Tight Calves? How to Loosen Them

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There isn’t a runner in the world that feels absolutely perfect and is not fighting some sort of “issue”. And even though you may not be considered injured, the likelihood that you’ve got a thing or two that needs some extra care is pretty high. One common issue among runners is tight calves.  And unfortunately, for some runners, tight calves can be a chronic issue.

Tight calves can be caused by other lower body issues or can, themselves, cause other issues. There are some runners so used to having tight calves they don’t know what their legs should really feel like.  What are some ways you can loosen those tight calves?

The Foam Roller

Most runners groan and recoil when the foam roller is mentioned. While we know it’s good for us, it just hurts sometimes. And not the kind of “hurts so good” kind of hurt. The actual borderline painful hurt. Foam rollers do fix the problem which is why runners suffer through 10 or 15 minutes a few times a week. If you don’t have one, they are relatively inexpensive and can be found in multiple lengths, densities and with or without a hollow core.

Here are two exercises to help loosen tight calf muscles:

Calf Foam Roll
  • Sit on the floor with both legs straight out in front of you and place your hands on the floor next to you. Your hands will be your support so feel free to move them around as needed.
  • Next, bend your left leg with your left foot placed flat on the floor.
  • Place your foam roller under your right leg near the bottom of your calf muscle.  Redistribute your weight so there is pressure on your right calf and foam roller.
  • Using your hands to help, roll your body forward, keeping contact between your calf and foam roller the entire length of your calf muscle. Roll back to starting position.
  • Repeat this movement and add pressure as needed to break up any knots.
  • If there are any substantial knots, pause on the knot and then rock very slightly back and forth, adding some extra pressure on the knot.
  • Repeat the above on the other leg.

Lateral Calf Foam Roll
  • Start from the Calf Foam Roll position with your legs out in front and your left knee bent.  With your right leg on the foam roller, roll your right leg over so that the side of your calf is on the foam roller.
  • Repeat the rolling process along the lateral part of your calf, making sure to stop and knead any knots.
  • Repeat the above on the other leg.

Stretching

There is no way to get out of stretching. You tried in gym class all through school to speed through your stretches and now, here you are an adult, and you are being told to do them again. It’s because they work and unlike any other option, stretching is 100% free.

Here are three stretches that target calf muscles.

Stretch

Downward Facing Dog

Yogis are very familiar with this stretch. Bonus for this exercise since it takes care of both calves at once!

  • Start by getting on the ground on all fours, on your hands and knees.
  • Next, lift your knees off the floor and press into your hands.  You will be straightening your legs but do not lock your knees. You should end in an “A” Shape.
  • Press down through your heels. Note that they do not need to touch the floor.
  • Hold for 30 seconds. Make sure to breathe as you stretch.
  • Bend your knees and return to all fours.
  • Repeat.

The next two are probably the most classic of calf stretches but also the most effective and easiest to perform anywhere.

Standing Calf Stretch: Larger Muscle (Gastrocnemius)
  • Stand a full arm’s length away from a wall.
  • Move your right leg behind you, toes facing the wall.
  • While keeping your right heel on the ground, lean into the wall while keeping your right leg straight. You should feel a stretch in your right calf.
  • Hold for 30 seconds before releasing.
  • Repeat with the left leg.

Standing Calf Stretch: Smaller Muscle (Soleus)
  • Stand a full arm’s length away from a wall.
  • Move your right leg behind you, toes facing the wall.
  • With your right heel kept on the ground, lean into the wall while bending your right knee. You should feel a stretch in the soleus/Achilles tendon area of the calf.
  • Hold for 30 seconds before releasing.
  • Repeat with the left leg.

Compression Apparel

If you are the type of runner who feels your calves “twitch” after a long run, compression socks or calf sleeves might be a good idea. Compression apparel will not be the cure if it’s the only thing you are doing to aid your tight calves but they will assist with prevention and recovery.

The compression on your calves will increase blood flow and assist in reducing the fatiguing of your muscles during exercise. The increase in blood flow is going to reduce muscle soreness and aid in the overall rate of your recovery. Sock versus sleeve is personal opinion, though some runners feel the sock offers more overall compression.

The number of repetitions and times a week you perform the calf loosening exercise are up to you, your time constraints and what you feel you personally need. Keep in mind though that the key is doing these exercises on a regular basis.

Sources

  1. Alex Orlov, 5 Foam Rolling Moves You Aren’t Doing (But Should), Web, Jan 08, 2016
  2. Marc Perry, Best Calf Stretch To Relieve Tight Calves, Web, Sep 25, 2017
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