Rehabilitation & Recovery

5 Easy Calf Stretching Exercises To Reduce Tight Muscles

calf stretching exercises

If you suffer from tight calf muscles, you’re not alone.  Whilst it’s usually harmless, this common complaint can be caused by several things such as sitting for long periods, overuse and sometimes injury.  

If tightness to the back of your lower leg isn’t addressed, it can affect the mobility of the foot and ankle joints by limiting range of motion.  


Recommended Reading – 6 Best Exercises For Ankle Strength & Preventing Injury


Keeping the calf muscles flexible can help to prevent stiffness and prevent aches and pains whilst helping to improve blood flow. Over time it can also help to prevent issues such as plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonitis.  

In this article we’ll look at what tends to cause calf tightness and suggest some calf stretching and strengthening exercises that you can easily perform daily at home.  

What Causes Calf Tightness?

As mentioned above there are a few things that may be resulting in a tightness to your calf muscles.  Below are the most common. 

Poor Footwear

If you regularly wear shoes such as high heels this could be causing tight calves.  Any shoe that has a higher heel when compared to the front, limits the range of motion to your ankle joints.  The higher the heel, the less amount of mobility to your ankles.  By not putting your calf muscles through a normal range of movement causes the muscles to weaken.  

Another poor choice of footwear is flip flops. This is because your foot must work that much harder simply to keep the flip flops on your feet.  The arch of your foot changes along with the dynamic of your ankle, essentially your ankle cannot move as freely as it normally would.  This again can cause tightness to the muscle fibers of your calves.  

Sitting

If you spend a large part of you day sitting, whether that’s driving or seated at a desk, then this causes the muscles in your hips to shorten.  Not only can this cause limited mobility due to underuse of muscles and hip flexors, but it also translates to the calf muscles potentially resulting in stiffness.  This is something that happens overtime and can be further worsened by poor footwear which could exacerbate the issue.  

Running

Whilst running is a great form of cardiovascular exercise, if you find your calf muscles becoming tight afterwards, this could be a sign that you’re running with poor form or that your running shoes are less than adequate.  Running on the road is high impact and it’s essential that your footwear is up to the job.  Consider visiting a specialist running shop as they can advise on the best shoes taking into account your running style and the arch of your foot.

Calf Stretching Exercises

Below are some of the best calf exercises that could help to loosen up tight calves and improve mobility to the ankle and knee joints.  

Seated Calf Stretch

The seated calf muscle stretch is a good exercise to perform if you want to stretch out not just your calves but also the back of your knee and hamstrings.  

How To Perform A Seated Calf Stretch:

  1. Start by sitting on the ground, preferably on an exercise mat, and extend your legs out in front of you. 
  2. Take something such as a belt and hook this over the ball of your right foot. 
  3. Holding on to either end of the belt, slowly pull your foot towards you. You should feel a gentle stretch to the back of your lower leg.  
  4. Make sure you maintain a straight back and don’t be tempted to hunch over.
  5. To increase the intensity of the stretch, lean forwards very slightly.  
  6. Maintain this position for 20 seconds and repeat 3 times.  Then switch to the left leg.  

Calf Foam Roll

As the name suggests, you’ll need a foam roller for this exercise.  

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When performed correctly, this is a great way to massage the back of your calf, specifically your soleus muscle which is the lower, and deeper, part of the calf.  You can increase the weight on the roller by placing your free leg over the top of the leg to be worked.

How To Correctly Calf Foam Roll:

  1. Sit on the ground on an exercise mat with your legs outstretched. 
  2. Place your foam roller underneath the calf muscle of your right leg.  
  3. Place your left foot flat on the ground.
  4. Position your hands out to your sides to provide stability. This is your starting position.  
  5. From here, carefully move yourself backwards and forwards so the calf muscle moves along the roller.  
  6. Your body weight will apply tension to the calf muscles.

Gastrocnemius Muscle Stretch

The gastrocnemius is the largest part of the calf muscle and sits just beneath the skin.  It’s the part of the muscle group that gives the calves their shape. Sometimes called a wall stretch, this exercise is performed with no equipment necessary.  

How To Perform A Gastrocnemius Muscle Stretch:

  1. Start by facing a wall and rest your palms against it at shoulder height. 
  2. Take the leg you want to stretch out behind you so that it’s straight. 
  3. Ensure the front knee is bent.  
  4. With your toes pointing forwards, keep the back heel flat on the ground and then lean forwards.  
  5. Hold this stretch for around 20 seconds and perform 3 times before switching to the opposite leg.

Stair Stretch

The stair stretch is a body weight exercise that is a bit like a reverse calf raise.  Perform this exercise on your stairs or any other raised, and stable, surface.  

If you struggle to balance, it’s a good idea to work each leg at a time.  

  1. Start by standing on the edge of a stair so that you only rest on the balls of your feet. 
  2. Your heels should be hanging over the edge. 
  3. From here, drop down your lower legs so that your bodyweight stretches out the calves. 
  4. Hold this position for around 15 to 30 second.

Plantar Fascia Wall Stretch

This movement is designed to help stretch out the plantar fascia as well as the entire back of the lower leg.  

How To Perform A Plantar Fascia Wall Stretch:

  1. Start by standing in front of a wall. 
  2. Place your palms flat against the wall for support. 
  3. Move the working leg forward and rest the toes against the wall so that your foot is resting at approximately 45 degrees. 
  4. Keeping your heel flat on the ground, start to bend this knee and allow your upper body to move towards the wall. 
  5. You should feel a stretch to your calf and bottom of your foot. 
  6. Maintain this stretch for around 20 seconds and repeat 3 times before switching to the other foot.  

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Conclusion

By adding in some calf strength training exercises to your week, you can improve the flexibility of these muscles whilst helping to reduce the risk of injury, such as muscle tears and even lessen the chance of shin splints or muscle cramps.  As the calf muscle connects from the knee to the ankle, regular stretching can also improve mobility to these joints.  

For best results, remember to consider things such as footwear and how long you spend sitting during a day and try and address these if you can.  This will help prevent tightness from getting worse.  

If you’re unsure as to what could be causing tightness to your calf muscles and have any severe pain, seek the advice from a physical therapist or other healthcare provider.  

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