The back of your lower leg is a complex muscle group that requires regular stretching exercises, especially if you participate in a sport that requires a lot of running. The repetitive resistance placed upon calf muscles with each step will lead to tightness in your ankles and calves without regular flexibility training. Tight calf and ankle muscles can result in poor sports performance, injuries, pain and stiffness. The sports medicine website Physio Advisor recommends that you hold calf stretches for about 15 seconds and repeat three sets of 4 repetitions daily.
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This exercise is called the “best stretch for the calf muscles” by Dr. Stephen Pribut on his Running Injuries website. Stand about 3 feet away from a wall with the leg you wish to stretch behind you and your other leg about 2 feet in front of your rear foot. Reach out and place both hands on the wall while bending your front leg, at the same time keeping your back leg as straight as possible. You will feel a pull in your Achilles tendon, heel and calf. Repeat with both legs for your six to eight repetitions.
Achilles Tendon and Soleus Stretch
This is one of the most-often-neglected stretches for runners, according to recreational runner and physical therapist Debbie Pitchford. Pitchford notes that this stretch helps loosen the muscles you use when you plant your foot on the ground during your running stride. Begin by placing both palms flat against a wall, one leg in front of you and your rear foot about 3 feet away from the wall. Keeping your legs in this position, bend both knees and hinge your hips to bend forward until you feel your butt drop into a semi-crouching position. Hold this position and bend both elbows to lean forward slightly and increase the stretch.
Short Leg Extensions
Begin by standing with both feet facing forward, about shoulder-width apart. Step forward with one leg about 18 inches in front of the other and place the back of your heel on the ground with your toes facing the ceiling. Bend your rear leg while keeping your front leg straight. If necessary you can put both hands on the thigh of your bent leg to help stabilize your body. You feel the stretch in your extended calf as you deepen the stretch of your bent leg..
If you are near a set of stairs, or even a couple of steps, you can use them to help stretch the back of your lower legs. Begin by standing on the stairs with your heels hanging over the edge and the balls of your feet supporting your weight. Slowly allow your heels to drop toward the ground until you feel a stretch in your calves and heel. You may want to hold onto the railing or other support for balance when performing this stretch. As you become stronger and more flexible you can perform a stair stretch using one leg at a time.