Exercise I Can Do With a Strained Calf

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Men and women lifting dumbbells at the gym. (Image: michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images)

A strain takes place when muscle fibers get overstretched and slightly torn. This injury is less severe than a pull, which causes larger tears in the muscle. Pain and tightness in the affected muscle are the most common symptoms of a strain. The calves, which consist of the gastrocnemius and soleus, sit on the back of the lower leg below the knee. When this part of the anatomy suffers a strain, you can still exercise, but you need to take a specific approach that does not exacerbate the injury.

Safe Exercises

The calf functions to plantar flex the foot. This takes place when you point your foot downward and raise your heel in the air. When you have a strained calf muscle, your goal is to avoid any exercises that involve excessive plantar flexion.

Weight Training

A number of weight-training exercises can be performed that do not involve plantar flexion, like bench presses, shoulder presses, back rows, triceps extensions, biceps curls and crunches. Exercises like shoulder presses and biceps curls are often performed while standing up. If this causes pain in your calf, perform them seated on a workout chair or bench. Exercises like squats, leg presses and leg extensions predominately work the thighs and glutes. However, the calves act as stabilizers, which might spark up pain in your calf. Your best bet bet is to use light weights and see how your calf feels. If the pain is intense, then avoid the exercise.

Cardiovascular Training

Cardiovascular exercise helps to burn fat and strengthen the heart and lungs. A high percentage of cardiovascular training involves plantar flexion, such as running, walking, biking, stair climbing, jumping rope and even swimming. However, you do have a few options. Elliptical training and rowing, for example, both allow your feet to be planted firmly on supports when you work out. Another safe option is arm ergometry, performed by spinning hand cranks around in a circle with your hands while seated on a chair.

Corrective Exercise

Resting the injured muscle is one of the best ways to heal a strain. Once the pain has become minimal, your goal is to slowly bring back the strength of the muscle and keep it is as strong as possible to prevent future strains. Heel raises strengthen the calves and make good additions to a corrective exercise routine. Perform these with your feet about hip-width apart and hands lightly touching a chair or table for balance. Carefully raise your heels off the ground and hold for a second. Slowly lower your heels back down and repeat. The goal is to only move to a point of discomfort and slowly increase your range of motion until you can move your heels as high in the air as possible.

Preventive Measures

Doing high-intensity exercise without first warming up is a common cause of calf strains. Before you run or do exercise that involves your calf muscles, spend a few minutes doing a light warm-up. Include dynamic stretches such as ankle bounces. These are similar to heel raises except you simply bounce up and down on your heels. Ease your way into your workout and, after finishing, stretch your calves statically. Static stretches are held for an extended period of time, and they help to keep your muscles lengthened. A basic calf stretch is performed by placing your toes on a step and letting your heels hang straight down toward the ground.

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