Warming up and stretching the soleus, one of the primary calf muscles, is highly important for activities that require a lot of pointing, or plantarflexing, of the feet. These activities include sports such as basketball or soccer but also include less vigorous activities such as walking and running. All variants of the soleus stretch include the same principle: plantarflexing the foot and then translating the knee forward.
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The soleus is a muscle located in the lower leg and makes up one part of what is considered the calves muscle group. The soleus muscle is located underneath the superficial gastrocnemius muscles. The soleus is typically composed of predominately slow-twitch muscle fibers that are meant for repeated, endurance-based activities.
Before performing any soleus stretch, you need to warm up for at least 10 minutes. For the lunge stretch, begin facing a wall, with your feet about 6 inches from the wall. Stagger your feet by stepping back with your left foot and place your left heel firmly on the floor. Keep all your body weight on your front foot. Slightly bend your right knee to lower your body until you feel a stretch in the back of your left calf. Then, bend your back knee as much as you can. You should feel the tension switch from your gastrocnemius muscle, which is above the soleus, to the Achilles tendon and soleus of your left leg. Repeat the stretch on the other leg.
Stair Soleus Stretch
You can also stretch your soleus using a stair. Begin by standing with the balls of both feet on the stair. Bend your right knee and let your left heel drop below the stair. At this point, you should feel a stretch in the gastrocnemius muscle of your left leg. To stretch the soleus, bend your left knee. After holding the stretch, switch legs to stretch your right soleus.
Benefits and Considerations
Performing soleus stretches can have a positive impact on your performance and workout. Stretching can help your soleus muscle reach its optimal length and tension, which leads to more forceful contractions at the ankle joint. Stretching also improves your range of motion, which reduces the likelihood of injury. However, if you have recently had an ankle sprain or other injury to the lower leg, consult your doctor before stretching your soleus. The higher angle you are plantarflexed when performing the soleus stretch, the deeper and more intense the stretch will be. Gradually work your way up to deeper stretches to prevent pulling your soleus muscle too hard.