Looking for a way to loosen tight calves so you can run more freely? Choosing to stretch your calves often can be a huge help. What’s the best calf stretch for runners? There isn’t one!
Instead, there are multiple ways to stretch and strengthen your calves. Incorporating a regular stretching routine can have a significant positive impact on your running, so it’s well worth adding to your daily routine.
If you aren’t sure what to do to give your calves a great stretch, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite calf stretches for runners. Give them a try, but be warned—they’re not as simple as they look!
The Anatomy of the Calves
The calves are actually made up of two muscles—the gastrocnemius and the soleus.
The one you can see when someone has well-built calves is the gastrocnemius. It starts at the femur and runs down the leg, where it attaches to the Achilles.
This muscle is responsible for two important running movements—the flexing of the leg at the knee and the downward flexing of the foot at the ankle.
It’s also made up mostly of fast-twitch muscle fibers, which help you to jump, sprint, and change direction quickly.
The soleus muscle is not visible. This muscle connects the tibia and fibula bones of the leg, keeping them stable as you exercise.
It uses mostly slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are more geared towards endurance than fast exertion.
Why You Need To Stretch Your Calves Properly
Running can be hard on the lower body. Your lower body muscles need to be primed for action before you start running, and the best way to do that—apart from strengthening your calves—is to stretch them before you warm up.
The looser your muscles are and the more warmed-up they are when you begin, the more they can help to absorb the impact—along with your shoes—and protect your bones and joints from injury.
But if the muscles are cold and stiff before you start running, the vibration may actually injure the muscle instead of absorbing the jarring shock of each step.
For example, strong and warmed-up calf muscles help to reduce vibration in your shins, which can help to lower your chances of developing shin splints when you run. But if your calves are weak and not warmed up, you may also be at risk of other injuries.
But apart from that, your calf muscles are also instrumental in the motion of running. Tight calf muscles can restrict your range of motion, negatively impacting your running efficiency and reducing the quality of your performance.
A lower range of motion also means you’re more at risk of injury as you run, especially if you push your body to reach its usual range of motion.
Best Calf Stretches for Runners
All of these stretches are effective at loosening tight calf muscles. Some of them are also great for strengthening the calves. You can include as many of them as you want in your daily routine to keep your calves stretched and ready for action.
You can do this stretch with or without shoes on, although we recommend wearing shoes if you aren’t used to the stretch yet.
Stand on a firm surface with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lean back onto your heels and raise your toes off of the floor. You should feel the stretch in your calves as you do so.
Make sure you’re standing up as straight and tall as possible. You should not be leaning forward to keep your balance.
While in this position, walk forward, keeping your toes raised. You will be walking on your heels, and you should feel your calf muscles stretch lightly as you walk.
Walk for 30 seconds and then take a break. You can do this as many times as you feel you need to. If you want to, you can alternate between heel walks and toe walks.
Lunging Calf Stretch
The lunging calf stretch is one of the most common, and it’s a staple that should be in every runner’s warm-up routine. You can do this stretch anywhere and anytime, using a wall for stability or without the wall.
Begin by standing on a firm surface with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a step forward with one foot, at a distance you feel comfortable with. You should still be stable on your feet and able to keep your balance.
You may find it easier to place your hands on your hips to do this stretch, as it helps to stabilize you. Transfer your weight forward onto your front foot, ensuring your back stays straight. Your torso should stay upright and not lean forward as you place your weight on the front foot.
You should feel the stretch in the calf muscle of the back leg. Try not to lift the heel off of the ground. Lean forward as far as you can until it feels like going any further will make the heel lift.
Hold this position for 45 seconds to a minute. Then move slowly back to the starting position and repeat the process on the other leg.
If you need more stability, do this with the wall in front of you and place your hands on the wall to stabilize yourself. Make sure there’s still enough space between you and the wall so that you don’t bump your front knee.
This may be a popular yoga move, but it’s probably the best calf stretch for runners! It’s also quite a stable stretch, so it should be suitable for everyone.
Begin in a high plank position—your feet shoulder-width apart, your hands flat on the floor, underneath your shoulders, and your arms fully extended.
Once you feel stable in this position, lift your hips up and shift your weight backward onto your heels. Your head should move down between your arms—your biceps will be next to your ears.
You should be in an upside-down V position. Push your heels into the ground and you will feel the stretch in your calf muscles. Hold for 45 to 60 seconds before slowly returning to the starting position.
If this is difficult, you can try single-leg downward dog. Do all the steps as above, but once you’re in the inverted V position, lift one leg and place it on the opposite calf. This will help to push your heel into the ground and give you a great calf stretch.
Resistance Band Calf Stretch
You can easily do this calf stretch if you have a resistance band. You will begin by sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Make sure you don’t round your back but keep it straight so your posture is good.
Place a resistance band around the balls of your feet and hold the ends of the band in your hands. Pull the ends of the resistance band towards you, pulling your toes up and stretching your calf muscles.
You should hold the stretch for 45 to 60 seconds before releasing it. If you want to, you can do each leg separately. You can also use a towel or a scarf instead of a resistance band if you don’t have one.
Calf Foam Roll
Foam rolling is one of the best ways to stretch your calf muscles. You can do this with both legs, but it may be more effective with one leg at a time.
Sit on the floor and place your ankle—Achilles—on the foam roller. Place your opposite foot on the floor to help stabilize you. When you get used to the motion, you can place your opposite leg over the leg being foam rolled for extra pressure.
Place your hands flat on the floor behind you. Lift yourself off of the floor and roll your body forward, feeling the foam roller move under your calf muscle. Just before it reaches the back of your knee, roll your body backward again until the roller lands in the starting position.
Point your toes upwards to get more activation of the calf muscle. You can also rotate your leg to more target the outer or inner calf.
Do between 10 and 15 reps. For best results, you should do 3 sets per day—you can do this as part of your warm-up, as well as cool-down and recovery.
If you don’t have a foam roller, you can still do this exercise with one of these foam roller alternatives!
Calf Strengthening Stretches for Runners
Calf raises can be a great stretch, but if you do them correctly, they can also strengthen your calves significantly.
Start by standing on a flat surface with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight, raise your heels off the ground, and lift your entire body weight by flexing your calf muscles.
Hold it in the raised position for 2 seconds, then slowly lower yourself to the ground. Be sure to do this mindfully and feel the stretch in the calf muscles.
If you want to get a deeper stretch, stand with the balls of your feet on a step and your heels hanging off the edge of the step. Then gently and slowly lower your heels below the level of the step.
You will feel a stretch in your calf muscles. Try to hold the lowered position for 2 to 3 seconds before raising yourself back up and lifting yourself onto your toes.
You should do 10 to 12 reps simultaneously and 3 sets in total. If you want to add even more challenge to this exercise, you can hold dumbbells while you’re doing it or wear a weighted vest.
Farmer’s Walk On the Toes
You will need either a pair of dumbbells or something heavy, like sandbags, water bottles, or anything you can hold at your side and walk with.
Hold one dumbbell in each hand and let your shoulders relax. Raise yourself onto your toes and feel your calf muscles engage. Walk for one minute—you can choose to walk both forward and backward or only forward. Perform 3 sets daily.
The weight should be heavy enough to allow you to walk for one minute without hunching over or losing your form. If you feel that you could have walked for longer, increase the weight the next time you do this exercise.