look at this supposedly best exercise you can do while sitting at your desk

The soleus pushup and your metabolism: Explained

According to study author and professor of Health and Human Performance at the University of Houston, Marc Hamilton, what you're working out while doing these seated calf pushups is something called the soleus muscle. In fact, it's a muscle you'd work out in one of the best exercises to strengthen weak calves – calf raises. The soleus muscle is located at the back of your leg, spanning a length of below your knee to your heel.

"When activated correctly, the soleus muscle can raise local oxidative metabolism to high levels for hours, not just minutes, and does so by using a different fuel mixture," explained Hamilton (via the University of Houston). The particular "fuel mixture" is different from what muscular exercise typically uses. We're talking glucose and fats instead of breaking down glycogen. "The soleus' lower-than-normal reliance on glycogen helps it work for hours effortlessly without fatiguing during this type of muscle activity, because there is a definite limit to muscular endurance caused by glycogen depletion," added the study author. 

Researchers think that this discovery can pave the way to preventing certain age-related chronic diseases. By activating your soleus muscle whilst being seated, you could improve metabolic health and help regulate blood glucose levels. Maintaining good metabolic health means preventing health concerns like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, kidney disease, and liver disease. That being said, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

Doing seated calf raises while working: Things to keep in mind

Experts caution that some of the fuss around soleus pushups might be over-the-top, at least on TikTok. For starters, a lot of things go into boosting your metabolic health, such as diet, exercise, and sleep. While putting your soleus muscle to work when in a sedentary position like sitting might be better than not doing anything, it is by no means the only thing you need to be focusing on to boost your metabolism. 

Plus, there is also the fact that the participants in the study did the seated calf pushups for four and a half hours, with only four-minute breaks, and allegedly without fatigue. This is something that astounded experts like Orlando-based certified personal trainer and health coach, Sharon Gam (Well+Good). "If I was doing calf raises for four hours, even unloaded using just the weight of my lower legs, I would think I would eventually get tired. But I haven't tried it so I guess I can't say for sure," shared Gam. Also, it is unclear in the research what happens to your local oxidative metabolism if you were to do the soleus pushups for a shorter duration of time. 

As with anything else that's trending on TikTok, it is best to separate the fact from fluff with this exercise. Perhaps the important thing to remember here is that with professional lifestyles that warrant so much sitting-down time, it's useful to find exercises like these that help keep you in an active state. At the very least, you'll give your muscles and joints some much-needed movement.