Calves of Steel
Hmm. It doesn’t have quite the same ring as other popular sayings but functionally strong and flexible calves play a vital role in keeping you moving. Recently we were out trail running and really noticed how tight and tired our calves were as we climbed and climbed a trail. We admit that it had been a while since we'd been on trails! It's always interesting to notice unexpected fatigue given all the miles we run but our calves had adapted to road running but not yet to the trails.
Time to add in more specific calf strengthening and stretching exercises.
Why? It makes sense that if your calves are very tight our ankles will not function properly and that shift in mechanics will transfer up the chain to your hamstrings and glutes all the way up to your low back and mid back. Don't forget that the calves connect down the chain as well and affect your Achilles and the arches in your feet.
Also, if our calves are weak and don’t have the endurance to make it through your planned activity it makes sense that our bodies will recruit something else to help us get through. The human body is amazing at compensation and if one muscle fatigues another will take over. This can often lead a change in mechanics and an increased chance of injury.
Don't forget that this compensation pattern can also happen in reverse. Sometimes calf pain or related issues are caused by weak glutes making it necessary for the calves to mimic the forward propulsion that the glutes are usually responsible for.
Did we convince you to take action on those calves? As with any exercise or stretching routine, add a few of these slowly and with caution. If it causes pain, stop and ask for help which may take the form of alternate exercises or a more gradual introduction.
Calf Raises X 3
This is a straightforward exercise which can be done anywhere. As it becomes easier, hold a dumbbell in each hand.
Stand with feet hip-width apart and pointed forward. You may hold onto to a sturdy object or wall for better balance. Slowly raise your body up until your are on your toes. Hold and then lower. Repeat up to 10 times. Next stand with your toes pointed out (your feet should still be hip-width apart) and do 10 more calf raises. Finally, point your toes inward so your heels are pointing out and complete 10 more calf raises.
Calf Raises with Bent Leg
There are two calf muscles with one lying under the other. To get to the deeper calf muscle, complete these calf raises with bent knees.
Stretch and Foam Roll
After all that work those muscles have done, make sure you take some time to stretch. Stand facing a wall with your feet hip-width apart and toes pointed forward. Step one leg forward and lean towards the wall. Keep your back leg straight and work to feel the stretch in the back of the lower leg. Hold for 30 seconds. Next, bend your leg at the knee and feel the stretch in the down lower in deeper calf muscle. Switch legs.
Some may find it helpful to either foam roll or use a stick on your calf muscles. Sit on the ground with your legs over a foam roller. Position your lower leg on top of a foam roller and gently raise your hips off the ground as roll your calf along the foam roller. Your other leg can either be on the ground or crossed on top (for deeper work). Try rotating your foot internally and externally as you are rolling. You may find one area is particularly sore or tight. Gently work this area. Using a stick on your calves is easy to do and you can apply just as much pressure as you need or want.
We hope this inspires you to take a little time to appreciate the importance of our calf muscles and to take a little time to strengthen and stretch these small but mighty muscles.