5 Essential Calf Stretches Everyone Should Be Doing
Your calves probably aren’t a muscle group you think of very often—they do their thing, and you do yours. That is, until they demand your attention with that nagging, tight feeling.
«People tend to forget to stretch smaller muscles that are further away from the trunk of their body,» Sarah Otey, NYC-based certified personal trainer and instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp, tells SELF. But that doesn’t mean your calves don’t deserve some TLC—they play a major role in leg movement, and tightness can lead to pain, imbalances, and inefficiencies in other parts of your body.
Your calves are actually made up of two muscles: The gastrocnemius, which is the large part you probably think of as your calf muscle, and the soleus, which lies underneath it. These muscles connect up at the knee and at the bottom of the heel, explains Jan Schroeder, Ph.D., chair and professor of fitness in the department of kinesiology at California State University, Long Beach. So not only are tight calves uncomfortable, but they can impact other parts of your body, too.
Calf tightness isn’t uncommon, especially if you sit at a desk or wear heels.
Your calves get tight over time when you don’t move them through a regular range of motion, says Schroeder. For example, if you sit at a desk all day without walking around, your knee and ankle joints pretty much stay in one position (which means your calves aren’t moving, either).
Your shoes can also play a role. «For example, high heels restrict the full range of motion of that muscle group,» says Schroeder. «Or, if you have a running shoe that has a really stiff bottom and doesn’t allow the foot to roll from the heel to the ball of the foot, [that can also restrict movement].»
When this range of motion is restricted, your muscle fibers get used to staying in a shortened position. A little physiology lesson: In the deepest part of the muscle fiber, there are units called sarcomeres, which are composed of little «bands» (or filaments) that line up and move past each other as your muscles contract and relax. Think about interlacing your fingers together—the closer your hands get to each other, the tighter the weave is. That’s how these filaments line up, explains Schroeder.
«When a joint doesn’t go through a full range of motion, what happens is that these sarcomeres [in your muscles] get tighter and tighter, so they overlap more and more,» says Schroeder. Plus, she adds, when you consistently restrict movement, your neuromuscular system isn’t as efficient either—essentially, your brain sends the signal to your muscles saying it’s not safe to move through a very big range of motion, and so the cycle continues.
Calf tightness can cause other aches and pains, and mess with your squat form, too.
«Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, knee pain, plantar fasciitis…these can all originate from tight calf muscles,» says Schroeder. This is because these shortened muscle fibers actually pull on other ligaments and joints—in the case of knee pain, tight calves can pull down on the ligaments on the back of your knee. With plantar fasciitis, tight calves can pull up on the fascia (connective tissue) on the bottom of your feet.
Tight calves can also impact your squat form. «When people can’t get into a deep squat, they might think it’s their hips or they aren’t strong enough, but it could actually be tight calves,» says Otey.
Here’s why: «If you have tightness in the calves, you cannot dorsiflex [your ankles],» Schroeder explains. Dorsiflexion is when your toes get closer to your shin, the opposite of pointing your toes. This causes your heels to lift off the floor as you get deeper into a squat, so you lose stability and can’t go further down. (Ankle mobility also plays a role here.) If you can’t get deep enough into a squat, you’re not using your glutes and hamstrings to their full potential.
«[When this happens,] we’ve disrupted the kinetic chain from the bottom up, and immediately you’re in a weakened position,» adds Otey. (Psst—a good fix for this is to place your heels on a weight plate for stability when you do squats as you work on reducing calf tightness.)
Soreness can also cause a temporary feeling of tightness.
Your calves might also feel tight when you’re really sore, like after a particularly leg-heavy workout or a longer run than your body’s used to. Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) often comes along with swelling, which can restrict movement and make muscles feel tight.
Unfortunately, stretching won’t actually speed your muscles’ recovery process along, but some gentle stretching might help you find some temporary relief.
Doing calf stretches can provide a short-term and long-term solution.
To avoid or reduce calf tightness, static stretches (which are held in place) can make a big difference—they’ll help loosen up the filaments of those sarcomeres, says Schroeder.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends holding a static stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeating three to five times on each side of the body, but Schroeder says there’s no need to overthink the timing—the important thing is to hold it until you feel a deep, satisfying stretch, she says. Just make sure you get in a little movement first, like a 3 to 5 minute walk around the house, to increase blood flow to the muscles—it’ll allow you to get deeper into the stretch and help avoid injury, says Schroeder.
It’s also important to include dynamic calf stretches (stretches that involve active movement) in your routine to improve mobility as well as flexibility, notes Schroeder. While you might not think of them as calf stretches, doing some bodyweight squats and lunges in your warm-up will help accomplish this, she says.
Below, Otey shares five of her favorite calf stretches. Do them all the next time your calves are feeling tight, and add a few into your overall stretching routine to help keep your legs feeling limber.
Stretches, Treatment, Prevention, Causes, and More
Your calves may feel tight for a number of different reasons. The calf is made up of two muscles called the gastrocnemius and the soleus. These muscles are taxed on a daily basis by walking from place to place or participating in strenuous exercise.
When they don’t have their normal flexibility, it may affect your distribution of weight and the pressure you’re applying to other areas of your body as you move around. As a result, your foot, ankle, and knee may not function how they should. This may cause tightness, pain, and even injury, sidelining you from your favorite activities.
The symptoms you’ll experience with tight calf muscles can vary depending on the cause.
If your muscles are cramped, you may feel anything from slight discomfort to severe pain. The muscle may feel hard to the touch and even twitch under the skin. Cramping can last anywhere from just a couple seconds to 15 minutes, or sometimes longer. You may notice cramping right after exercise or up to four to six hours later.
Other symptoms may include:
- sudden pain in the back of your calf or behind your knee
- trouble standing on your tiptoes
- pain, swelling, or bruising
- pain, especially when resistance is applied to the muscles
Tightness or pain in the calves is often the result of overuse. Activities like running and playing sports can be hard on your calf muscles. Endurance sports are particularly tough on the body.
Marathon runners, triathletes, and older individuals who do lots of strenuous exercises may be at higher risk of developing tight calves or even muscle cramps.
Other causes of calf pain or cramping might include:
If you notice your calf muscles are tight, regular stretching can help. Try going through the following exercises daily. You may even want to stretch twice a day to start. This can help lengthen the muscle fiber and possibly lessen the pain you’re experiencing.
Calf stretch 1
- Stand near a wall with one foot in front of the other, front knee slightly bent.
- Keep your back knee straight, your heel on the ground, and lean toward the wall.
- Feel the stretch all along the calf of your back leg.
- Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds.
- Switch legs, then alternate for a total of 3 repetitions.
Calf stretch 2
- Stand near a wall with one foot in front of the other, front knee slightly bent.
- Also bend your back knee, keeping your heel on the ground, as you lean toward the wall.
- Feel the stretch in the lower part of your calf muscle.
- Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds.
- Switch legs, then alternate for a total of 3 repetitions.
Calf stretch 3
- For a more advanced stretch, stand on a step. Place the ball of your foot on the edge of the step. Your heel should be off the step.
- Slowly drop your heel down as you carry weight through the leg. You may hold onto something, like a banister or the wall, as you lower.
- Hold this position for 20-30 seconds.
- Switch legs, then alternate for a total of 3 repetitions.
Calf stretch 4
- Lie down on a yoga mat, then push your body up so you’re on all fours.
- Straighten your arms and legs, and raise your hips into the air, forming an upside-down V with your body. Your knees and elbows should be straight.
- Slowly lift one foot off the ground and place it on the opposite ankle.
- Gently lower the heel of your lower foot to the ground or as close as you can comfortably get.
- Slowly raise your heel so you’re back on the ball of your foot again.
- Repeat as part of your warmup routine 10 to 15 times on each leg.
Ease into all stretching slowly and steadily. Bouncing or stretching too fast may injure your muscles.
Stretching may feel uncomfortable at first, but it shouldn’t hurt. Start with holding a stretch for a short period of time and work up to longer sessions.
Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) is good for immediate treatment of muscle issues in the first 48 to 72 hours after you notice tightness and pain. Following the RICE method helps reduce damage in the muscles.
Try using an ice pack for 20 minutes every two hours while resting and elevating the leg. A compression bandage may help keep bleeding and swelling under control. Elevating the area can further help reduce swelling.
Over-the-counter pain medications may temporarily relieve any pain you have. Try ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or naproxen (Aleve).
If your calves are chronically tight, you may want to try physical therapy. A physical therapist can prescribe customized stretches, exercises, and other treatments to help with anything from pain to muscle imbalances.
You may need a referral to see a physical therapist. Your insurance may or may not cover all of the costs. To find a local physical therapist in the United States, try searching the American Physical Therapy Association’s database.
Massage therapy is another option. A massage therapist uses their hands to manipulate the body’s muscles and soft tissues, helping with anything from pain to muscle tension. Your doctor may refer you to a licensed therapist or, if you’re in the United States, you can search the American Massage Therapy Association’s database to find one near you.
Massage may or may not be covered by your health insurance. It’s best to call ahead to find out about any associated copays or out-of-pocket costs.
Most cases of tight calf muscles respond well to home treatment with stretching or the RICE method. You may not see results immediately, so ease up on the activities that are causing tightness and pain.
Without treatment, you may develop more serious complications, like:
Contact your doctor if your tight calves don’t ease up after stretching and rest. You may have a more serious condition, like DVT or tendonitis, that requires medical attention.
See your doctor if you have the following symptoms in addition to tight calves:
- extreme pain
- pain that gets worse
Stretching regularly may be your best bet for keeping your calf muscles loose and pain-free. Here are some other things you can do to prevent tight muscles:
- Warm up before stretching and other exercise. A slow walk or jog for a few minutes should be enough to get the blood flowing.
- Check out your shoes. When’s the last time you bought new ones? When old sneakers wear down, they provide less support for your muscles and joints.
- Wear compression sleeves. These inexpensive sock-like devices are worn over your lower legs. They may help promote better blood flow to your muscles and temporarily relieve pain during motion. You can purchase them at athletic supply stores, or online at Amazon.
- Engage in regular physical therapy or massage therapy. If you participate in endurance sports that aggravate your calves, continual care by a professional may keep you running strong.
- Work on your overall fitness. Some cramping may be due to muscle atrophy and inactivity. This is especially true for people over age 40.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Eat a well-balanced diet that includes sources of calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
Don’t ignore tight calf muscles. They’re likely telling you something. You may need to slow down for a while or make a doctor’s appointment to rule out more serious conditions, like DVT. After some rest and stretching, you should be back on your feet in no time.
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Calf Stretches — Best Exercises For Flexible Calf
Physical therapists, family doctors, and orthopaedic surgeons often recommend calf stretches for some of their patients with certain musculoskeletal conditions such as achilles tendinitis and hallux valgus, even healthy individuals are also advised on calf stretches.
The calf muscles are essentially what you use when you climb up a heel, control your descent down a hill, run to get a bus, control your gait in a moving queue and so on, and these muscles need a lot of maintenance to ensure they function more effectively.
Essentially, the calf muscles would help us run, walk, jump better if they are kept flexible and long enough by engaging in calf stretch exercises.
What is Calf Muscle?
There are two muscles that constitute the calf; the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles.
Both muscles are located at the back of the leg. Both muscles function to move the foot downwards, a movement called plantar flexion.
The gastrocnemius is superficial or lie above the soleus, originating above the knee with its two heads attached to small extensions of the thigh bone, the femur, called the medial and lateral condyles. The gastrocnemius muscle inserts via a strong tendon called the achilles tendon to the ankle.
The soleus lies deep to the gastrocnemius and originates below the knee via tendons attached to the back of the upper part of the leg bones; tibia and fibula. The soleus muscle joins the gastrocnemius muscle in inserting to the ankle through the achilles tendon.
While both muscles have a common insetion, both differ in their origin and this is essential to note for calf stretches.
The gastrocnemius originates above the knee, hence the knee must be in full extension for it to be stretched.
The soleus muscle, on the other hand, originates from below the knee, and does not require extension of the knee for it to be stretched.
Why is it Important to stretch the Calf Muscle?
As noted earlier, the calf muscles enable walking, running, and other foot movements.
If the calf muscles are shortened or tight, these movements may become really difficult to perform. The calf muscles must be lengthened well enough to ensure these movements are performed seamlessly, and this is achieved by stretching the calf muscles.
To walk properly, one must be able to raise the foot up at an angle of 15 degrees.
If the foot cannot be brought up to this extent due to shortening or tightness of the calf muscles, it would lead to compensatory movements such as toeing out, excessive hindfoot inversion, excessive pronation of the forefoot, and excessive rotation of the knee, and these movements can lead to musculoskeletal injuries, chronic inflammation of the joints involved, as well as degenerative changes.
For sports enthusiasts and athletes who engage in prolonged running, jumping, and walking, calf exercises are therefore, essential to keep the calf muscles flexible and long enough.
What Injuries Can occur If you don’t stretch the Calf muscle?
The movements of the foot usually occur in sync with movements of other joints such as the hip, spine, and knee joints. If the foot moves abnormally, it would affect the other joints adversely.
If you do not stretch the calves, you place yourself at risk of such musculoskeletal conditions as the following:
A hallux rigidus is a disease characterized by pain and stiffness of the big toe.
This condition, also called bunions is characterized by deviation of the metatarsals of the big toe.
An inflammatory condition of the tough fascia, the plantar fascia, overlying the sole of the feet.
This is an inflammatory and degenerative disorder of the achilles tendon, and is characterized by a severe heel pain
This is an injury to the tendon connecting your kneecap to your shinbone which occurs when it is overstressed. Patellar tendinitis presents with pain between the kneecap and where the tendon attaches to the shin bone.
Iliotibial band friction syndromes: This condition causes pain on the outer part of the knee and is caused by overuse damage to tissues around that part of the knee.
Patellofemoral pain syndromes: These syndromes include diseases that cause damage, wear and tear, and inflammation of the cartilage beneath the kneecap. They are characterized by pain in the front of the knee.
Other injuries or conditions that may result if you do not stretch your calves include shin splints, mechanical back pain, headaches.
Why is the Calf Muscle often tight?
If a muscle is not worked out or exercised, it may shorten. The calf muscle is particularly notorious for this.
For example, if you wear high-heeled shoes for long periods of time, the calf muscles are kept shortened. If the calf muscles are kept in this position for a long time, they may eventually remain in that state.
Being a very active set of muscles, the calf muscles must contract for a long period of time to keep us standing, walking, and running, and this may make the muscles tighten so fast.
If an athlete does not warm up by stretching the calf muscle before training, it might tighten up and contract suddenly.
The Calf Stretches
There are a number of calf stretches and these include the standing calf stretch, wall calf stretch, downward dog yoga stretch, calf stretches on a step, farmer’s toe walk, and calf stretches using foam rollers, sticks, and belts.
Standing Calf stretch for Gastrocnemius muscle
To perform this, do the following:
- Stand about three feets behind a wall, with one hand outstretched and touching it.
- Put your right foot behind you, ensuring your toes point straight forwards.
- Keep your heel touching the ground and lean forward keeping your right knee straight.
- Rotate your toes inwards and outwards will stretch the medial and lateral parts of the gastrocnemius muscle respectively.
- Hold each position for 30 to 60 seconds each.
Standing Calf Stretch for Soleus Muscle
This involves the following sequence:
- Stand away from a wall and place your right foot behind you keeping your toes face forwards.
- Lean forward with your ankle with your heel still on the ground.
- Bend your right knee.
- The flexing of the knee places tension on the soleus muscle and off the gastrocnemius.
- Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds.
Wall Calf Stretch
This stretch exercise involves the following steps:
- Stand about two feets behind a wall.
- Put the ball of your right foot against the wall, keeping your heel on the ground.
- Gently lean into the wall with your foot in the above-described position and keep your knee straight simultaneously.
- Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds depending on recommendations by your physical therapist.
Downward Yoga Calf Stretch
Here are the steps to performing this:
- Get down on your hands and feet, keeping your hands on the floor.
- Walk with your hands forward on the floor while spreading your fingers wide apart to provide a broad support base.
- Push your hips upwards, as if towards the ceiling, then tighten your abdominal muscles.
- While your heels are kept on the ground, attempt to straighten the knee and keep that position.
- Hold the above-described position for 30 to 60 minutes.
Calf Stretch Exercises Using a Stick
Do this following the sequence below:
- Sit on the floor and keep your forefoot against a wall.
- Place a stick below your legs and roll over a 3 to 4 inch area of your calf for about 10 seconds.
- Do this same thing over other areas of your calf until all areas of your calf have been covered.
This would ordinarily not cause pain, but if it does, report this to your physical therapist
Calf Stretch Exercises Using a Foam Roller
This can be done in the following steps:
- Sit on the floor keeping your legs outstretched and your hands placed behind you supporting your body.
- Place a foam roller under the lower half off your right leg.
- Place your left leg crossed over your right leg.
- Roll your leg back and forth over the foam roll, supporting yourself with your hands behind you.
- Roll the foam toward your knee.
- Ensure that while rolling over the foam roller, your toes face outwards and inwards.
Calf Stretch Exercises using a belt
This exercise involves the following steps:
- Sit upright on a chair with your back straight and shoulders straight.
- Place a strap of belt looped around the ball of your right foot.
- Keep your right knee straight while you pull up the belt tightly, this keeps the gastrocnemius stretched.
- Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds.
- To stretch the soleus using the belt, bend the right knee and pull the belt up.
You may also perform this stretch exercise sitting on your bed or floor.
Calf Stretch Exercise Using a Step
This type of calf stretch exerciseis recommended if your calf muscle has become flexible enough.
This stretch exercise is done in the following steps:
- Place your foot over a step.
- Lower the heel of that foot down the step until you feel a stretch in your calf.
- When you feel a stretch in your calf, hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat the process 3 to 5 times daily.
This sequence stretches the gastrocnemius muscle, to stretch the soleus, follow the same steps but with your knee bent.
Plantar Fascitis Night Splint
This method of calf stretching is a good method of increasing the flexibility of the calf muscles, particularly if the other methods do not seem to be providing enough flexibility for the calf muscles.
The splint is worn over night and keep the calf muscles from tightening up. The calf muscles are prone to tightening up at night during sleep. The splint provides a gentle prolonged stretch for the calf.
Farmer’s Walk on Toes
This exercise builds the strenght of the calf muscles. To perform this exercise, follow this steps:
- Hold a pair of large dumbbells down at your sides.
- Rise up on your toes and walk on them for 60 seconds.
- Ensure you walk straight and do not break the one-minute walk.
- Follow these steps three times daily.
Eccentric Calf Raises
This is another calf stretch exercise and is done in the following steps:
- Stand on a step with your heels hanging off the edge of the step.
- Push yourself up while holding on to the rail.
- Then drop your heel slowly back down to the level of your feet.
- Drop your heels to the count of 10 seconds.
- Push your heels back up and down repeatedly.
- Do three sets of 15 up and down heel movements daily
Plyometric Jump Squats
This exercise boosts the power of the calf muscle and does this by stretching it before contracting it forcefully.
This exercise is done in the following steps:
- Stand on your feet and stretch them wide apart.
- Keep your toes turned outwards.
- Put your arms outstretched in front of you.
- Squat down while pushing your butt back while still maintaining your upper body straight tall.
- In this squatting position, jump up as high as you can, then land gently on your heel.
Do this 15 times in a row, and repeat three times daily
Calf stretches are essential to keep the calf muscle flexible and long enough to enable us walk, run, jump, and perform other movements involving the foot.
The two muscles which make up the calf are the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles and leaving these muscles to perform all those functions without stretching them regularly may make them tight and shortened, making one prone to injuries such as shin splints, achilles tendonitis, back pain, and bunions.
Calf Muscle Stretches For Seniors And The Elderly; Calf Stretch
Watch these lower body flexibility exercise videos
Make sure to download my FREE ebook to begin your 4 week senior exercise program using all these great exercises!
1. Seated Lifts
- Improve the range of motion in your hips and legs.
- Help stabilize your low back and pelvis.
- Learn what is flexibility.
2. Standing Quadriceps Stretch
- Will improve your hip and knee range of motion with these exercises to increase flexibility.
- Can improve your standing posture by allowing you to stand up straighter.
3. Back Stretch
- Improves the range of motion in your spine and trunk with lower back stretching.
- Increases your ability to bend and reach low or high.
4. Inner Thigh Stretch
- Improve your hip and thigh range of motion with stretching legs exercises.
- Increase your functional ability in standing, walking and stepping.
5. Calf Stretch
- Targets the flexibility of your calf muscle and heel cord. with calf muscle stretches.
- Increases your ability to straighten your knee
6. Hip Side Stretch
- This is a good stretch for the side hip area.
- Improve the range of motion of our hips.
- These stretching techniques also can help with balance.
7. Hip Rotation Stretch
- Increase the range of motion of your hips with these flexibility stretches.
- Improve the functional use of your legs as in getting out of a car or stepping over the side of your bath tub.
8. Soleus Stretch
- Increases the flexibility of the deep calf muscle with flexibility stretching exercises.
- Generally improves your lower body flexibility and functional use of your legs.
9. Ankle Circles
- Improve the range of motion of the ankle and foot with warming up stretching.
- Can help with ankle swelling.
10. Hamstring Stretch
- Increases your ability to lean forward and reach your feet with hamstring stretching.
- Improves the flexibility of your low back and legs.
11. Knee To Chest
- Stretches your knee and hip joints with flexibility importance exercises.
- Improves low back flexibility.
12. Ankle Stretch
- Helps maintain good ankle flexibility which will assist with walking and standing with ankle stretching exercises.
- Also helps with knee and hip stiffness.
Make sure to download my FREE ebook to begin your 4 week senior exercise program using all these great exercises!
Calf muscle stretches for seniors and the elderly like the calf stretch below are vital to maintain the flexibility of your legs.
This exercise can easily be performed by seniors using a wall or chair to lean on.
Try this stretch before your take your daily walk to improve your ankle and knee movement.
I’m sure you have seen runners out on the street, leaning against a building stretching their calf muscles. Why?
Usually they are trying to prevent injuring their calf muscle when they are running due to tightness.
Stretching prepares the muscle for the activity it is about to do.
Try it and feel the difference a stretched calf can make.
Purpose of this exercise
- Targets the flexibility of your calf muscle and heel cord.
- Increases your ability to straighten your knee.
How to do it:
- Stand facing a wall.
- Place your hands on the wall.
- Step forward with your right foot.
- Lean your hips toward the wall.
- Keep your back leg straight, heel on the floor.
- Hold position for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat with the other leg.
- Breathe normally, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Use a chair if you need more balance support.
- Keep your toes pointing straight ahead.
- If you have pain in your ankle or calf, stop and try stretching again in your pain free range.
Take it up a notch:
- To improve your balance try holding on with one hand or even placing your hands on your hips.
Our detailed guide on Calf Stretching
Strained or tight calf muscles can be a really unpleasant or painful situation, even when simply walking. That can be caused by a variety of reasons such as genetically predisposition, improper shoes, strenuous work-out programs etc. Therefore, taking care of that matter is extremely significant for the effortless performance of muscles and joints, especially if you take into consideration that problematic calf muscles can impinge on hamstrings (for stretches focusing on hamstring click here) and result even in putting unnecessary pressure on the lower back (for stretches that target lower back click this), affecting the function of your whole body. So, carrying out a set of tight calf muscles stretches can be an excellent way for dealing with those eventualities.
The calf muscle runs along the back of the lower part of the leg; the primary calf muscle, the gastrocnemius muscle, consisting of two parts, begins from the back of the knee and connects with the heel through the Achilles tendon; the soleus, the smaller muscle of the area, is a flat muscle that is situated underneath the gastrocnemius muscle. Working together, the calf muscles are responsible for lifting the heels up, allowing for walking, running and jumping.
Click the photo on the right to get a better idea of the Calf Muscles.
Calf Stretching Exercises
Here are some examples of calf stretches – notice that you should first read our stretching guide before trying to apply any of them!.
- Stand in front of a wall and place your hands shoulder-width apart against the wall (photo 1), at chest level; put your left foot behind your right foot, gently flexing your right leg forward while maintaining your left knee aligned and the heel in contact with the floor; now, with your back straight, lean onto the wall pushing your hips forward; when you feel a gentle stretch, hold it there; repeat with the other leg. This is an effective passive/static stretch!
- Another passive/static calf stretching (photo 2) involves the following: Assume a sitting position on the floor with your back vertical to it, your left leg straightened and your right knee flexed in a way that its toes are in contact with the side of the straightened leg’s knee; use a towel or a bathrobe belt to hook your left foot and gently pull that belt with your hands to bring your toes towards your chest until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf; hold it there, relax and repeat with the other leg; there is also a variation of this exercise which is performed with the legs joint together. A PNF approach of the aforementioned stretch is relatively easy to apply, giving you the special benefits of PNF Stretching! An active version of the same stretch is also popular!
- Focusing on the soleus muscle, you can do the following stretch; stand straight with your back in an upright position and slightly bend your left knee forward with the heel of the leg touching the ground; bring down your hips until you feel the stretch on the soleus muscle and hold it there; switch legs and repeat (photo 3).
- Put your soles in the edge of a step (almost 1/3 of the sole should touch the step) with your feet absolutely straight. Leave the gravity stretch your calves (photo 4). You can also apply the stretch to each feet seperately (photo 5)! If you don’t have a step you can put your feet on the ground and actively raise your left’s foot sole. You will feel an (active) stretch in your calf (photo 6). Repeat with the right foot!
In general, those static calf stretches should be held for 15-20 seconds, in sets of 4-5; performing them 3-4 times a week should be enough to improve your flexibility, which in turn can enable you further escalate the frequency and the intensity of your stretching routine.
Obviously, you can perform some of the above described stretches in a more dynamic way, engaging your muscles in a swinging way, of average intensity and without of course surpassing the normal range of motion, in some sets of 10-12 repetitions; however, it is preferable not to attempt that mode of stretching without supervision from a trained coach.
Stretching your calves not only doesn’t require massive effort, yet it can deliver great benefits. Indicatively:
- It lengthens the muscle fibers, amplifying the range of motion in your joints and strengthening the connective tissue which surround them
- More flexible calf muscles can hinder potential injuries, alleviating the shock caused by an unintended impact on the leg or foot; that is particularly important for people who engage in physically demanding athletic activities
- It decreases the risk of encountering chronic back pain (for more back pain stretches have a look here) knee problems, shin splints, ankle pain, Sever’s disease and inflammation of the bottom of the foot (medically known as “plantar fasciitis”)
- It releases muscle tension and fatigue after work-out
- It contributes to the preserving of your body’s movability
What To Consider
Whenever applying calf stretches, you should take into consideration our Do’s and Dont’s on Stretching. Apart from these, you should first give some thought to the following:
- Perform a warm-up of 5-10 minutes, focusing mainly on your legs and more specifically on their lower part (for instance, walk around or do some jogging)
- Never underestimate that those specific muscles of your body are delicate, so do not overstretch them; also, since stretching your calf muscles is not so hard, it is easy to underrate your exercises and cause an injury
- Execute the stretches gently, avoiding clumsy movements which may provoke unwanted pulls
- Don’t hold your breath
Photos & Videos
In case the aforementioned didn’t make pretty clear how to stretch your calves, you should perhaps have a look at the photos and pics below:
Photo 1 – Passive calf stretching
Photo 2 – Inner calf stretching
Photo 3 – Soleus muscle stretching
Photo 4 – Step calf stretch
Photo 5 – Step calf stretch
Photo 6 – Active calf stretch
Stretches for calf muscles is an excellent way of keeping those muscles flexible and preventing from various injuries or troublesome situations in this vulnerable area, either you are a person living an ordinary life or a runner or amateur athlete – even if you are among the children or adults that enjoy jumping castles. Yet, taking them too lightly may cause more problems than leaving them unstretched; so, discuss the suitability of those exercises with a physiotherapist before beginning them so as to get the biggest benefit from them.
Category: Stretching specific Body Areas
Calf Stretching: It’s the AO Way or the Highway (There Are No Back Roads)
I know I consistently promote calf stretching to you all, like here, and here, and even here, but thanks to many of your questions, I realized I have never told you exactly how to do it right: my way.
True, it is a simple concept itself, but it’s not just “any old” calf stretching.
I am not talking about calf stretching before you run. I am not talking about calf stretching after you use the weights at the gym (or however you choose to exercise).
What I am talking about is calf stretching that is done right – everyday – and that is separate from exercise, especially before.
What you see described here is what is proven to be, over time, effective in changing the muscle-tendon units so that our muscles will eventually (patience, people!) return to their optimal (or “normal”) length. Yes, as you age many of your muscles get tighter, especially your calves. You know this because you just get stiffer, but it does not have to be that way.
So you say, “AO, of course I want results. So tell me how!”
…And that is what I have heard more and more lately. And, it is a fair request, which is why I’m sharing that now.
The Skinny on Stretching: The Stuff That Really Counts
Stretching the right way. It’s like something we tell our kids: “There’s no point in doing it if you aren’t going to do it right.” You can stretch off a step in order to get the kind of calf stretch you are really after – which is an isolated and passive stretch of the calf. The best kind!
The biggest, or the most common, error I see in stretching?
Well, besides just not doing it or people ignoring me when I tell them to do it separate from any training or workout session, to start, take a look at where you are making contact. The foot should contact the step against the arch of your foot, not the ball. Believe it or not, the best stretch is obtained this way.
In the past, people have found success with an aerobics step, which works well since it is about 8 inches tall or so. It also has a rounded edge. Do a quick Google search if you need to see one.
If you perform the stretching on stairs, as many do, use the bottom stair and hold onto the railing for support. Athletic shoes with traction seem to work best.
Then slowly relax your ankles, and let your heels go downward. Learning this might take more effort and a little more time than you might think to get it just right. Remember the contact point on the step is your arch, not the balls of your feet. This point can not be over emphasized. Now you should be feeling a pulling (or a tightness) in your upper calf muscle – which is what we want. You should be feeling this stretch high in your calf, just below your knee.
Here’s what else to consider.
Length of time you do it…Every. Day.
Through years of tinkering and observation, I have determined that 9 minutes a day is the right number. It’s best to do it 3 minutes, 3 times per day. You can cluster your stretching like sets. In other words, do a 3 minute stretch, go away for a few minutes (brush your teeth, etc.), then do your next 3 minute stretch, go away for a bit, and then complete your final, 3 minutes, and you are done for the day. It’s easy, it’s done and you are on to the next thing. Less does not seem to work for people, and more is a waste.
How many weeks, or months should you stretch everyday. How long should you keep this up?
Are you going to stop after just a week or two? Again, by overall time span, what I mean is how many weeks or months are spent doing your stretching, each and every day. One of the biggest mistakes I see is that people either want an overnight change, or they “give up” when the pain goes away.
The one “downside” of calf stretching? It takes time. I’ll tell you again: you have to be consistent. Fortunately, but maybe not in your particular case, the problems we are solving are manageable, until the stretching finally does its job. Good things most often do not came fast. Be patient.
This will work, just be consistent and do it everyday. Moderate your stretching intensity to feel it high in your calf. Go easy for a week or so and break in slow.
Download this Guide to see the rest of this program, and share it with your friends and family…Unless you want them to be in pain? (Actually, for prevention purposes, this particular stretch would be good for everyone to do, with or without pain or foot problems.) You can call it the AO way, no kidding!
“So If We Do the Stretching The Right Way…When Do We Start to Get Relief?”
I see people take 2 weeks, to as much as 6 months for their calf stretching to “undo” the powerful, damaging effects that the isolated gastrocnemius contracture has exerted on their foot and ankle. Give it time and the results are most often stunning!
Where will you fall on the spectrum of 2 weeks to 6 months – that is, the time frame needed to resolve your tight calves? That’s one of many things I don’t know for sure! But, one thing I do know, if you don’t stretch you will never know now will you?
Stay healthy my friends,
Tight Calf Symptoms — ProStretch
It might seem obvious that you will easily be able to identify whether or not you suffer from tight calf muscles. That is not always the case because tight calf symptoms can actually be the culprit behind a number of other lower leg maladies. Problems like calf pain, foot pain, heel pain (plantar fasciitis), Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, knee pain and even hip and back pain can originate with tight calf muscles. That’s why it’s important to recognize tight calf symptoms when they first begin.
Tight calf symptoms include a gradual tightening in the calf muscles which can get worse when running or improve while running only to tighten up later.
Tight Calf Symptoms & Causes
The symptoms of a tight calf muscle are much different from a calf strain. When a muscle is strained, the muscle is stretched too far. If you suffer from a calf muscle strain, you will typically feel a sudden sharp pain at the back of the lower leg. Depending on how severe the calf tear is, you may be able to continue in some discomfort or you may be in severe pain and unable to walk. Calf strains can be very painful and should be treated by a physician.
Almost everyone has at least mildly tight calf muscles and exhibit some tight calf symptoms. This is because many of us spend a lot of time every day sitting while we work, eat, drive, watch television or work on a computer. When you are seated, your knees are bent and are flexed at a 90 degree angle. In addition to your knees being bent, your feet are usually in a relaxed forward position (plantar-flexed). This is especially an issue for women who wear high heels because their feet are automatically pointed downward in a plantar-flexed position because of their high heels.
So why does all of this sitting help cause tight calf muscles? It’s because the position of your knees and your feet while you are sitting brings your calf muscles to a shortened position which results in tight calf muscles. After sitting for years, you start to lose strength and flexibility in your tight calf muscles.