Gastrocnemius Muscle: Definition, Location & Function

Instructor: Joshua Bowles

Joshua is a Sports Medicine and Athletic Training Instructor and has a Master's degree in Kinesiology.

In this lesson, we will discuss the gastrocnemius muscle. We will look at the function and role of this particular muscle in the body as well as cover where the gastrocnemius is found.


Muscles in the human body serve so many different roles. Some of which are so important that it is obvious that we need that particular muscle in order to function. Everyone knows about the abs, or rectus abdominis as it is known in proper anatomical terms. But did you know there was a muscle that was so important for your day to day function that it helped to control how fast your vehicle moved every day? A muscle that helps us stay upright when we stand? Did you know that same muscle allows us to walk or run or even jump? This muscle is called the gastrocnemius.


The belly of the leg. When you break the medical term for gastrocnemius down that is what you get. The term gastroc is derived from a combination of Latin and Greek meaning stomach or belly. The term nemius is derived from another term meaning the leg. So the gastrocnemius muscle means the stomach of the leg. When you think about your calf you can see how this makes sense as it protrudes from your lower leg.

Skeletal muscles have various shapes that they are classified by. The gastrocnemius muscle shape is known as a bipennate type muscle, which means that it has two distinct rows of muscle fibers found in two different heads of the muscle. In this case, the gastrocnemius has a medial head located on the side closest to the mid-line of the body, and a lateral head located furthest from the mid-line of the body.

Gastrocnemius muscle
Highlighted gastrocnemius muscle


The gastrocnemius muscle is located on the posterior or backside on your lower leg. Although the muscle runs almost the length of your lower leg from your knee down to your heel, the majority of the muscle is seen at the top of the lower leg. The medial head originates, or starts, at the medial condyle of the femur. A condyle is a rounded projection at the end of a bone that often connects with another bone or articulates. In this case, we are referring to the medial end of the femur, or thigh bone, at the knee area. The lateral head originates from the lateral condyle of the femur.

At the other end of the muscle forms a tendon. A tendon is a type of connective tissue that connects muscle to a bone via an attachment site. The gastrocnemius has a well-known tendon called the Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon attaches the gastrocnemius to the heel bone, known as the calcaneus.

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