Stretching your calves is very important. Having limber calves helps your knees and feet function optimally. Most people when they stretch their calves do a non-specific stretch for their Gastrocnemius muscle. This is the top layer of muscle in our calves. This muscle actually has two halves that make up the whole. There is a lateral (outside) and medial (inside) portion of the gastrocnemius muscle (see blog banner above). The typical stretch usually just gets the center portion of each part (Figure 1).
In order to get both sections of this muscle stretched, you are going to need to turn your foot (Figure 2).
There are three different ways that I recommend stretching your Gastrocnemius muscle. You can do downward dog which is a good choice because it is an easy way of localizing the foot turn to get the lateral and medial Gastrocnemius. Downward dog is also good because you can effectively stretch your hamstring muscles and strengthen your upper body at the same time. Everyone is looking for ways to save time and downward dog is a great way to doing a lot for your body in the least amount of time possible.
Another great way of stretching your calf is leaning into a wall like you are trying to push the wall over. Again, you are going to want to rotate your feet to get both sides of the Gastrocnemius (figure 2). The wall stretch is a good one to use if you’re not up for the intensity of downward dog. The last way to do this stretch is dropping your heel off of a step (figure 4).
This is my least favorite because it is hard to rotate your foot to get the whole Gastrocnemius muscle and it is easy to overdo it because you can get too much weight into the stretch. However, it is good for people that are so tight that the specificity of rotating the foot isn’t necessary yet, or for people that are having leg issues on the opposite side from the leg that is getting stretch. For example: I’m stretching my right calf and my left ankle is broken, for people with this sort of problem the stair stretch is very useful because you don’t need the other leg for support.
There is another part of the calf that gets over looked. It is the soleus muscle (see blog banner above). In order to localize a stretch in this muscle, do downward dog or the wall stretch and bend your knee (see figure 5).
The soleus muscle links into the achilles tendon just like the gastrocnemius does, so for anyone that is having achilles pain or plantar fasciitis pain, it is imperative that you stretch this muscle too.
Your ankle should be able to bend 20 degrees up and 50 degrees down (see figure 6). This is an average but it is still a good guideline for seeing if you have the flexibility that you should.
You should hold each stretch (three in total) for seven breaths. As you breath in, focus on expanding the muscle. As you breath out, focus on trying to get a little deeper into the stretch.
What do you do if you still can’t get the stretch you need?
- A massage therapist can localize knots in your muscle. This will help release fibers in the muscle that might be preventing you from getting a full stretch.
- A physical therapist or chiropractor can help work with you specifically on your biomechanics.
- If you feel like you can’t get the full stretch because there is a something that feels like it is stopping you in the front of your ankle, your best bet is to see a chiropractor. Most likely there is a bone in there called the talus that isn’t sitting quite right and it needs an adjustment.