If you play any sport, you are probably familiar with sore calves! I am not quite sure what I did, but in my martial arts class on Monday, my right calf started to hurt. It would have been wise to stop but I continued. The next day it seemed ok so I went out for a jog at lunchtime. After 30 minutes, ouch! Now my calf definitely needs some rest and love …
Even in daily life, your calf muscles get worked a lot. Every time you take a step, you push off the ball of your foot and your calf muscles are called upon to lift your entire body weight. All of this consistent, heavy lifting makes the calf muscles some of the strongest in your body!
Anatomy of your Calves
The calf is made up of two muscles on the back of your lower leg:
- The gastrocnemius is the larger calf muscle. It forms the visible bulge beneath the skin.
- The soleus is a smaller, flat muscle that lies underneath the gastrocnemius muscle.
When these two muscles contract and shorten, they pull up your heel. This is a really important action in all kinds of common activities like running, walking and climbing stairs.
Interesting Fact – Out of all the muscles in our bodies, the soleus muscle can pull the greatest force. It consistently pulls against the force of gravity to help keep your body upright.
Since the calf muscles work so hard on a regular basis, especially if you are at all active, they get strong. But if you don’t stretch them, your calves can become quite short and tight.
Four Yoga stretches for your Calves
There are a number of yoga poses that you can do to help stretch and lengthen your calf muscles. This can improve your range of motion, which helps you perform other yoga poses. For example, if your calves are tight, you might find it difficult to keep your heel down in poses like Warrior 1.
Having tight calves can also make you more prone to injury in your athletic endeavors. Stretching them reduces this risk and brings ease into your daily movement.
1. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Curl your toes under and press your hips up toward the ceiling. You will look like an upside-down “V” Press your chest towards your knees and your heels toward the floor. Press into the mat with your hands. Relax your head and neck.
If your calves are really tight, it may be difficult or uncomfortable to stretch them both at once. You can focus on one at a time by first lifting one heel then the other. Once you have stretched each calf, try both at once.
Sometimes you can find more length in your calves by first lifting up onto the balls of your feet. Then focus on releasing the contraction before gently lowering your heels. This is a principle known as “contract-relax.” It’s easier to release and stretch a muscle more deeply after contracting it.
2. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
From Downward Dog, begin to walk your hands back towards your toes to come into standing forward bend. Allow your torso to hang over your legs.
For a deeper stretch, stand with the balls of your feet on a rolled sticky mat or towel and your heels on the floor. Slowly walk your hands away from your feet until you feel a good stretch.
3. Squat (Malasana)
Roll up to mountain pose and pause for a few breaths.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Bend your knees and lower your hips towards the floor into a squat. Bring your arms to the inside of your legs pressing out on the elbows against the insides of the knees. Bring your hands into prayer position. Relax your shoulders and lengthen your spine up. If this is quite intense, you can rest your heels on a rolled up towel.
Slowly straighten your legs coming into standing forward bend to release your hips.
4. Reclining Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)
Lie on your back with your legs extended. If you have a yoga strap, keep it within arms reach. Inhale and bring one knee into your chest. If using a strap, wrap it around the arch of your foot. Otherwise wrap your hand around the back or your leg. Straighten and extend your leg toward the ceiling. Keep your opposite leg extended out on the floor. As the calf and hamstring muscles release, draw the foot a little closer to your head. Hold for a few breaths. Gently lower the leg and repeat on the other side.
Do you have any go-to yoga poses for sore calves? I would love hear! Just leave your comments below.
Have a wonderful week!
Very cute image courtesy of Chickpea