As runners, we often forget to stretch our calves. We tend to focus more on our hamstrings, quads, glutes, back, feet and knees, which is very important. Stretching our calf muscles can help runners in many ways, avoiding certain injuries and also making faster times.
Understanding how incredibly important stretching is crucial. Experienced runners know that it is essential to do a dynamic warm up before the run and stretching after the run in order to look after our muscle quality and strength, as well as avoiding injuries.
Stretching calf muscles is one of the most important muscle to stretch along with our hip flexors, hamstrings and quadriceps. Calf tightness is one of the predominant muscle tightness in the body. Once our calves are very tight and stiff, the pain can be very intense and all the injuries it can cause can be challenging with the pain intensity and long recovery time, from the muscles and tendons that are affected. The calf muscle acts as a plantar flexor for the ankle joint, it controls the motion of pointing the ball of your foot downwards, which is an important running motion! The calf uses the foot as a lever to lift the heel. When you run uphill, you need more power from your calf muscles, when you run downhill, you need more control from your calf muscles. Trail runners are constantly overusing their calf muscles with all the elevation climbing and downhill running. Road runners also constantly overuse their calf muscles when doing speedwork, hill repeats or fast runs.
Benefits of calf stretching for runners:
1. Reduces muscle strain: With today’s office work lifestyles, sitting on a chair for hours a day is not what human beings were meant to do, which causes our feet to be plantar-flexed in a forward position. If your calves are tight, your other muscles in your legs and back will have to compensate, which causes more aches and pain.
2. Reduces the risk of plantar-fasciitis: The calf muscles are made up of two separate muscles on the back of the leg; the gastrocnemius lies on top of the soleus muscle. Stretching both muscles, helps to keep the inflammation down of that thick tendon tissue that runs across the bottom of your feet, from the heel bone to your toes- plantar fasciitis. If the calf muscles are tight and they pull on that tendon, you can feel extreme pain under the foot, and plantar fasciitis injuries take a long time to recover.
3. Improves balance and running form: Not only running, but exercising can tighten the calf muscles. By stretching our calves and improving the flexibility will help to keep a proper running form. We have to remember that our calf muscles communicate neurologically with other muscles to keep an upright, not imbalanced running form.
4. Looks after the arch’s strength and stability: In your feet, you have two bones that help form the arch; the tarsal and metatarsal. They also help your body support its weight to allow you to run with a proper form. Stretching the calf muscles helps the arch, which also relies on strengthened ligaments and tendons, helping the rest of the body.
Runners should add calf stretches to their regular stretching routine to support their running form, and avoid injuries.