Exercises and Stretches for Tight Calf Muscles

Tightness in the calf is often caused by too much neural stimulation to the muscles and connective tissues, which cause weakness to the opposing muscle group (tibialis complex). To decrease the tightness, you should first find the cause, stretch the tight areas to reduce neural stimulation and strengthen the weakness that is also causing the tightness.

Self-myofascial Release

Self-myofascial release (SMR) is a technique used to release trigger points and separate muscle adhesions that are causing the tightness. You can use a foam roller or a massage stick to relax the tension in the muscles and joints in a specific area. Roll tender spots on a foam roller, and then gently rub the area until the tenderness decreases significantly. Do not rush this exercise or massage to quickly and hard because your muscles may reflexively tighten which may cause tissue damage.

Multi-planar Calf Stretch

This exercise stretches the calf muscles, calcaneal tendon and surrounding tissues in three directions: neutral, inversion and eversion of the foot. Be sure to wear non-elevated shoes to do this exercise. No bare feet or flip-flops.

Place a half-foam roller about 18 inches away from a wall. Place your right foot onto the the foam roll with your leg slightly internally rotated. Step forward to the wall with your left foot in front of the foam roll with your hands placed on the wall for support. Put some weight on the front leg and you should feel a stretch throughout your right calf. Hold that position until you feel some relaxation.

Then step your left foot to the left until you feel a weight shift onto the inside area of your right foot. This inverts the foot toward the center of your body and provides a stretch to the outer calf.

Finally, step across the center of your body to your right and stretch the inner calf. Hold until you feel relaxed. Repeat the pattern―front, left, right―three to four times per leg. Determine if one side is tighter than the other.

Multi-planar Hip Flexor Stretch

Stretching the hip flexors also strengthens your buttocks in which the weakness in the buttocks can cause tight hamstrings and calves.

Stand with your left leg in front of the right with your toes pointing forward. Raise your right arm up and lunge forward with your left foot and shift your weight forward. Hold the position until you feel tension ease from your hip flexor.

Then bend laterally to the left with your right arm over your head and place your left arm on your left knee for balance. Twist slowly to your right while maintaining the lean and hip and feet positions. Reverse the movement to repeat 2 to 3 more times, and do the other side of the hip.

Lower Body Strength

Once you get your calves stretched, do lower body exercises to strengthen the calf muscles and tissues. You may feel that you are able to perform these movement patterns better than the pre-stretch condition.

Sample exercises include body squats, multi-planar step-ups and lunges. Do about 5 to 10 reps for 3 rounds per exercise with very little rest between sets. Don’t forget to stretch after this workout.

About this Author

Nick Ng has been writing fitness-related stories since 2003, focusing on nutrition, injury prevention and exercise strategies. He received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and is a certified fitness coach from the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.