The Long and the Calf of it

The calf stretch is arguably the most important stretch for the lower limb.

Why? Short version

1. E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E.’S calves are tight

2. When the calves are tight injuries or nagging issues will ensue

E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E.’S calves are tight

3. A tight calf is a weak calf

E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E.’S calves are tight

4. Supple calves equal enhanced daily lifelong performance

Did I mention E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E.’S calves are tight?


Why? A bit longer version

 1. E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E.’S calves are tight because: 

i. Sitting: Every single time you sit down you are shortening your backline (meaning your calves as well as other muscles/tissues on the posterior side of your body). Sitting for breakfast, lunch, dinner, work, TV, reading, driving, resting, playing games, participating in sport (i.e. boat, horse, wheelchair), commute, even at the gym.

Challenge- One day for fun [because I know you have ALL don’t have anything else to do :)] time how long you sit for that day. You will be shocked! Sitting is one of the worst things you can do for your health.

ii. Shoes: Almost everyone, women, men and children, wear high heels! Any shoe that has a rise (a lift) from the toe to the heel is tightening your calves. Yes, ladies and gentlemen we have been conned. Those dress shoes you are wearing are bad for you. Do yourself a favour and lower the heel lift in your shoes (you need to do this progressively guaranteed it will make a huge difference). This goes for sport shoes as well! So many sport shoes are heeled. Be careful! Know why you are wearing them and if they are helping or hindering your performance.

iii. Sleeping: Do you sleep with your feet pointed (plantar flexed)? If you do, your resting calf muscles are TIGHT for 8 hours (or whatever your sleep time). This keeps your muscles in a state of tension for a long time, providing continuous adaptation to already shortened muscle fibres. You’re gonna lose those sarcomeres. Be aware!

iv. Exercise: When you perform at a moderate to high level of intensity you literally tear the muscle fibres in your body. Increased strenuous activity corresponds to more micro tears in the muscles which parallels the post exercise muscle soreness factor. Hard work= OUCH the next day and even days to come. These micro tears create tension in your muscles and surrounding connective tissue. Therefore, it is important to mobilize/stretch after a workout for recovery.

2. When calves are tight, injuries or nagging issues will ensue. (whether it happens today or a couple of years from now, it will happen)

The calves are made up of many muscles, ligaments, tendons, connective tissue, nerves, arteries, veins, etc. I won’t go into detail about all of them, suffice to say there is so much going on in the calf I could write 10 pages and it still would not be enough! I’ll make it simple by giving examples instead. [This list is minimal and reasons can be more than calf tension but you have to know the calf is one culprit.]

Your calves are tight:

a. When you squat and you notice your feet are turned out

b. When you row (on the erg or in the boat) and you notice your feet are turned out

c. When you drive and you notice your feet are turned out

d. When you are standing/running/walking and you notice your feet turned out

e. When you wear heeled shoes (whether at work or for sport) you are shortening the muscle fibers

f. When you sit all day (or even a little)

g. When you did not properly recover from a workout so you still have micro tears in your muscles

h. Standing with a forward lean (i.e. your knees are in front of your ankle bones when you are standing still)

What can happen to YOU because of your calf tension, maybe not today but…… [this list provides only a few examples]

Knee pain/immobility/tear Bunions                       Metatarsalgia

Hip pain/immobility/tear                                           Plantar fasciitus

Calf tear/strain                                                              Back pain/strain

Compartment syndrome                                              Toe pain/strain/break

Ankle pain/immobility/tear                                       Foot pain/strain/break

Arch pain                                                                         Osteoarthritis

Achilles tendon strain/tear Shin splints

3. A tight calf is a weak calf.

Yes, a tight muscle is a weak muscle. As the calf is made up of more than one muscle, it is crucial to have LENGTH in your calves. Without length there is limited strength. A tight calf is a wussy calf. A ropy calf, a guitar string calf, a rock calf (whatever you want to call it) is a feeble calf. There is a length to strength ratio in all of your muscles. The length is always more than you think. All I can say is do your calf stretch everyday several times a day. You will get MUCH more out of a supple calf!

4. Supple calves equals enhanced daily lifelong performance .

Lengthened calves will provide appropriate mobility for every activity you do that requires the feet/legs. You will be able to squat better (lifting weights, gardening, rowing, relaxing in a squat, going to the toilet squatting instead of sitting, pistols, etc), you will have better balance, overall your body will feel better! In addition, all your bodily systems will be able to flow in and out of this area efficiently. Your calves will be healthy! Groceries IN and garbage OUT. It IS as simple as that.

What calf stretches should I do?

Katy Bowman, biomechanist, has the BEST calf stretches you can do that work the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Please look at this blog she wrote. Pictures and descriptions are provided for both calf stretches.