Aerobics workouts challenge your endurance and help you maximize oxygen consumption while burning calories. Most aerobics programs, including dance-based workouts and step aerobics, require you to spend the majority of class stepping, standing and moving on your feet. While your leg muscles will benefit from this strength challenge, you might also experience discomfort in your calves. Learn to distinguish normal soreness from pain that might indicate a more serious injury.
A day or two after an intense aerobic workout, you may feel a dull soreness in your calves. Microscopic tears in your muscle fibers cause this discomfort known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). According to the American College of Sports Medicine, DOMS typically begins 12 to 24 hours after completing an intense exercise like step aerobics, with soreness peaking 24 to 72 hours after the activity. While your muscle soreness should go away as your muscles heal and recover, you can temporarily ease your symptoms by applying ice or massage therapy to your sore calves.
Sudden sharp pain in your calf during or following your aerobics workout could indicate you have strained your soleus or gastrocnemius -- the muscles on the back of your leg that connect your knee with your Achilles tendon. Bruising and swelling may accompany calf muscle strains, which occur when you overstretch or push off the ground suddenly. Doctors grade calf strains on a scale of one to three based on their severity. See your doctor for recommendations on treatment which will likely include a regimen of rest, ice and elevation. A sports injury professional can recommend a rehabilitation program for your calf strain involving stretching and strengthening exercises for your lower legs.
The pain you feel in your calves after aerobics might also be a symptom of Achilles tendinitis, a common overuse injury. The Achilles tendon connects your heel and ankle with your calf and takes a beating when you perform jumping and bouncing actions repeatedly as in many aerobics classes. Sufferers of Achilles tendinitis often feel a dull ache in the back of their legs along with a stiffness in the calves and Achilles tendon. If you experience persistent pain in the Achilles tendon and calves, see your doctor for a full diagnosis and treatment plan. Achilles tendinitis can heal on its own with plenty of rest and ice, though severe cases may require further medical treatments. Alternating your high-impact aerobics classes with low-impact exercises like swimming and cycling can help prevent Achilles tendinitis, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Preventing Calf Pain
If calf pain persistently plagues your workouts, consider making changes to your aerobics routine. Give your muscles time to rest and repair between high-impact workouts, and always wear supportive shoes designed for cross-training while doing aerobics. Thoroughly warming up before your workout, cooling down afterward and stretching regularly can also reduce your risk of injury.
Sarah Badger is a certified pilates and group fitness instructor, writer and dance teacher. Her work has appeared in "Dance Spirit" magazine and several literary journals. Badger earned her bachelor's degree in English and religious studies from Marymount Manhattan College, and currently owns a dance and fitness studio in upstate New York.