The calf muscles deserve relaxing stretches after a full day of supporting you as you walk, run and play. These muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus, make up the backs of the lower legs. The soleus is the deepest calf muscle underneath the gastrocnemius, and is best stretched when your knee is bent. Stretching the soleus improves ankle flexibility. A short, tight soleus limits the range of motion in the ankle, since the soleus connects to the Achilles tendon on the bottom of your lower leg, which connects to your heel bone. The soleus contracts to point your toes and relaxes to flex your foot. Stretching also reduces muscle fatigue and soreness.
Kneel on the floor with your knees under your hips. Rest the tops of your feet on the floor.
Slide your right foot underneath you. Place your right foot flat on the floor, slightly behind your right knee.
Lower your hips toward your left heel and lean slightly forward with your hands on the floor. Maintain this position for 30 to 60 seconds. Breathe normally and feel the stretch in the back of your lower right leg.
Slowly release by raising your hips. Return to a kneeling position. Repeat the stretch on your left leg.
Calf stretching is more effective after the muscles are warm. Walk, dance, climb stairs, or cycle for at least five minutes before you stretch.
Soleus stretches are safe to do on a daily basis, but speak with your doctor before you begin any exercise program.
Stand facing a wall. Keep your feet parallel and your toes facing the wall. Place your hands on the wall at shoulder-height for balance.
Step back approximately 1 to 2 feet with your right foot. Keep both feet flat on the floor. Shift more of your weight onto your right leg.
Bend both knees toward the wall until you feel the stretch in the back of your lower right leg. Maintain this position for 30 to 60 seconds. Breathe normally.
Return to a standing position and repeat on your left leg.
A mother of two and passionate fitness presenter, Lisa M. Wolfe had her first fitness article published in 2001. She is the author of six fitness books and holds an Associate of Arts in exercise science from Oakland Community College. When not writing, Wolfe is hula-hooping, kayaking, walking or cycling.