In the home or in a high-energy cycling class, upright stationary bikes are popular cardio machines. You can stand up, lean forward and pedal at high speeds. But those upright activities can place pressure on your calves. Recumbent bikes -- upright's reclining cousins -- are often found in physical therapy practices and are easier on the calves. Check with your doctor before using a stationary bike and if you have calf pain while exercising.
Strained Calves, the Facts
Clutch your calf, or that muscular area wedged behind your shinbone. Your calf muscles, or the larger gastrocnemius and smaller soleus muscles, connect below the knee and stop when they meld with the Achilles tendon. But muscles are like adhesive bandages -- stretch them too far and they'll snap. The calf muscles are no exception, even on a stationary bike. When leaning forward and pressing hard on the pedals, to increase your speed for instance, your heels may leave the pedal too quickly. That forceful upward motion can cause a strain.
Your Calves and Your Bike
Prevent strains by starting at the bottom -- your feet. Point your tootsies forward and unfurl your toes. Dressing your feet appropriately protects your calves as well. A pair of cross-trainers with arch and heel support work best. Scope out the heels, and grab a pair that will slightly elevate your heel. Some stationary bikes have toe clips to strap into for vigorous cycling. Prevent slipping feet and potential calf strains, and buy a set if you need to. Set your resistance or gear to its lowest setting and slowly advance. The higher the gear, the more exertion it'll take to press down on the pedal.
A Recipe for Discomfort
Skip your warm-up, hold a stretch too long or slack on your form, and you can bet your muscles will retaliate. Warming up rushes blood to your muscles and loosens ligaments. But don't make the mistake of holding static, 30-second stretches before biking. Think dynamically. Dynamic, or active, stretching follows a fluid stretch-release pattern. Active stretches are smooth, yet quick. Even the best stretching can't compensate for lousy ergonomics. Adjust your seat and recheck it each time you exercise. Raise or lower the seat so it sits level with your hip when standing next to the bike.
Stretch, Move, Prevent
Flexible muscles are best prepared to resist strains. Warm up for 10 minutes, or five if time's limited. Choose active stretches for your quads and hamstrings, that is, the thighs, glutes and calves. Calf raises, though, are straightforward and effective. Grip the back of a chair or wall and stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Kick your left foot back, keeping it raised a few inches, while lifting your right heel. Lift until your calf feels tight, then slowly drop your heel. Do 10 raises and switch feet. R.I.C.E. your calves if you do strain one. Get off your feet, ice the muscle, compress -- or wrap -- the injury and put your feet up. Phone your doctor if you're unable to walk or have weakness, you hear a popping sound or the pain doesn't improve.
Having studied at two top Midwestern universities, Catherine Field holds degrees in professional writing and patient safety. Writing since 2000, Field has worked with regional newspapers while publishing fiction online. She conducts medical communication research at a Midwestern medical institution and is slated to write a book based on her research findings.