Posted on February 21 2019
You work your calves with every step you take — walking and running. These muscles are the unsung heroes that work in almost every standing leg exercise you do, from squats to lunges to side skaters. When they are tight, you feel it! If you wear heels regularly, the tightness can be even worse. If your calves become chronically tight, it can mess with your gait, and that can lead to overuse injuries in your feet, ankles, and knees. So do yourself a favor: start stretching your calves. Here are eight ways to lengthen and loosen your calves.
Wall Calf Stretch
This is a classic calf stretch that you can do just about anywhere.
- Stand a little less than arm's distance from the wall.
- Step your left leg forward and your right leg back, keeping your feet parallel.
- Bend your left knee and press through your right heel.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and switch legs.
This essential yoga pose lengthens the back of the legs, with special focus on the calves.
- Begin in a plank pose with your hands under your shoulders, then lift your pelvis up, making a "V" with your body. Walk your feet toward your hands if you need to.
- Work on bringing your heels toward the ground to stretch your calves.
- To deepen the stretch, try pedaling lightly by pressing down on one heel while bending the other leg (as shown). Hold a few seconds per leg and then switch.
- Hold or pedal your feet for 30 seconds.
This is an active stretch for the calves and works well as a warmup.
- Rock back onto your heels, actively pulling your toes away from the floor.
- Roll forward on the foot and lift your heels, coming into a calf raise. Keep rocking slowly, forward and backward, for eight to 10 reps. Hold on to a wall if this exercise challenges your balance.
Wall or Curb Stretch
This is one of the easiest stretches to do as soon as you finish a run. If you have weak Achilles tendons, do the variation using a wall instead of a ledge.
- Find a wall and stand a few inches away. With one foot, put your toes on the wall, keeping your heel on the floor, and flex.
- Hold for about 10-15 seconds, then alternate with your other foot.
- You can also do this stretch using a curb or step and hanging your heels off the ledge.
Seated Calf Stretch
This is a simple way to stretch your calves while sitting.
- Sit comfortably on the floor. If the backs of your legs are really tight and you find yourself slumping, sit on a pillow so you can keep your spine straight.
- Fold your right leg in and reach your left leg long.
- Wrap a yoga strap or Theraband (or an old tie or belt from your bathrobe) around the ball of your left foot.
- Use the strap to pull your toes toward your head.
- Do not jam your knee into the floor; keep your left heel on the ground.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and then repeat of the other side.
Standing Soleus Stretch
It's important to keep the soleus — the deep calf muscle — loose to prevent problems with the sole of your foot, like plantar fasciitis.
- Step your right foot back about a foot. Keeping your feet parallel, bend both your knees.
- Press your right heel into the ground as you shift your weight forward to increase the stretch.
This stretches the lower part of the soleus and feels great on the sole of your foot too.
- Cross your left ankle above your right knee. Use your hand to pull your left toes to the left, flexing your foot. Hold for three to five seconds, then release.
- Repeat this stretch 10 times and then do it with the other foot.
Roll Your Calves
You can also massage tight calves with a foam roller; it's intense but effective.
- Sit on the floor with your left ankle crossed over your right and place the roller under your right calf.
- Lift your pelvis off the ground so your weight is supported by your hands and the roller.
- Roll the length of your calf, from the back of your knee to the Achilles tendon. Make sure to roll both the inside and the outside of the muscle.
- Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds, then switch legs.