Tight Calves: How To Relieve Tight Calves

The last thing you want, is an injury or tight muscles hindering your performance. If you have tight calves, it can make those box jumps and doubleunders painful and limit your ability to work out. Discover the causes and effective ways to alleviate tight calves, optimizing your workout performance.

Calf Muscles 

The calves are composed of two different muscles that work together to give your toes and feet mobility - the gastrocnemius, the large part often referred to as the calf muscle, and the less noticeable soleus lying underneath it. Your calves connect to the posterior aspect of you knee and heel. Surprisingly, a small muscle named the plantaris also lies between the gastrocnemius muscle and soleus, but only about 10% of people possess it.

What Causes Tight Calves 

The two most common causes of tight calves are overuse and underuse.

When your calves have a limited amount of movement, or range of motion throughout the day, (I.e. sitting at desk or working remote) your calves amongst other muscles in your body can become tight. Your shoes also play a significant role in your calf tension. High heels for example and stiff running shoes, can limit your range of motion. When your calves are in a limited range of motion and the foot is not allowed to efficiently roll from the heel to the ball of the foot, your muscle fibers become acclimated to a shortened lengthening in movement. With restricted movement, muscles can become tighter and more tense.

The problem with tight calves, is that it can severely limit your ankle mobility and can lead to more serious issues with your exercise form and inhibit your movement in training.

Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, knee pain, plantar fasciitis can all originate from tight calf muscles.

Overuse, or repetitive use can place stress on your calves, especially when you ramp up workout intensity, frequency, and duration. This is often attributed to overtraining.

Tight calves can lead to calf strains.

A muscle strain is defined as muscle fibers that have been overstretched or torn. When you increase workout volume, especially with high velocity movements, tight calves can result in muscle strain, which can create pain.

Severity of strains are rated by grades, and are distinguished as follows

  • Grade I Strain- mild, resulting in muscle tenderness and mild pain. 
  • Grade II Strain- more moderate damage with more muscle fibers being affected resulting in more significant pain, swelling, and tenderness to touch. 
  • Grade II Strain- severe damage to the entire muscle, considerable pain, swelling, and discoloration, with limited to no range of motion.

How To Treat Tight Calves - Calf Stretches

1. Inch Worms 

A great dynamic and standing calf stretch are inch worms. Dynamic stretches are a controlled movement which adequately preps or warms up your muscles, as opposed to a static stretch, which is achieving a certain range of motion and holding that position. Placing your hands directly in front of your toes, inch worms move from a standing position, and walk your hands no front of you until you’re in plank position. From there you reverse and walk your hands back.

How To Do Inch Worms

  • Start standing with feet hips-width apart.
  • Hinge at the hips to fold forward, reaching your palms to the floor in front of you.
  • With your core braced and legs straight (but not locked), walk your hands forward to come to a high plank position.
  • Pause, then reverse the movement to walk your hands back to your feet and stand to return to starting position.

2. Downward Dog  

Similar to the inch worm, downward dog is a remarkable and effective calf stretch. The down dog pose is a static stretch that elevates the hips and effectively stretches the hamstrings and calves to alleviate tightness and tension in the posterior chain.

How To Do Downward Dog

  • Start by standing with feet shoulder width apart
  • Place your arms straight down in front of your toes and get on all fours in a tabletop position.
  • Walk your hands out and lift hips up and back, gently straightening legs to move into downward dog.
  • Bend both knees slightly, reaching your tailbone and pelvis toward the ceiling and belly button tucked
  • Hold for 10 seconds, trying to lift and set your heel all the way on the ground.

3. Standing Calf Stretch

The standing calf stretch is perhaps the most common and well-known stretch to quickly loosen up tight calves. A simple flexion to the balls of your toes, will contract your calf muscles and help with any increased tension. 

How To Standing Calf Stretch

  • Standing and leaning against a wall, slowly roll unto the ball of your foot.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then slowly release and come back down.
  • Repeat this movement for 15-20 reps and switch sides.

4. Double Seated Calf Raise

The seated calf stretch is a popular exercise that can also be performed with the added challenge of weights. There are other calf stretches that can also be used as calf exercises, including the standing calf stretch or raise and the seated calf stretch or raise.

How To Double Calf Stretch

  • Sitting on a bench slowly roll unto the ball of both feet at the same time.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then slowly release and come back down.
  • Repeat this movement for 15-20 reps and switch sides.

Tight Calves: Takeaway

Sitting at a desk all day, or overtraining can contribute to tight calves, which can eminently lead to injury. If you feel like you have tight calves, stand up and take a walk, or give your body enough time to recover, before you get back hitting the pavement and running 


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