Our calves are not only some of the most difficult muscles to properly develop - they're also one of the most common sources of athletic aches and pains. Many runners and other sports enthusiasts find themselves suffering with sore shins and throbbing calf muscles after a particularly tough workout, and the best way to reduce your chance of injury is to learn how to stretch and strengthen the tissues properly.
Armed with a set of calf compression sleeves to help you avoid shin splints and other injuries, the following list of options for stretching your calf muscles will help you to grow your soleus and gastrocnemius in no-time, so that you can conquer any running trail or hiking hill.
The Importance of Stretching your Calf Muscles
The muscles in your calves need to be stretched regularly to prevent them from becoming tense and tight over time, potentially restricting your range of movement. Before you try the following stretching tips, keep the following rules in mind:
- Breathe slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth while stretching.
- Hold each stretch for a minimum of twenty seconds if possible.
- Do not over-extend the calf muscle, or attempt to do more than you can handle.
- Attempt 3 to 5 sets for each leg.
A common and easy stretch that's great for your gastrocnemius muscle, the runner's stretch is a quick way to prepare your legs for a workout. Start with your back straight and your arms extended, palms flat against a wall or sturdy surface. Extend your left leg behind you, pressing the heel to the ground, and move your right leg into a forward lunge, slowly leaning forward as you bend your elbow. To include the soleus muscle, drop your hips downwards and bend your knees as though you were sitting in a chair.
Standing Calf Stretch
Another great way to start stretching your calf muscles is to stand straight up, then bend forwards slowly at the waist until you can touch your fingertips to the floor. You can extend the stretch further by placing your palms on the floor and pushing your hands outwards before you return to the starting position, just make sure you don't bend your knees.
Using a step or a curb, begin stretching your calf muscles by placing the ball of your foot on the higher part of the ledge or step, before slowly lowering the heel towards the lower level. Your calf muscles will stretch as you move, but don't force your heel all the way down if it starts to hurt. Keep in mind that you might need to perform this stretch near a wall if you struggle with balance.
The Towel Pulling Method
Sit down with your legs straight out in front of you, keeping your back as straight as possible. Wrap a towel around the ball of your left foot, and hold each edge of the towel with one hand. Lean back slowly, and pull on the towel until you feel your calf muscle start to burn. Hold the stretch for a number of seconds, then switch out your feet.
Try Some Yoga
Finally, if the above options for stretching your calf muscles aren't enough, why not try a little yoga? Though it's known best for its relaxation benefits, yoga is also a great way to tone and build muscles. Downward-facing dog, for example, can help to strengthen your thighs as long as you have enough room to do it.
Start off in a pushup position, keeping your toes and palms on the floor. Lifting your hips, and keeping your toes on the ground, raise your body until it's shaped like an upside down "V" and hold the position for as long as possible.