Strong calf muscles absorb shock from exercises that involve the legs, such as running. The gastrocnemius and soleus calf muscles give shape to the lower leg. When these muscles become shortened or tight, your bone and muscle health can be affected from your feet to your shoulders, with tension, strain and weakening of the Achilles tendon. Selected exercises stretch calf muscles and make them stronger, even when you have an ankle injury. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.
Muscles need to warm up before exertion for greatest benefit and to decrease the chances of injury and muscle soreness. When ankle injuries or strains are present, warm up your calf muscles with a few minutes of aerobic exercise such as stationary biking or the rowing machine if you must stay off your ankles, or the elliptical if you can bear weight on your ankles but should reduce impact. Follow with a few minutes of light stretching.
Useful as warm-up or cool-down exercises to release tightness, self-myofascial release exercises require a foam roller, tennis ball or similar equipment for proper execution. Seated on the floor with a straight back, tight core and legs extended straight ahead with toes pointed up, cross your legs at the ankles and place a foam roller or ball under the calf at the back of the ankle. Lift your body off the floor with arms extended close to your sides and slide your body forward, rolling the ball or foam roller slowly up to your knee. Stop if you hit a tender area and maintain pressure until the pain subsides by at least 50 percent. Slowly continue to identify and release tender areas until it is possible to roll the entire length from ankle to knee without discomfort. Repeat on the other calf. Self-myofascial release should not be performed if varicose veins or injury are present.
Calf stretches rehabilitate strained calf muscles without using the ankles. A bath towel is the only equipment needed. Sit on the floor with one leg stretched straight ahead with a towel looped around the ball of your foot. Keep your knee straight and pull the towel toward you. Hold the tension for 20 to 30 seconds. Relax. Perform a total of three repetitions on each calf.
Yoga Calf Stretch
The Reclining Big Toe pose, as described by "Yoga Journal," stretches calf muscles without bending the ankles. Lying on your back, bend one knee up to your chest and loop a strap over the arch of your foot. Press upward with your foot until your leg is perpendicular to the floor. Walk your hands up the strap toward your foot, creating tension on the calf muscles. Rotate your leg from the hip joint as far to the side and toward your head as possible. Slightly loosen your grip and bring the leg back to perpendicular. Work each leg for one to three minutes.
- University of Wisconsin-Madison: University Health Services: Calf Strain Rehabilitation Exercises
- Ask the Trainer: Best Calf Exercises
- University of California, San Francisco: Department of Orthopaedic Surgery: Ankle and Foot
- University of New Hampshire: Healthy UNH: High Heels: High Fashion or High Risk?
- The University of Maine: Education and Human Development: Athletic Training
- The Flexibility Coach: Ten Ways to Stretch Tight Calf Muscles
- Yoga Journal: Reclining Big Toe Pose
For Judy Kilpatrick, gardening is the best mental health therapy of all. Combining her interests in both of these fields, Kilpatrick is a professional flower grower and a practicing, licensed mental health therapist. A graduate of East Carolina University, Kilpatrick writes for national and regional publications.