Tight Calves? 6 Moves to Stretch and Strengthen Your Calf Muscles

By mark barroso | February 28, 2019

 

You’ll spend the majority of any Tough Mudder event on your feet, so it’s crucial to train your leg muscles—thighs, hips, glutes, hamstrings, and calves—to be able to handle the demands of a Tough Mudder course. Between running and jumping during training, you’re bound to experience some soreness in your legs, specifically in your calves.

Quick anatomy lesson: The calf muscle is located on the back of the leg above the Achilles tendon, which is a tendon that leads into the heel bone of the foot. The muscles in the calf are responsible for raising the heel off the ground. The causes of calf soreness include an insufficient warm-up, poor flexibility, and tight hamstrings, thighs, and glutes. But these three tips can help you strengthen and stretch your calves and reduce calf muscle soreness—so you can get back to preparing for a Tough Mudder pain-free.

 

IMPROVE YOUR FLEXIBILITY

Calf soreness is a sign that your body is responding and adapting to the new rigors of training. Once you continue to do flexibility moves for the calves, soreness should decrease over time. Calf stretching can be done both using dynamic (moving through space) and static (staying in one place) stretches. These stretches can be done post-workout or directly prior to a Tough Mudder to properly alleviate tightness.

Two dynamic stretches that loosen the calves are the Over/Under Walk and Heel to Toe Walk.

1. Over/Under Walk

Equipment Needed: two hurdles, spaced 2-3 feet apart. If you don’t have hurdles, you can mirror the motion of trying to step over and under a hurdle with just your body.

How to Do It

1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart with a hurdle next your left leg. Bend your left knee and bring your left leg straight up until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Step laterally to the left, over the first hurdle.

2. Shift your bodyweight to the left leg and lift the right leg over the hurdle. Now you’re standing between the hurdles.

3. Do a squat and extend your left leg laterally under the second hurdle. Keeping your body low, move under the second hurdle, essentially ducking under it.

4. Stand tall and repeat the move in the other direction, ducking under the second hurdle followed by stepping over the first. That’s one total trip. Do 10 total trips.

2. Heel to Toe Walk

Equipment Needed: None

How to Do It

1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Take a small step forward with your right leg and place the heel of the right foot on the floor. Dorsiflex the foot, meaning point it towards the ceiling.

2. Roll onto the toes of the right foot and rise as high as possible onto the ball of the right foot.

3. Repeat on left leg. Aim to walk 50-100 yards (150-300 feet) total.

Two static stretches to improve calf flexibility are the Wall Stretch and Step Stretch.

3. Wall Stretch

Equipment needed: none

How to Do It

1. Stand facing a wall with feet shoulder-width apart and toes two feet from the wall. Lean forward and place both palms on the wall.

2. Step back two feet with the leg of the calf you want to stretch while bending the opposite knee.

3. Straighten the back leg and lower the back heel to the floor. You should feel a stretch in the calf of the back leg. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.

4. Step Stretch

Equipment Needed: a step or sturdy board

How to Do It

1. Place the ball of one foot on the edge of a step or board 3-4 inches high, with other foot flat on top of this step/board.

2. Keeping your legs straight, lower the heel of the foot that’s on the edge of the step as low as possible.

3. Do 10 reps then switch legs.

MORE: This Should Be Your Quick Post-Workout Stretch 

BUILD CALF ENDURANCE

Increasing muscular endurance, or the ability to withstand repeated contractions for an extended amount of time, will help you push your limits the day of your Tough Mudder. Targeting your calves during training is essential to preparing for any endurance event, including a Tough Mudder. Two calf training moves for endurance are the Standing Dumbbell Calf Raise and Seated Machine Calf Raise.

5. Standing Dumbbell Calf Raise

Equipment Needed: two dumbbells, between 20-40 pounds each.

How to Do It

1. Standing tall with feet shoulder width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand.

2. Go onto your tip toes so the heels leave the ground. Pause for 2-3 seconds, then return back the ground.

3. Do 15-20 reps for 3 sets.

6. Seated Machine Calf Raise

Equipment Needed: Seated Calf Raise Machine in local gym.

How to Do It

1. Sit down with knees bent and the balls of your feet on the horizontal platform.

2. There will be a stand for the weight rack. Remove the weight rack from its stand. Now you’re ready to begin.

3. Lower your heels towards the ground while keeping the balls of your feet (all of your toes) on the platform. Once you can’t go any lower, press onto your tip toes, raising the heel away from the ground.

4. Do 15-20 reps for 3 sets.

 

BE SMART ABOUT INJURY PREVENTION 

Even the most cautious Mudders might run into an injury. With that said, it’s better to be safe than sorry during training. To prevent calf injuries, do a self massage on the area using a foam roller, massage ball, or massage stick. Replace running and training shoes every 300 to 500 miles. And make sure any new training shoes provide enough cushion and spring for adequate calf stretching.

MORE: How to Use a Foam Roller (and Why You Should)

If you do have some minor calf or Achilles pain or swelling, swim or bike to maintain cardiovascular fitness instead of running. Menthol-based analgesic creams can help alleviate minor aches and pains from Tough Mudder training.