Ever since I can remember, people have commented on the size of my calves. Now that I’m a Personal Trainer, I’ve realized the advantages of having strong and flexible calf muscles.
- ✔ They provide stability for our feet when we stand or walk.
- ✔ Benefits of healthy, well-conditioned calves:
- ✔ They generate power in activities like running and jumping.
- ✔ They are often referred to as your “peripheral heart” because of the important role they play in pumping blood up from your feet through veins.
Calf muscles are susceptible to getting tight. Tight calves are very common and can limit the range of motion of your ankles and feet. You may also experience cramping, aches or pain in your lower legs and feet.
Are you experiencing calf pain or do your calves get tight? In this article, I will help you address common calf issues that can leave you sidelined or impede on your active lifestyle. These exercises are designed to be simple, practical and effective.
Before we start, our calves are located on the backside of your lower leg. Essentially, there are 3 muscles that make up your calf: gastrocnemius muscle, soleus muscle and posterior tibialis muscle.
The main function of your calf is to plantarflex the foot or point your toes downward.
Overuse of your calf muscles are a common cause of discomfort for people who run, cycle, jump or play a sport. This can be very painful and may even make walking difficult. Try these 6 exercises for calf pain and tight calves, if your looking to bring balance back to your lower legs.
The main function of your calf is to plantar flex the foot or point your toes downward.
Overuse of your calf muscles are a common cause of discomfort for people who run, cycle, jump or play a sport. This can be very painful and may even make walking difficult. Below are 6 exercises for calf pain and tight calves.
1. Self-Massage Your Calves (Self-Myofascial Release)
In this photo, I am demonstrating a self myofascial release technique for my calves. I’m using a lacrosse ball but a tennis ball works well, too. Place your opposite leg over the top to increase the pressure of the massage. A yoga block is not needed but I’ve found it’s easier to reach difficult areas. I usually notice instant relief and an increase in range of motion in my ankles. I feel lighter on my feet and springier on my toes. This helps me prepare my legs for activity.
- When doing this release, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- -Go very slowly and focus on tender areas.
- -You can move your foot slowly in multiple directions.
- -Focus on breathing calmly throughout, especially if this is uncomfortable for you.
- -Hold each tender spot for about 5-10 seconds or until you can relax.
- -After you’re done with one leg, WALK AROUND! Notice the difference. Then move onto your other leg.
TIP: Do this release BEFORE stretching physical activity.
2. Warm Up Your Calves
I always jump rope before playing basketball because it helps me prepare my calves and feet for running and jumping. This also gets my heart rate up, keeps me alert and on my toes.
Try including this activity into your workouts as intervals in between sets. You can do it from almost anywhere and it’s really fun. Before you start, set a timer or a goal jump count to help push you! This will increase the intensity of your workouts and improve your cardiorespiratory endurance.
- Other benefits of jumping rope are:
- -improves muscle elasticity (spring-back effect) reducing the risk of injury
- -improves coordination with feet, hands through rhythm, timing and cadence.
- -improves nervous system function
- -improves strength and endurance of lower leg muscles.
3. Strengthen Your Calves
Straight Leg Calf Raise
Bent Leg Calf Raise
You may not be paying enough attention to your calves.There are many benefits to having strong (and flexible) calves. These 2 exercises help increase strength in your calves.
- Here are 5 tips:
- -Focus on lifting your heels as high as you can off the floor.
- -Briefly pause (for 1 second) before returning your heels toward the floor.
- -Use your toes as much as possible.
- -Keep your back straight and look forward.
- -Breathe calmly throughout.
Depending on your level, try between 1-3 sets of 10-15 reps for each exercise.
4. Climb Stairs
For the last month, I’ve been consistent with climbing stairs twice a week for 20 minutes. I’ve noticed my calves and quads have felt stronger and my endurance has improved. Compliment your sport or activity you enjoy doing with a consistent stair routine. This is a fun way to challenge your cardio system and increase strength and endurance in your legs calf muscles. Before you start, I recommend setting a goal to accomplish each time.
- Next time you take the stairs, think of these 4 health benefits:
- -Engages full body muscle systems
- -Improves balance
- -Efficient, low-impact workout
- -Boosts metabolism
5. Stretch Your Calves
This tool is called an Adjustable Slant Board. It helps me easily and effectively stretch my calves. If your calves are tight, it is most likely limiting your ankle range of motion. Restricted lower leg and ankle movement can mis-align your joints leading to pain and injuries. Do this stretch after a brief warm up (walking, jogging, biking, calf raises) or immediately following a workout or run. Make sure you hold each stretch for a MINIMUM of 30 seconds.
- Benefits of a consistent calf flexibility routine:
- -Increased circulation
- -Increased range of motion in the foot in ankle
- -Helps prevent Achilles tendinitis, shin splints and plantar fasciitis
- -Reduced leg cramps frequency
6. Recovery for Calves
You don’t have to be in pain or injured to ice/cold bath your body. Cold therapy helps speed up the healing process of sore muscles. I’ve found that when I apply ice or cold water to my feet and calves immediately after a challenging workout or run, it helps me recover faster. Try soaking feet/calves for 10-15 minutes after your next run or intense workout. Notice the decrease of soreness in your lower legs.
TIP: If you are a beginner to ice baths, only use cold water. Once you develop a tolerance for cold water, you can add a small amount of ice.