A nice, deep calf stretch is a near-essential preparation for many types of exercise. Cardio workouts like soccer, running, cycling and stair climbing all significantly challenge the calf to contract and release quickly, and at varying angles and tension levels. Meanwhile, strength-training exercises like calf presses, mountain climbers and lunge pulses push the tension and power limits of your calf muscles. All of these exercises provide ample opportunity for muscle tears, sprains and strains. Stretching before and after your workout can help reduce the risk of injury and loosen the calf muscles for optimal performance during your workout.
Dynamic Calf Stretch
The dynamic calf stretch warms your calf muscles and loosens them up. From your hands and knees, raise your hips so that your body makes an inverted “V” shape. Keep your elbows, knees and back straight. Pick up one foot and set it down on the opposite ankle. Slowly and gingerly, lower your planted foot so that your heel approaches the ground. Gradually release back up so that you are once again pressing into the balls of your feet. Be careful not to injure yourself by overstretching. Do 10 to 15 repetitions for each leg. You can also modify this exercise to better suit the workout you are preparing for. Ideally, the dynamic stretch that you do before a workout should mimic the range of motion employed during that workout, but at a lower tension and reduced speed.
Rolling the Calves
Rolling the calves provides a dynamic stretch for pre-workout flexibility training. You will need a foam roller to complete this stretch. While seated, with your legs out in front, reach back and support yourself with both hands. Set one of your calves on the roller. Slowly raise yourself up so that you’re supported by only the foam roller and your hands. Maintaining precise control, roll back and forth on the roller. Each repetition should take three to four seconds. Do 10 to 15 repetitions with each leg.
Against a Wall
The against-the-wall move is a static stretch that targets your gastrocnemius, a major muscle in the calf. Static stretches are helpful for loosening up after an intense workout. Press both of your hands firmly on a wall in front of you. Lean forward against the wall. Stand with one leg behind you, straight at the knee, and the other leg in front of you, bent at the knee. Push your back heel against the floor, while shifting your hips forward slightly. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Do 10 to 15 repetitions with each leg. To target the soleus, the other major muscle in your calf, repeat this stretch with your back leg slightly bent. Ensure that you are able to hold the stretch without any pain. If you feel any pain, ease up and go for a shallower stretch.
The assisted stretch, which is also a static stretch, has the potential for placing deep tension on your calves. While seated, extend your legs in front of you. Wrap a towel or an exercise band around one foot, and hold an end of the band in each of your hands. Maintaining a flat back, ease the band back toward you, until you begin to experience a deep stretching sensation in your calf. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat 10 to 15 times with each leg. Do not stretch so far that it's painful, as this may damage your muscle.