Calf muscles are responsible for speed and power during exercise, as well as giving you control. Your calves give you gas to run up a hill and act as your “brakes” to keep you from falling on your way down.
Weak or tight calf muscles can lead to common running and exercise-related injuries such as:
- Shin splints — Pain in the shin and lower leg caused by prolonged running, especially on hard surfaces.
- Achilles tendonitis — Inflammation and pain in the Achilles tendon (the band of tissue that joins the calf muscles to the heel). Achilles tendonitis is the result of too much strain on the Achilles tendon.
- Plantar fasciitis — Inflammation and pain in the plantar fascia (the band of tissue that connects the heal bone to the toes.)
Regular calf muscle stretching can help build their strength and prevent these painful injuries. Try the following stretches and exercises for your calves to get more power while you exercise and reduce your risk of injury.
Farmer’s Walk on Toes
Holding a pair of heavy dumbbells down at your sides, walk forward on your toes for 60 seconds. Dumbbells should be heavy but allow you to perform the exercise without stopping for the duration of the 60 seconds. Repeat three times daily.
Stand on a curb or step with your heels hanging off the edge. Holding onto a wall or rail for support, push yourself up onto your toes and then slowly (count to 10) drop your heels below the level of your feet. Complete three sets of 15 daily.
Downward Facing Dog
Start on your knees with your hands placed on the floor shoulder-width apart. Walk your legs back until your knees are straight and your backside is in the air. In this position, your body should form a triangle with the ground. Keep your spine straight and bend your right knee while pushing your left heel into the ground. You will feel the stretch in your left calf. Hold for 10 seconds then switch to the other leg. Do three sets daily.
Straight Leg Stretch
Stand facing a wall and place your hands on the wall with your arms straight in front of you. Keep your right leg forward and foot flat on the floor. Extend your left leg back, keeping the heel flat on the floor and your knee straight. Lean into the wall until you feel the stretch in your left calf. Hold for 30 seconds and switch to the other leg. Complete three full sets up to three times a day.
Sit on the floor and place a foam roller under your left ankle. Cross your right leg over your left and place your hands flat on the floor behind you for support. Roll your body forward until the foam roller reaches the back of your left knee. Roll back to ankle and repeat 15 times, then switch to the other leg. Repeat three times daily.
Never stretch cold muscles. Doing so can increase your chance of injury. Instead, the Dallas foot doctors at Metroplex Foot & Ankle recommend calf muscle stretching following exercise or a five to 10 minute warm-up. If you experience excessive pain while calf muscle stretching, stop stretching and contact Metroplex Foot & Ankle for a consultation.