How to Release Tight Calves – Top Tips and Tools
We’ve all been there before. You’re in the middle of a run or an intense workout, and slowly as your training progresses, the steady discomfort from a pair of tight calves starts to creep up on you.
At this point, you already know that your calves are going to be sore tomorrow, and you begin thinking of ways you can alleviate the pain and improve mobility. Tight calves can have a large impact on your overall biomechanics. From slower running strides to diminished ankle dorsiflexion and a less effective function of the tibialis, the range of motion from your calves are a major factor.
But why do your calves get tight and lead to the onset of soreness in the first place?
This article breaks down everything you need to know about the cause of tight calves, the best calf stretching devices, and how to prevent your calves from getting tight in the first place.
- Why Do Your Calves Get Tight?
- Best Calf Stretching Devices
- Myofascial Release for Sore Calves
- How to Prevent Your Calves From Getting Tight
Why Do Your Calves Get Tight?
There are a variety of factors that come into play that ultimately cause muscle tightness. The three most significant reasons are:
- Shortened muscle tissue from inactivity
- Demand exceeding current strength of the muscle
- Hydration and nutrition
Each of these variables comes into play at different times before, during, and after your training. So let’s break down what’s happening in your body when your muscles tighten up into two categories: during exercise and after exercise.
Calves Getting Tight During Exercise
Tight calves during exercise are, unfortunately, a common experience. Prior inactivity can be a major cause. If you spend a lot of time sitting and not moving around throughout the day, the muscles in your calves become shortened. When you set out for a run or train with an exercise heavy on the calves, they can risk tearing when your muscles lengthen and shorten during each contraction.
But what about if you already have an active lifestyle and you find yourself still getting tight calves even though you know it’s not from inactivity?
Muscle tightness also occurs during muscle fatigue. This typically happens when the output you demand from your calves is higher than the current strength and endurance of the muscle.
Running specifically, it can be difficult to judge how much exertion you’re putting on your calves for any given workout. Every trail is different. Different grades of hills and surfaces cause variable output requirements and ranges of motion from your calves.
This is what makes monitoring and designing your training schedule so important. Doing so allows you to gradually increase overload on your muscles without overdoing it and putting you out of training.
Tight and Sore Calves After Exercise
High-intensity exercise can create what’s called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS.) DOMS occurs after microscopic tears in your muscle tissue signal your body’s inflammation response to deal with the damage.
Although muscle damage is, in a way, the purpose of training, progressive overload approaches the creation of exercise-induced muscle damage in a manageable way to improve strength and endurance.
When you overdo it in training, the muscle damage and increased inflammation response can lead to intolerable levels of pain and immobility.
The idea of muscle shortness described earlier also plays a role in experiencing additional muscle damage that causes increased soreness after exercise. If your muscles are in an artificially shortened state and then placed under load, you increase the chances of unexpected muscle tears.
Best Calf Stretching Devices
One of the best ways to mitigate the risk of shortened muscle tissue in your calves is to keep up with your regular stretching practice.
Here is a list of the best calf stretching devices that you can add to your gym bag.
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1.) ProStretch Double Original Calf Stretcher
The ProStretch Original Calf Stretcher is engineered specifically for the biomechanics of the calves. The surfaces provide the optimal stretching angle, keep your feet from slipping, and have a heel plate that keeps your foot secured in position to maximize the stretching of your calves.
You’ve probably seen the ProStretch Calf Stretcher before. It’s a common sight at gyms, in physical therapists’ offices, and even on the sidelines during professional sports – all with the classic and recognizable blue color.
One of the best features of the ProStretch is its size. It’s small enough to fit into your gym bag and still provides an incredible stretch for your calves wherever you go.
2.) Adjustable Slant Board
Adjustable slant boards give you additional variability and allow you to use gravity to your advantage.
Physical therapists have been using slant boards for decades to help manage calf strain, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendon injuries, and other foot and ankle pain.
Its straightforward design gives you the ability to change the angle and position, which optimizes the focus of your stretch and gives you more variety in the muscles you can target.
If you’re planning on dedicating time to your stretching practice at home, a slant board is a purpose-built tool that’s made to last.
3.) Foot and Calf Stretching Strap
The Original Stretch-EZ was patented in 2008 and is used by over 50,000 physical therapists and medical professionals to effectively stretch the calves, the surrounding muscles of the leg and treat conditions like plantar fasciitis.
Its unique design cradles the foot and secures above the ankle to maximize the effectiveness of the stretch. The stretching strap also provides ultimate portability and takes up virtually no space in your gym bag.
Myofascial Release for Sore Calves
Self-myofascial release is a form of self-massage that has a cascade of benefits for alleviating the pain and immobility associated with tight muscles. And it’s something that you can apply to improve the health and function of your calves too.
From foam rollers to massage guns, self-myofascial release helps improve range of motion, increase blood flow, reduce muscle soreness, and even help with flexibility.
Check out our ultimate guide to self-myofascial release if you’re interested in learning more about the full benefits and science behind how it works.
How to Prevent Your Calves From Getting Tight
Prevention comes down to what you do throughout the day leading up to exercise, directly before training, and afterward.
Maintaining hydration and nutrition throughout the day will ensure that your body has the tools it needs for proper muscle contraction during exercise. If your water and electrolyte levels drop too low, you risk reducing your muscles’ ability to function correctly.
Dynamic warmup before exercise also ensures that you’ll be ready to ramp up the intensity in your training. Warming up before you train increases blood flow to active muscles, boosts body temperature, stimulates the nervous system, and improves joint mobility. Combined, you reduce your chance of exercise-induced muscle injury and soreness.
Keeping up your daily stretching practice helps reduce the risk of shortened muscles from periods of inactivity throughout the day. Stretching is a slow and compounding process. It takes time to see the effects and benefits. Consistency is crucial for seeing the results of reducing muscle soreness and tightness during training.
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