Stretching for the Calf Muscles

Wearing high heels can shorten the calf muscles, making them tighter over time.
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If you’re zipping through your stretch routine – or skipping it altogether – you might be missing a muscle that can keep you on your toes. Tight calves, caused by repetitive use, wearing high heels or excessive sitting, are associated with pain and dysfunction throughout the leg and foot. Just a few stretches for your calf muscles can improve flexibility in your ankles and feet, helping you to stand tall.

Major Calf Muscles

The calf is made up of two major muscles: the gastrocnemius and soleus. The gastrocnemius starts just behind the knee and connects to the Achilles tendon. It has two heads, medial and lateral, that have a diamond shape when developed. Its primary purpose is to raise the heel. The soleus lies below the gastrocnemius in the lower part of the calf. It’s used when lifting the heel when the knee is bent.

Gastrocnemius Stretch

A common stretch for the gastrocnemius is the wall stretch. Stand about a foot or two away from a wall. Press your hands against the wall, staggering your feet one in front of the other with the front knee slightly bent. Keeping the back heel on the ground, lean into the wall. If you can’t feel the stretch in the back of your calf, step back a little farther. If you need to stretch outside with no walls around, step onto a curb or step with the ball of your foot and let your heel drop. Lean forward to intensify the stretch.

Soleus Stretch

Both of the gastrocnemius stretches can be modified to stretch the soleus. For the wall stretch, bend the back knee slightly and shift your weight forward while performing the stretch, keeping your heel on the ground. This will move the stretch to the lower calf. If stretching on a step or curb, drop your heel and slightly bend the knee of the same leg. The gastrocnemius and soleus stretches can be performed back to back.

Stretching Tips

Whenever you stretch, make sure that your muscles are already warm, ideally after a workout or at least five to 10 minutes of light activity. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds, repeating the stretch about three or four times. Avoid bouncing since it can cause further tears in the muscle, increasing tightness. Stretch just until the point where you feel tension in the muscle, not pain. If you feel pain, gradually release the stretch until the pain is gone.

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