Runners often have at least one muscle that constantly feels tight. For some, it’s hamstrings, for others, quads. And for some, tight calves bound up in baseball-sized knots are all too common.
Here, tips on loosening our calves and preventing them from seizing up:
WARMUP AND COOLDOWN
Take a few minutes before each run to walk, do activation stretches like lunges (focus on the the back leg for a greater calf stretch) and gentle hops on your toes. After each run, give your body a few minutes to cooldown, walking and doing the same stretches.
Also, consider getting a piece of gear that does the stretching for you — a Strassburg sock gently pulls your toes toward your shin to stretch your calves while you sleep. For those who use standing desks, a foam wedge might be your new best friend. Use it while standing to gently get a calf stretch while putting in no effort.
Foam rolling your calves is as important as rolling out your quads and hamstrings. Don’t just give your calf a single swipe — work from your ankle slowly up to your knee, making sure to hit the sides of your calf as well as the back.
STRETCH AND STRENGTHEN
On a daily basis, find a flight of stairs and stand on the first step with the backs of your feet hanging down, lower than your toes, while holding onto a railing. Relax your feet and slowly rise up on your toes and lower, with the bulk of the movement coming from when your heel is lower than the step. The lower you can go, the deeper the stretch, but be careful to not overdo it.
You can do the staircase stretch slowly, but there’s also a benefit to doing it faster, in a pumping motion. Since your calves are so dense, excess fluid and blood can pool up in those muscles, and might benefit from getting flushed out. So, add a quick set of calf pumps to your next post-run cooldown.
Another good way to stretch your calves is during your workout. Walking or running uphill is a great calf activator and naturally forces your muscles to stretch while you’re heading up.
Erin Taylor, author of “Hit Reset: Revolutionary Yoga for Athletes,” is a fan of the squat, because so many calf stretches involve straight legs, and we don’t activate certain muscles when our knees are bent. Get into a deep squat, with your hands on the floor to stabilize yourself. Come up onto your toes as high as you can, and then drop your heels. Repeat this a few times.
HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE
Research has shown dehydration can lead to tight muscles, and if your calves are already tense, being a quart low on your daily water intake can shift them from annoying to painful territory. Aim to drink at least 64 ounces of water everyday, more if you’re sweating profusely during a workout — and add an electrolyte tab or pinch of salt to a few of those glasses to maintain sodium, magnesium and potassium levels.