Calves often receive less attention than your thighs as areas to exercise, but they provide essential support to your lower body and are used in a range of activities, including running, bicycling and jumping. Calf strength is also needed for everyday activities, such as standing on your toes to reach a high shelf, or for walking. As your calf muscles undergo a lot of use, the muscles can easily become tense. To increase flexibility in your calves, slant boards, wooden or plastic boards set at an angle, can help stretch these important muscles.
Your Calf Muscles
Your calves are made up of two primary muscles: the gastrocnemius — the larger of the two muscles — and the soleus. The soleus is covered by the gastrocnemius. Both of these muscles are used for ankle motion, particularly plantar flexion, raising your heel in the direction of your knee. To target your gastrocnemius, use a straight-leg stretch on the slant board. For your soleus, a bent-knee stretch on a slant board will target the muscle.
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How to Use the Slant Board
Depending on the type of slant board you have, the angle may be adjustable. If your calves are very tight, or if you are just beginning to stretch them, start with a smaller angle to reduce the risk of injury. While a slant board can be used as a stand-alone item, placing the lower end of the board against a wall will provide support for your body as you do the stretch, reducing the amount of weight and pressure placed on your calf muscles as they stretch. When you become more accustomed to the slant board and your flexibility improves, increase the angle of the board and move it away from the wall. In all cases, warm up thoroughly before you do this stretch.
A straight-leg stretch targets your gastrocnemius muscles. Stand with both feet firmly planted on the slant board, with your heels close to or along the lower edge of the slant board. If you are unsure of the stretch or unused to it, stand with your back against the wall or use the back of a chair to steady yourself. Stand on the board for 30 seconds before stepping off. Rest for 15 seconds and repeat three times.
A bent-knee stretch targets your soleus muscles. As these muscles are smaller than the gastrocnemius muscles, do this stretch with caution. Place the low end of the slant board three inches away from the back of the wall. Stand with both feet firmly on the board, with your legs straight. Gently bend your knees, sinking down from your hips, until your back is against the wall. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds before stepping off the board. Rest for 15 seconds before stepping back up. To increase the difficulty of the stretch, increase the angle of the board and move the board further away from the wall so you can sink lower.