Updated: Oct 23, 2018
You’ve seen all the YouTube videos you could possibly ever see, with mountains of variations out there. The key to reducing tightness: keep it simple and follow a process.
Gastrocnemius – This is the most superficial muscle. It is a two-headed, two-joint muscle. One attachment is to the back on the knee whilst the other forms the achilles tendon. Although the gastrocnemius acts on both knee and ankle joints, it cannot exert its full power on both joints at the same time.
Soleus – This is deep of the gastrocnemius and is very powerful. A long flat muscle, its name was given due to the similarity of the sole, a flat fish. The soleus acts with the gastrocnemius to plantarflex the foot, it does not act on the knee joint.
Plantaris – This is a small muscle with a short belly and long tendon. It assists with the gastrocnemius. Because of its minor role, its often removed for grafting without causing any disability – so I wouldn’t worry so much about it, it’s just good to know.
INJURIES AND REASONS
If calf tightness isn’t addressed, it COULD lead to injuries such as:
· Achilles tendon problems
· Achilles tendon rupture
· Calf cramps
· Calf strains
· Plantar fasciitis
If you are an athlete, and you have tight calves, this could be dramatically affecting your performance. Walking, running and jumping relies on strong and elastic calf muscles. If your muscles are tight, you will not be able to load them to their full potential, meaning you’ll probably only get 60-70% of its capacity. Fully functioning calves can produce a great amount of power and can be the difference on game day, whatever your sport might be.
SHOW US THOSE FEET
One major factor for people having poor ankle mobility and tight calves is their footwear. A lot of people work 9-5 desk jobs which normally require a high heel or a solid unforgiving shoe and sitting for long periods of time. Being in one stationary position and the ankle not moving, means that your calf is also not moving, the shoes act as barriers for your ankle and prevent you calf from being exposed to full ranges of motion. I am a big believer of the benefits of barefoot training and moving. Giving your feet the opportunity to be free from their little foot coffins will give them a chance to move properly and allow the neural pathways to be exposed. Now I’m not saying walk everywhere with no shoes on, it’s not practical and could potentially lead to other injuries. Just every now and then, when you can, take your shoes (and socks) off, and walk around and give your feet some freedom. Your body will thank you for it. Mainly your feet.
Here I have listed 5 ways to help improve your flexibility:
1. WARM UP. This is something that a lot of people miss out. Skipping this part will affect the outcome of all that stretching you try to do. If a muscle is not warm or ready for any type of movement, then putting it on a massive stretch isn’t going to help very much. No real standard for this, just warm up. Bike, Run, Skip, Cross trainer etc. Just make sure you are moving, and you are using your legs. I believe a good warm up is complete when you are beginning to sweat.
2. ROLL IT OUT. Now that you have warmed up, it’s time to start rolling that calf. Grab yourself a massage ball and place it on the floor. Sit down and place your leg on the ball and prop yourself up with your arms. The idea is to ‘seek and destroy’, so find those sore points and work on them. Apply a pressure that is comfortable but also feels like its ‘working’ on the muscle. Move your leg around on the ball so you can target the whole muscle, remember it’s a big area so take your time. You can utilise techniques like contract and relax whilst you apply pressure on the ball. Also move your ankle up, down, side to side to get into the muscle even more.
3. STATIC STRETCH THAT. After rolling out the muscle, it’s now time to stretch and elongate the new range of motion by using static stretching. Simple and straight forward stretches work the best. Attached are the photos of the stretches, hold each for a minute minimum and repeat each side 3-4 times.
4. DYNAMIC STRETCH THAT. Once you’ve stretched them, move onto some dynamic stretching. One that works really well is the heel drop calf raise. Find yourself a step of box and stand on it with your heel dropping down. From there, push on your midfoot so you move into a calf raise. This will be working your calf to its full ranges. Complete 10-15 reps on each side and repeat 2-3 times.
5. JUMPS AND PLYOMETRICS. Full range has been completed and now its time to introduce small jumps. Again, keeping it simple, all I want you to do is jump in the spot with your feet just leaving the ground. Try and do this continuously for 30 seconds and repeat a couple of times.
There you go. Try to test and retest your flexibility to gage how much you can improve with just some simple exercises and processes. An easy and quick test is to do a simple squat. Squat before you start the protocol, squat once you’ve completed the sequence. You should be able to feel the difference, and also see the difference in how low you can squat. The calf muscle has many roles and actions, so assessing and creating a full range of motion in different situations will provide the best outcome.
These 5 ways of helping will address the calf tightness. However, your tightness could be a reaction to another part of your body not functioning properly. Look out for our other posts which will address the knee, hips and lower back, which can directly affect the functioning of the calf muscles.
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