How To Strengthen & Stretch Calf Muscles

How To Strengthen & Stretch Calf Muscles

The calf consists of the Gastrocnemius and Soleus muscles. These two muscles work together to plantar flex the foot and flex the knee, which is necessary to move forward in walking and running. It is not uncommon to have soreness and tiredness in the calves after a long day of work and activity.

Calves

You can take precautions to strengthening and stretching calf muscles to reduce fatigue and improve recovery.

Farmer’s Walk (on tip toes)

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells on both hands
  • Make sure you stand up tall, and go on your tip toes
  • Walk for 60 seconds, do this 3 times a day
  • Forgo the weights if it is too challenging, or increase the weight if it gets easy.

Strengthening Exercises

Heel Raises

  • Probably the most basic, yet effective exercise
  • Start on a step with your toes at the edge
  • Drop your heels and go onto your tip toes
  • Do this 3 sets of 15 – 20 repetitions
  • Make sure you are balanced against the wall, and it is a solid step to prevent falling
  • Beginners: start with seated calf raises, eventually progressing to even ground
  • Intermediate: single calf raises, gradually adding weight to yourself (i.e. backpack with books)

Stretching Exercises

Before you start doing these, here are some tips to be aware of:

  • Do not bounce! This is called ballistic stretching and it over stretches the muscle into a position that it may not be ready for.
  • You should lean until you feel a light stretch in the muscle you are targeting, then hold it for the appropriate time.
  • The next rep that you do, it will be able to go further, and with regular stretching, you will improve range of motion

Gastrocnemius Stretch

(see A)

  • Stand with one foot in front of you and the other at the back, feet facing forward
  • Make sure both feet are flat on the ground
  • Bend the front knee forward while keeping the back knee straight
  • You should feel a stretch in the Gastrocnemius, which will be around the mid-upper portion of the muscle
  • Hold this position for 30-45seconds, 3 reps, twice a day

Soleus Stretch

(see B)

  • Same position as the Gastrocnemius stretch, but this time both knees should be bent
  • You will feel the stretch go lower in the calf
  • Hold for 30 – 45 seconds each time, 3 reps, twice a day

Towel/Band Calf Stretch

  • Sit on the ground or have your leg extended straight up on a chair or coffee table
  • Loop a towel or resistance band around the ball of your foot and hold on to the ends
  • Pull the foot into flexion towards you
  • If you lean forward, you can also get a bit of stretch into the hamstrings
  • Hold for 30 – 45 seconds each time, 3 reps, twice a day

Remember, these are simple exercises that should be done regularly, especially when you have a job that requires you to stand for an extended period of time. Yes, it does take time out of your day and may feel like a hassle, but it is something you can do to assist with your muscle health. Try fitting these exercises and stretches into your daily routine, such as after a walk or run.

Mei Poon, C.Ped (C)
Kintec Pedorthist

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