Why do I need to stretch my calves. We often talk about stretching our lower back or hamstrings or even our quads, but we rarely discuss our calves. Okay, so maybe the topic isn’t that sexy, but it’s still super important to discuss because having tight calves can keep you from walking or doing your favourite sports and it can be really painful, including knee pain which in turn can translate into hip pain. Now, there are a number of reasons why you can have tight calves, so if you find that it’s a persistent problem and it gets worse, it’s best to see a physiotherapist. If, however, your calves are tight due to a lack of movement or a lot of exercise or wearing heels on a regular basis then read on.
WHY DO I NEED TO STRETCH MY CALVES
The Muscles. The calf muscles are comprised of the soleus (the lower half) and the gastrocnemius (the larger upper half).
Why & How. Okay great, but what exactly does the calf muscles do? They actually help with a number of things. First, they help with plantar flexion (when you point your toes) as well as dorsi flexion (when you flex your foot so that your toes point upward). They also stabilize your ankle when you are standing or walking or running and are crucial to jumping. As you land after a jump, the impact is absorbed in part by your calves as they contract to stabilize your ankle joints. Just think of it this way, when you’re “light on your feet”, it’s your calves which keep you floating above the ground.
EXERCISES. While you can always use the calf raises machine at the gym, you can easily replicate the workout at home.
Double leg raises. This is a very simple exercise. Standing with your feet hip distance apart, simply rise up onto the balls of your feet and lower. Do this 20x.
Modifications: Hold weights or a heavy water bottle for added resistance.
Standing on a stair, let your heels drop (so that you feel a bit of a stretch) and then rise up onto the balls of your feet. Do this 20x.
You can also repeat all of the above exercises on one foot and in a small v position with your heels together and your toes turned out to the sides.
Remember when doing these exercises, keep your abdominal muscles engaged and focus on standing tall so that your body doesn’t lean forward as you press up onto the balls of your feet. Also, as you lower, don’t let your heels drop to the floor and instead resist coming back down.
Wall stretch 1. Get up close to a wall or curb or the back of a sofa and flex your foot so that your heel is on the floor and the ball of your foot is on the wall. Press your body (especially your hips) forward and hold. Another option is to place your foot on an inclined surface, hold this stretch for 20 seconds on each foot.
Wall stretch 2. Placing both hands on a wall position yourself in a lunge with your right foot forward, knee bent. Make sure that your left foot is firmly on the ground with your toes pointing forward. Press your hips forward and hold for 15 seconds on each leg.
Seated calf stretch. If you can can’t touch your toes then you’ll need a resistance band or a belt for this one. Sitting down on the floor (or on a chair if you are very tight in your hamstrings, glutes and lower back) reach your right leg out in front of you. Wrap the band/belt around your foot and gently pull back on it allowing your foot to flex. Hold for 20 seconds on each leg.
Foam roller. This can be super painful but just remember to breathe and work through it. Propping yourself up on your hands cross your legs and roll gently back and forth over your calves. Aim for 20 seconds on each leg.
When we talk about our calves we have to also consider our ankles and feet. To learn more stretches and how to strengthen them read: Foot and Ankle Exercises.
Do you find that you have tight calves and what’s your favourite stretch?