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January 05, 2022 6 min read

If you've ever had tight calves, you know how annoying and sometimes painful it can be when working out or even just walking around. Some of the more common causes of calf tightness is overuse, underuse, or a deeper medical problem, such as a muscle tear. Unless it's a more serious problem, tight calves aren't normally a huge cause for concern, but they shouldn't go unnoticed.  

Research suggests that tight calves can affect balance and gait ability, and one of the reasons is the way it affects your ankles. Range of motion in the ankle can be affected by the calf muscles, and if it is limited by tightness, it can increase the risk of calf pain, injuries, falls, and poor function. 

The calves can not only affect the ankles, but they can also affect the hamstrings, hips, knees, and even the lower back. To help prevent bigger issues from arising, stretching the calves is essential. People often neglect to stretch the calves, but weightlifters and everyone in between can benefit from it. 

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What is Calf Rolling? 

Calf rolling is a self-myofascial release stretching technique that is most commonly used with a foam roller, lacrosse ball, or barbell to help relieve muscle tension, increase blood flow, and improve function and flexibility. It's essentially a deep tissue self-massage that you don't have to go to the massage therapist for. 

Self-myofascial release includes applying body weight pressure to the tight spots with a foam roller, or a similar object, and the goal is to target the trigger points of the area. The name comes from the act of stretching the muscle fascia, connective tissue that can tighten when stressed.

You can calf roll almost anywhere as long as you have the necessary equipment and the knowledge of how to get the most out of it. Calf rolling can help release tension and knots in your calves, which could help improve lifts and reduce the risk of injuries.  

Calf Rolling

Benefits of Calf Rolling 

One of the advantages of calf rolling is its accessibility. A foam roller is inexpensive and can be used in the comfort of your home or tossed in your gym bag after a lift. Aside from convenience, the benefits of foam rolling the calves are physical as well. 

Improved Blood Flow 

Many dangers can come from poor blood flow including slower recovery time and the more serious risk of cardiovascular problems.

Studies suggest that manually applying pressure on tissues, such as in foam rolling, circulation can increase. Increased circulation applied to exercise can lead to less muscle fatigue, improved range of motion, and decreased DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). 

Shorter Calf Strain Recovery Period

Since calf rolling has the ability to release muscle tension and increase blood flow, it can help lessen the recovery period for calf strain injuries. Calf strains can be common in athletes, and in some cases, can prevent them from competing for months. To help enhance recovery, foam rolling is a popular technique used. However, some more serious cases may require help from a physical therapist. 

Improved Range of Motion 

Your calf muscles, the gastrocnemius, and the soleus attach to the Achilles tendon. If these muscles are tight, it can affect your ankle range of motion and can put you at a greater risk of an injury. The Achilles tendon is responsible for lifting your heel off the ground, such as in running or walking, so if the range of motion is limited, it can also affect your performance.  

Helps Prevent Plantar Fasciitis 

Plantar Fasciitis refers to inflammation of the tissue in the bottom of the foot and can be caused by overuse or, studies suggest, that a tight gastrocnemius muscle may lead to plantar fasciitis. This inflammation can be painful when exercising or walking. If left untreated, plantar fasciitis can cause imbalances by walking abnormally, which may lead to back pain. Calf rolling can help loosen this tight muscle group and help prevent this injury. 

Helps Prevent Shin Splints 

If you've experienced shin splints, you know how uncomfortable and sometimes painful they can be. Often caused by repeated high-impact exercises, they can also be caused by tight calves. People often associate shin splints with running, but if your calves are tight, that can affect your ankle mobility. Poor ankle mobility can negatively affect your squat form, which can cause shin splints. 

Improved Ankle Stability 

When weightlifting, the stability from your ankles is just as important as the stability from the rest of your body. Stable ankles can help provide a sturdy base to produce more force from, ultimately helping you lift heavier weight. Olympic lifts like the snatch and clean and jerk require stable ankles to help produce force and prevent injury.

How to Calf Roll

Rolling back and forth may seem simple, but with this technique, you want to make sure you know how to foam roll to avoid aimlessly rolling around. Perform with a foam roller object for the standard version, but for the more advanced, use a barbell. 

Calf Rolling

STANDARD VERSION:

  1. Seated on the ground with a foam roller, place the bell of your calves onto the roller.
  2. Slowly roll the roller up and down over the muscle tissue by pushing yourself off the ground with your hands. Allow the point of contact to just be the roller on calves.

Weighted plates can be applied on your shin area to further increase the pressure being applied to the back of your calf and deeper penetration of the roller (allowing better break up of muscle tissue). A cushion or yoga mat can be placed between your legs and plate for comfort.

ADVANCED VERSION: 

Follow the same guidelines you would for the standard roller above. 

  1. Place a straight bar on the ground, such as a bench bar or a preset curling bar. The bar must be elevated at least 3-4 inches off the ground to allow for heel clearance. 

There will be much less surface area with all the same pressure making contact with your calf muscle, meaning the tension will feel much greater, allowing for deeper penetration into the muscle and an advanced breakup of tight muscle. This can be potentially painful and harmful to individuals not performing it safely and correctly, so it is advised to do what best suits you.

When to Foam Roll 

We know you're excited to get rolling, but it's important to know when the best time to calf roll for optimal results. One of the more popular beliefs is foam rolling before the warm-up can help increase blood flow for your lifts and foam rolling after can help enhance recovery.  

Studies suggest that foam rolling before your workout may provide little to no change in performance, but it may help increase short-term flexibility. Whereas, foam rolling after your workout may help increase muscle recovery as well as strength performance.   

Another study suggests that foam rolling before a workout may have no effect on athletic performance aside from relaxing the mind and body.

By these theories, it seems foam rolling after your workout may produce greater benefits to help sore muscles, blood flow, and performance. Neither of these studies stated if there was a best foam roller to use, so whether you're using a barbell or a lacrosse ball, this foam roller exercise may still be beneficial.   

Weightlifters and Their Calves         

If you're a weightlifter, you may know that lifting heavy weights is only part of what gets you to those goals. The other part is proper recovery and stretching. The calves are a muscle often neglected when stretching because maybe the hamstrings need to be stretched more, or you just didn't have the time to stretch today. 

It's crucial to make time for stretching and foam rolling in your routine to help prevent other more serious problems other than sore muscles. Know that foam rolling is beneficial, but it should in no way replace physical therapy if that's what's needed. 

So, next time you're in the gym, make sure to set aside time to foam roll and stretch after your workout. Your body will thank you now and later.

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