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May 03, 2023 8 min read

Inactivity or overuse can both lead to tight calf muscles. The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles make up the calf, and they are used for any movement involving the knee and ankle, such as standing, walking, running, or exercising. Even without a calf strain, tight muscles can be painful.

If you are in a sedentary position for long periods of time, the muscle fibers in your calves are not being used and can become tight. Similarly, wearing high heels restricts the movement of the calf muscles and can cause tightness. On the other hand, if you are very active, or doing strength training, your calves can become tight due to the strain of so much work.

The Muscles of the Calves

The calf muscle is composed of two main muscles: the gastrocnemius and soleus, which join above the heel and link to the Achilles tendon, leading some to refer to them as one large muscle with two sections.

A small muscle known as the plantaris, which runs between the two larger muscles down the length of the lower leg, is also sometimes present, forming what is often referred to as the triceps Surea.

Gastrocnemius and Soleus Muscles – Image from Shutterstock

The primary calf muscles are:

Gastrocnemius

The gastrocnemius muscle can be observed close to the skin at the back of the lower leg, comprising a large part of the calf muscle. It has two heads that originate from the inside and outside of the femur.

This muscle stretches down to the Achilles tendon and is prone to strain due to its connection to both the knee and ankle joints.

Soleus

The soleus is a broad and flat muscle located underneath the gastrocnemius. It begins just beneath your knee joint and runs downwards along your lower leg before attaching to the Achilles tendon near your heel.

This muscle only crosses the ankle joint, making soleus injuries less frequent. Further, it helps in the movement of your legs for walking, running, and jumping, and also supports your posture.

What is the Function of the Calves?

Your calf muscle is responsible for allowing you to move your lower leg and foot and for providing stability when you stand.

It is also capable of producing movement by propelling you forward when you walk or run, and by giving you the ability to jump, rotate your ankle, and flex your foot. Furthermore, it helps to “lock” your knee in place.

How Can Stretches Help with Tight Calf Muscles?

To prevent or decrease calf tension, both static stretches (which involve keeping the stretch in one position) and dynamic stretches (which involve actively moving in the stretch) can be effective.

Before beginning, it is important to do a short activity like a three to five-minute warm-up walk to help with blood circulation in the muscles and allow for a deeper stretch that is less likely to cause injury.

The American College of Sports Medicine suggests holding a static stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeating it three to five times on each side. Doing dynamic stretches such as calf raises, with or without dumbbells, such as single-leg calf raises, may also be beneficial.

Furthermore, calf stretches can be beneficial for relieving the symptoms of plantar fasciitis, as the calf muscles and plantar fascia are connected and work together in the foot and ankle

Stretches for Sore Calves

1. Downward Dog

This is a classic yoga pose that you can adapt to the perfect calf stretch. In fact, the downward dog will stretch all your leg muscles and your glutes.

Starting position:

Position your body on your hands and knees, with your palms on the floor/mat and your knees below your hips.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Keep your back straight, like a tabletop.

  2. Curl your toes under and press your palms into the floor.

  3. Exhale as you lift your knees and lower body, making an upside-down V shape with your body.

  4. Your chest should be facing your thighs and your gaze towards your feet.

  5. Inhale and draw your belly button in and hold for 30 seconds.

  6. Release the pose and return to the starting position.

Repeat 5 to 10 times.

2. Wall Lunge Calf Stretch

Starting position:

Stand facing a wall with your hands resting on the wall at about shoulder height.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Take a step back with your left foot, keeping both feet flat on the ground and facing forward.

  2. Keep your left leg straight and bend your front knee slightly.

  3. Lean forward, pressing your hips toward the wall until you feel a stretch in the calf muscle of your back leg.

  4. Hold the stretch for 15–30 seconds.

  5. Do 3 reps before you switch legs and do the same stretch, with your right leg stretched behind you.

  6. Make sure to do the same number of repetitions with each leg.

Remember to breathe deeply and evenly throughout the stretch.

3. Double Wall Calf Stretch

Starting position:

Stand about an arm’s length away from a wall, facing it. Place your feet together.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Raise both arms straight out in front of you and place the palms of your hands against the wall.

  2. Slowly walk your feet backward away from the wall, keeping your arms straight and your palms against the wall.

  3. Walk back until you can feel the stretch in your calves, keeping your feet flat and your heels on the floor.

  4. Take care not to push back with your hips. Your body should form a straight line throughout.

  5. Breathe normally and hold the position for 30 seconds.

  6. Carefully walk your feet back to the starting position.

Repeat the movement 5 to 10 times.

4. Toes on the Wall Calf Stretch

Starting position:

Find a clear wall space and stand facing the wall. Your feet should be hip-width apart, and your hands should be resting on the wall at shoulder height.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Take a small step back with your left foot, keeping your heel flat on the ground.

  2. Lift your right foot off the ground and place your toes against the wall, keeping your heel on the ground.

  3. Slowly begin to lean forward, keeping your hands on the wall and your left foot stationary.

  4. Continue to lean forward until you feel a stretch in your right calf. Hold this position for 20–30 seconds.

  5. Repeat the stretch on the other side by stepping back with your right foot and placing the toes of your left foot on the wall.

Repeat this stretch several times on each leg, taking care not to overstretch or push yourself beyond your limits.

5. Heel Drop Calf Stretch

This stretch uses gravity, and you’ll need a step, a box, the edge of a treadmill, or even a curb if you’re out running.

Starting Position:

Start by finding a sturdy platform or step that is about 6 to 8 inches high. Make sure the surface is flat and not slippery.

Stand with your toes, not the balls of your feet, on the edge of the step and your heels hanging off the edge. Your feet should be hip-width apart and parallel to each other.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Engage your core, and slowly lower your heels toward the ground until you feel a stretch in your calf muscles. Keep your knees straight.

  2. You can use your hands to support yourself on a nearby wall or railing if necessary.

  3. Hold the stretch for 15–30 seconds, or until you feel a good stretch in your calves.

  4. Slowly lift your heels back up to the starting position, as if on tiptoes.

  5. Repeat the stretch for 2–3 sets of 10–15 repetitions.

NOTE

The movement should be controlled and slow. Avoid bouncing or jerking movements while stretching, as it can lead to injury. If you experience excessive calf pain, it would be wise to seek medical advice.

6. Dorsiflexion Stretch with Resistance Band

You will need a resistance band for this stretch.

Starting Position:

Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Anchor the resistance band securely around the foot of a heavy piece of furniture.

  2. Hook the other end over your right foot.

  3. Pull the toes of your right foot toward your body.

  4. Slowly relax that foot and return to the starting position.

  5. Repeat that movement 10 times.

  6. Switch the resistance band to your left foot and repeat the dorsiflex calf stretch.

7. Towel Calf Stretch

You will need a hand towel for this stretch.

Starting position:

Sit on the floor with both legs straight out in front of you, maintaining a straight back throughout.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Loop the hand towel around the ball of your right foot, holding both ends of the towel.

  2. Keep your legs straight and pull the towel toward your body.

  3. Hold the position for 30 seconds, and then relax for a further 30 seconds.

  4. Repeat the stretch three to five times

  5. Loop the towel over your left foot and repeat the same number of reps.

8. Plantar Flexion Stretch

You will need a resistance band for this stretch.

Starting position:

Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Wrap one end of the resistance band around your right foot, and grab the opposite end.

  • Gently point your toes forward against the resistance of you holding the resistance band.

  • Slowly relax the right foot and return to the starting position.

Repeat that movement 10 times.

9. Lunges

By stretching your calves, this bodyweight exercise can also increase the range of motion in your knees and ankles. Lunges are also effective hamstring stretches.

Starting Position:

Stand upright with your shoulders down and your back straight.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Place your hands on your hips and engage your core. You can also hold on to a sturdy table or counter if you have balance issues.

  2. Take a giant step — about 2 to 3 feet — forward with your right leg.

  3. Bend the knee of your front leg to a 90-degree angle as you lower your body. Your right knee should not go past your toes.

  4. Feel the stretch in your left calf as you lower into the lunge. Press the ball of your left foot into the floor to deepen the stretch.

  5. Hold the lunge for 15 to 30 seconds before you stand and return to the starting position.

Repeat 2 to 4 times before switching to your left leg.

10. Standing Bent-Over Calf Stretch

The standing calf stretch requires balance and flexibility in your hamstrings and lower back. So, beginners should ease into this move.

Starting Position:

Start in a split stance with your right foot about 12 inches in front of your left foot. Your feet should be staggered, not directly in front of each other.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Keep your right leg straight as you fold your upper body forward from the hips, with your back knee bent.

  2. Grab your right foot, just under your toes.

  3. Pull your toes up gently until you feel the stretch in your calves.

  4. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds before returning to the upright position.

  5. Repeat the bent-over calf stretch on the other side.

Additional Tip to Reduce Calf Soreness

Healthcare professionals, physical therapists, and CPTs agree that soreness in the calves can be reduced by using a foam roller on your calves after body workout sessions.

Foam Roller Calf Exercise – Image from Shutterstock

Here’s how to do it:

  1. To foam roll, your calves, place the foam roller on the ground and sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.

  2. Place one calf on top of the roller and use your hands to lift your hips off the ground.

  3. Roll up and down the length of your calf, focusing on any particularly sore or tight spots.

  4. Repeat on the other calf.

Conclusion

Stretching the calf muscles is an important part of any exercise routine. By regularly performing these 10 stretches, you can help to keep your calf muscles flexible and increase their range of motion.

This will help to reduce the risk of injury, as well as repair posture imbalances. Additionally, stretching your calf muscles can help to reduce pain and increase your overall sense of well-being.

You can further benefit from Charged-AF – a high-intensity and focus pre workout designed to amplify energy, alertness, strength, and stamina.

So, take the time to incorporate these 10 best calves stretches into your daily routine and enjoy the benefits of healthier, happier calf muscles.

Although physical therapy can relieve calf muscle soreness, daily stretches can prevent such discomfort.