When we think of muscles in our bodies, the calves are often way down the list. The calf muscle is one of the most overused and important muscle in our bodies. Nobody ever says “Check out the calves on that Jon Snow!” but maybe they should.
Our calves give us that extra push when climbing stairs or a steep hill. But more than that, calves are important in every step we make and can also look really good when they’re in shape. Stretching your calves will decrease the risk of tearing muscles and can help with the recovery from much foot or knee pain.
If you’ve ever suffered with nighttime pain in your legs, research has shown that an improved calf stretch can prevent those nocturnal cramps. Whether you wear heels, run regularly or do both, stretching your calves should be part of your daily routine, as tighter, shortened calves can lead to injury. While there are many stretches you can perform unassisted, we’ve looked at some of the best calf-stretching devices on the market to help ease away any tensions in your lower body.
Why Is It Important to Stretch Your Calf Muscles?
Your calf comprises two muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus which meet at the Achilles tendon and attach to your heel. Any movement of your leg or foot uses these muscles. The gastrocnemius muscle is responsible for lifting your heel while you‘re standing with knees straight. While the soleus muscle lifts your heel as your knee is bent.
When they contract, these muscles allow you to plant on the balls of your feet. As your feet land when you run or walk the calf muscles need to stretch to allow for your foot to flatten and your shin to come forward. If calf muscles are too tight, you’ll constantly walk on the balls of your feet which impairs your ability to move or walk normally.
Calf muscles which are excessively tight can increase the risk of tearing a muscle, especially the Achilles tendon tears, and are weaker. Stretching your calf muscles will improve your range of motion, decrease the risk of tears or sprains and enable the muscles to exert proper levels of force. The following YouTube video looks in more detail at the anatomy of your calf muscles.
What Are the Symptoms of Tight Calf Muscles?
The symptoms of tight calf muscles will depend on the cause. Pain in the calf is often a result of overuse and is common in people who lead more active lifestyles or enjoy sports like running or cycling. Marathon runners, triathletes or older individuals who partake in physical sports are more prone to developing tight calf muscles or muscle cramps.
Cramped muscles can range from slightly uncomfortable to a severe pain. Your muscles may be hard to the touch, twitch under the skin and can lead to more serious injuries or tears. The effects can last anywhere from a few seconds to 15 minutes or maybe longer and are normally noticed straight after exercise.
Stretching your calves is an important step in relieving any foot or heel pain including painful conditions including:
- Plantar fasciitis.
- Achilles tendonitis.
- Over-pronated feet.
- Recurring bunions.
- Shin splint.
More flexibility of your calf muscles will also improve your sporting and athletic performance. Healthy, flexible calf muscles will help to prevent injuries by stabilizing your ankle as you run and jump. You’re less likely to suffer from a sprained ankle or strained Achilles tendon with a healthy calf muscle length.
The Best Ways to Stretch Your Calf Muscles
One of the simplest ways to stretch those calves is on the stairs. Standing both feet on the same step, dropping your heels backwards down from the step will stretch your calf muscles. You can vary the intensity by moving your feet closer or further from the edge of the step.
Another stretch recommended for your calf muscles is the yoga pose, the downward dog. This pose will stretch your calves in addition to your hamstrings and glutes too. With both your hands and feet on the floor, in an all-fours position, push your hips up towards the ceiling. Keep your heels on the ground and gently try to straighten your knees as shown in this instructional YouTube video:
The Best Calf Stretching Devices
With so many products available that claim to be the best calf-stretching devices, it’s difficult to know which ones work and what to spend your hard-earned cash on. We’ve looked at some top-selling products, to bring you in our opinion five of the best calf-stretching devices available today.
Many people would argue that you don’t need any of these devices to stretch your calves. But the best calf-stretching devices can often be a safer and more effective way of stretching those muscles than traditional warm-up exercises. They can also be much easier and reduce the stress you place on your other joints.
Although foot rockers are used by many for stretching the calf muscles, our favourite product was the One Stretch Calf-Stretching Device. A gradual curve on the device means you can vary the depth of your stretch, reserving the deepest stretches for your upper calf where it’s needed most. Made from a durable injection molded plastic, it’s lightweight and portable and in our opinion, the best calf-stretching device you can buy.
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