The Achilles tendon is a common injury for runners. It’s essential to keep it well-stretched because a tight Achilles can not only hamper your form but make you more prone to injury.
Warming up is an important part of every runner’s routine, so add a few more Achilles tendon stretches to ensure it stays strong.
Here are our favorite Achilles tendon stretches for runners, as well as some information about the tendon itself and why it’s such an important part of the runners’ anatomy.
What Is the Achilles Tendon?
The Achilles tendon is a thick band of tissue at the back of your foot. It connects the calf muscle to the back of the heel bone and helps to lift your heel off the ground when walking or running.
It’s the largest and strongest tendon in your body, but it’s also easily injured from running. Almost a quarter of all athletes experience an Achilles tendon injury at some point in their career.
Importance of the Achilles Tendon in Running
The Achilles tendon exerts all the force needed to lift your heel off the ground when you run. As the calf muscles contract and cause the force in the tendon, it causes the plantar fascia to flex, causing the lower limb to move upwards and lift the heel.
At this point, the Achilles tendon is subjected to forces of up to 10 times your body weight! So you can see why it’s a common point of injury for runners and athletes.
The Achilles tendon consists of type II fast-twitch fibers, and when combined with the elasticity of the tissue, it provides rapid and powerful propulsion. Without the Achilles, there would be no power in the push-off, and you wouldn’t be able to propel yourself forward quickly and effectively.
Why Should Runners Stretch Their Achilles Tendon?
The Achilles tendon is already a common injury. But when it’s stiff and tight, the chance of injury increases. Stretching can help loosen the tendon so it’s less likely to get injured.
It also has surprisingly poor blood flow, which means once hurt, it can be difficult to heal. Stretching the Achilles tendon before running means it’ll have a better blood flow.
Stretching after running can ease the tendon if it’s a bit tight and help promote blood flow to the area to aid recovery.
Most Common Achilles Tendon Injuries Runners Face
The force the Achilles tendon takes makes it quite a common injury for runners. Here are some of the most common Achilles-related injuries.
Achilles tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon. It’s often caused by overuse when the tendon has been subjected to repetitive motion, pressure, or trauma. You may feel tightness and pain in the back of your foot, and the thick band at the back of your heel may be swollen and red.
Achilles tendinopathy is a more advanced version of tendonitis, to the point where the tendon begins to degrade due to long-term stress and wear and tear. The two are often referred to as the same condition, but there is a difference.
Achilles Tendon Rupture
Although Achilles rupture is not as common as the first two, it’s still not unheard of. The poor blood supply and high-stress function of the Achilles tendon predispose it to this kind of injury—a partial or full tear in the tendon. This requires surgery to fix.
Benefits of Achilles Tendon Stretches
Regularly stretching your Achilles can have many benefits. Start today and do it consistently, and you’ll soon begin to notice:
Regular stretching helps to increase the range of motion in your lower leg and foot. Increased flexibility means less chance of injury, as your foot can move safely through a wider space without being overworked.
Reduced Risk of Injury
As well as the increased range of motion, stretching can loosen up the tendon and get the blood flowing just a little better through it. It’s less susceptible to damage if it’s supple, plus the extra blood flow helps to heal better if it does have a niggle.
Improved Running Performance
Stretching can strengthen the Achilles tendon, which means it can handle higher loads before hurting or becoming damaged. Your running performance should increase, as your “power spring” is tougher and more powerful.
Best Achilles Tendon Stretches for Runners
Incorporate these Achilles tendon stretches into your daily routine, and you should start to see better running performance and less pain in the tendon.
1. Standing Calf Stretch
Stand facing a wall, with your palms on the wall at around shoulder height. Bring one foot slightly closer to the wall and the other backward quite a bit. Both feet should be flat on the ground, with your front knee slightly bent and your back leg as straight as possible.
You should feel a stretch in the back calf. Hold it for between 10 and 30 seconds, keeping your heel on the floor and avoiding pushing your front knee out too close to the wall.
2. Toe-To-Wall Stretch
Start this stretch the same way as the above one, standing facing a wall with your palms against the wall. Place one foot forward, with your heel on the ground and your toes up against the wall.
Shift your weight forward a little until you can feel a gentle stretch in the Achilles and calf. Hold it for up to 30 seconds, and switch legs. You can repeat it 2 to 3 times per side.
3. Seated Towel Calf Stretch
You can do this stretch with a towel or a resistance band. Sit on a chair and stretch your leg out in front of you. Holding the ends of a towel or a resistance band in your hands, place your foot in the loop created at the bottom.
Gently pull upwards towards your body while keeping your heel on the floor. Your toes should flex upwards, stretching the plantar fascia, the calf muscle, and the Achilles simultaneously.
4. Toe Raises
You can do this exercise seated or standing. It’s a good idea to begin seated and progress to standing when you feel you can. With both feet on the floor, lift your toes off the ground while keeping your heels on the floor.
Hold for 10 to 30 seconds and then gently lower them. If you choose to do this one standing, make sure you have something to hold onto to keep yourself steady.
5. Heel Drop Stretch
Stand on a small step or a raised object. Even a thick book will do. Stand with the ball of your feet on the step and your heels hanging over the edge. Slowly drop your heels until you can feel a stretch in your Achilles. You can do this on both legs at a time or one at a time.
6. Runner’s Stretch
The runner’s stretch is similar to the standing calf stretch, except you won’t be using the wall to steady yourself. Begin with your feet hip-width apart. Take quite a big step backwards with one foot, bending your front knee as you do so.
Try to keep your back leg as straight as possible, lean forward slightly, until you feel the stretch in your calf muscle in the back leg. Make sure to keep your back straight and engage your core to help you keep your balance and your form.
7. Banded Calf Stretch
You’ll need a resistance band for this exercise. Sit on the floor with your feet out in front of you. Holding the two ends of a resistance band in your hands, loop the middle part around the ball of your foot. Keeping your leg straight, pull the resistance band closer to your body, stretching the calf, Achilles, and plantar fascia.
8. Tip-Toe Walks
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. You may want to do this one next to a wall so you can steady yourself as you walk. Raise yourself off your heels and onto your toes. You should feel a stretch in your Achilles at this point.
Holding this position, walk slowly for 10 to 20 steps. Then, lower your heels gently to the ground. You can do this 2 to 3 times.
9. Heel Walks
Heel walks are similar to toe walks, except you’ll lift your toes off the ground and walk on your heels. This may be uncomfortable at first, and you may feel like you are going to fall over backward. Do it next to a wall if you need to so you can steady yourself.
10. Foot Bridge Stretch
Start this stretch on your hands and knees. Turn your feet so the tops of your feet are on the floor. Gently lean backward, keeping your back straight and your hands, legs, and feet flat on the floor. The further back you lean, the more you should feel a stretch in your Achilles tendon.
Hold for about a minute if you can. From there, turn your heel over and sit back on your heels for 2 to 2 ½ minutes.
11. Achilles Stretch
Start this stretch in front of a wall, with both hands on the wall to balance yourself. If you have a problem tendon, step forward with your unaffected foot and a small step backward with your unaffected foot.
Keep your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. Bend your knees slightly, until you feel a stretch in your Achilles. You can make the stretch more intense by bending your knees more. Hold for up to 30 seconds at a time, and then switch legs.
Tips for Stretching the Achilles Tendon
Follow these tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of your Achilles tendon stretches.
Warm Up Before Stretching
Take a 5-minute walk or dynamic stretches to get the blood flowing. This will flood the Achilles with oxygen-rich blood and nutrients so that it’s in the best position to heal when you stretch it.
Stretch Slowly and Gently
Don’t rush through these stretches. If you go too fast, they may not be as effective as you might not get as much of a stretch. You also may be at risk of hurting yourself if you stretch too fast, as you can overstretch the tendon.
Hold Each Stretch for 30 Seconds
Holding the stretch for 30 seconds is the optimal amount of time. Less than that, and it may not stretch enough. Longer than that, and you might be at risk of injuring yourself, and it’s not going to give you any extra benefits!
Incorporate Different Stretches
Switch up the stretches so you don’t get bored but also so that you stretch the Achilles properly from various angles. You can choose a few different stretches from the list above to do on any given day, and then do a few different ones the next day and the next day.
Listen to Your Body
If you feel pain or discomfort while stretching your Achilles tendon, stop. You can try to stretch it again more gently, but if you continue to feel pain, then it’s best not to push it further. You can rest it for a few days and then try again.
However, if you still feel the pain, getting your foot checked by a doctor or physiotherapist might be a good idea. Listen to your body and don’t push through pain if it doesn’t go away with rest.