Get Rid of Tight Calves FOREVER – The Ultimate Guide

Get Rid of Tight Calves FOREVER – The Ultimate Guide

For runners, tight calves are a very common problem and can range from being a mild nuisance to being quite painful.

There are a variety of conditions that affect the calf muscles and cause tightness or soreness in the lower leg...

...The good news is that many of these conditions are treatable and preventable.

So what exactly causes tight or painful calves and what can you do to relieve that tightness and prevent it in the future?

Tight calves may be the result of a strain or tear in one of the calf muscles or it could be due to a cramp or spasm in the muscle, which is painful but usually short-lived and treated by stretching.

Tightness in the calf muscle is also sometimes a symptom of overuse so if you are experiencing some pain and stiffness it might be signal from your body that you are overtraining.

In this posts we'll take a look at the following: (Click on any of the links to visit the relevant section)

  1. What causes tight calves
  2. How to release tight calves
  3. How to prevent tight calves
  4. Stretches for tight calf muscles

 

Let's delve into what is causing your calf muscles to tighten up when you run...

 

What causes tight calves?

 

That’s a great question and the best place to start. There are essentially 5 reasons you may have tight calf muscles:

  1. Cramps in the calves
  2. Overuse - Simply training too much
  3. A muscle strain or pulling a calf muscle
  4. A lack of warming up and/or stretching
  5. Poor biomechanics in the foot

 

Time to dig into each of these causes in a bit more detail:

 

Cramping in your calf muscles

Cramps in the calf muscles are very common and like most cramps, the jury is out on what causes cramps. They could be caused by a variety of things, including dehydration, lack of a proper warm-up prior to exercise, weak muscles, loss of electrolytes and or excessive physical activity.

 

Overuse

Just like any muscle in your body, adaptation to increased training load takes time. If you increase that load too quickly or if you continue to train without allowing your calf muscles to recover, you run the risk of picking up an overuse injury.

Your calf muscles are used on a daily basis, especially if you’re a runner, and when you haven’t warmed up before a run or stretched properly afterwards, their flexibility is more limited.

This puts more strain and pressure on other parts of your legs and makes you more susceptible to pain, tightness and injury.

Strenuous activities and sports like running are very taxing on your calf muscles so people who train too hard or too long are at higher risk of getting calf tightness, pain or cramps.

 

A calf muscle strain or pull

There are two muscles that run along the back of your lower leg - the Gastrocnemius muscle and the Soleus muscle.

The Gastrocnemius is a large muscle that runs from the top of the knee joint to the heel of the foot while the smaller Soleus muscle lies underneath the Gastrocnemius and attaches to the bottom of the knee joint down to the heel.

Calf pain and tight calves can be due to a strain or tear in either of these muscles.

A muscle strain is when a tear occurs in the muscle fibre. The pain and tightness of the calf will then depend on the severity of the tear. Symptoms of a muscle strain include a sharp, sudden pain and tenderness around the muscle.

 

Lack of  warm-up or stretching

A lack of a proper warm-up routine before your run, or not stretching enough after running could be the cause of the muscle tightness you’re experiencing in your calves. If you don’t stretch properly, your muscles can develop small micro-tears which can cause spasms in the muscles.

If you don’t stretch your calf muscles regularly then your muscles may shorten and therefore become tighter. Wearing high heels also results in adaptive shortening of the calf muscles.

 

Foot biomechanics

Your running style, the way your foot hits the ground when you are running and your ankle mobility could also contribute to calf tightness.

Overpronating (when the foot rolls in or flattens) can put a strain on your calf muscles every time you run or walk, which may cause the muscle to tighten in response to the repetitive strain.

 

Lack of  warm-up or stretching

A lack of a proper warm-up routine before your run, or not stretching enough after running could be the cause of the muscle tightness you’re experiencing in your calves. If you don’t stretch properly, your muscles can develop small micro-tears which can cause spasms in the muscles.

If you don’t stretch your calf muscles regularly then your muscles may shorten and therefore become tighter. Wearing high heels also results in adaptive shortening of the calf muscles.

Pro Tip: Watch this video with our Strength & Conditioning Coach Shona to discover if you should be stretching.

 

Foot biomechanics

Your running style, the way your foot hits the ground when you are running and your ankle mobility could also contribute to calf tightness.

Overpronating (when the foot rolls in or flattens) can put a strain on your calf muscles every time you run or walk, which may cause the muscle to tighten in response to the repetitive strain.

 

How to release tight calves?

 

Now that we’ve covered what is the cause of tight calves, what happens when you get back from a run and your calves have tightened up? What can you do to release a tight calf muscle?

Here are 6 things you can do to release tight calves:

  1. Stretching
  2. Compression
  3. Foam Rolling your calf muscles
  4. Sports Massage
  5. The RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevate)
  6. Physical therapy

 

Stretching

Regular stretching can help relieve some of the pain and tightness in your calves as well as prevent tightness from occurring after you exercise.

It’s important to stretch after you’ve run and while the calf muscle is still warm. Static stretching before you’ve warmed up could compound the problem.

Compression

A calf compression sleeve can be used to support the calf muscles and enhance circulation in your lower leg. Wearing compression sleeves can help aid in the recovery of calf tightness and can provide some immediate relief.

 

Rolling your muscles

Foam rollers can be used to relieve tension in the calf muscles if done properly. You can target the different muscles and areas of your calves by positioning your legs differently on the roller and apply pressure by using your body weight.

Massage

Sports massage therapy can help to relax your muscles as well as improve your flexibility. A massage therapist will know how to relieve the tension in your calves and enhance circulation in your calves which will help with recovery and healing.

 

The RICE method

Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation is a good rule of thumb for immediate treatment for tight or sore calves and can help reduce possible damage to the muscles.

Physical Therapy

If you suffer from chronic tightness or pain in your calf muscles, consider going to see a physiotherapist who can then recommend more specialized stretches and treatments to suit your specific needs.

 

How to prevent getting tight calves?

 

There is much truth in the old adage that prevention is better than cure. If you want to avoid missing out on running due to your calves tightening up then there are a few things you can do:

 

Warm up before and stretch after you run

Stretching is one of the main ways to prevent tightness and pain in your calves during or after exercise. Make sure you warm up before you start running to get the blood flowing and to warm up the muscle fibers in your calf.

Stretching after you run to help alleviate any stiffness or tightness as you cool down.

 

Wear the right shoes

Make sure you have a good quality pair of running shoes that provide enough support for your feet and ankles so that you don’t put any extra strain on your calves. It’s also important to look at the drop of your running shoe.

The drop is the difference in height between the heel of your running shoe and the toe of the shoe. The drop affects the angle of your foot in relation to your calf muscle. Changing from a higher drop running shoe a lower drop running shoe will put added strain on your achilles tendon and calf muscle due to the change in angle.

It is therefore important to ensure you are running in the right pair of shoes for you.

 

Regular massage therapy

If your budget allows for it, try to go for massage therapy on a regular basis. Massage therapy can help relieve tension and enhance blood circulation so that your muscles stay strong and in good shape. Regular sports massages also help pick up any problem areas before they become major injury concerns.

 

Eat Well and Stay hydrated

Eating a balanced diet and drinking enough water throughout the day helps to ensure that your muscles and your body are healthy and are able to cope better with physical activity.

 

Strength and Conditioning Training

Improving your overall fitness and adding some strength work into your training schedule can also help to prevent tightness in your calves. Strength work will help you to condition your muscles to ensure you’re not putting any extra strain on your calves or any other parts of your body.

Pro Tip: The free strength training plan below is a perfect addition to any running training plan.

Do you want to shave 10 minutes off your marathon PB?

You can run faster with our FREE running strength training programme that you can do once a week, at home and with no expensive gym equipment needed.

 

Included in the programme:

 Detailed descriptions of each exercise so you know how to do them

 Number of repetitions for each exercise so that you avoid overtraining & injury

 Short videos showing you EXACTLY what to do (Number 6 will turn you into the "Marathon Slayer" so that you don't hit the wall and implode later in the race)

Stretches for tight calf muscles

 

As mentioned already stretching of the calf muscles can go a long way to preventing and treating tightness and stiffness in your calves.

Here are some basic calf stretches that you can do to help warm up your muscles and relieve tightness or tension in the muscles. It’s important to do these after you have warmed up correctly and not to overextend the muscle.

 

The wall stretch

Stand with your hands up against a wall and step back with one foot keeping your leg straight and your heel on the ground or as close to the ground as you can get. This will stretch out the Gastrocnemius muscles.

If you stay in the same position and bend your knee, you will feel the stretch deeper in your calf in your Soleus muscle. Hold the stretch for about 30-60 seconds at a time.

Eccentric calf raises

Stand on a step with the balls of your feet so that your heels hang off the edge. Rise up onto the balls of your foot and then slowly lower your heels below the step. Go back up onto the balls of your feet and repeat. You can hold onto a rail or wall to help you keep your balance during this stretch.

 

The double calf stretch

Stand facing a wall with your legs hip width apart. Put your hands on the wall and lean forward while keeping your heels on the ground. Bending your knees slightly can help stretch the muscles more if you’re not feeling it.

The single leg calf stretch

Sit on the floor with one leg stretched out in front of you and the other bent inwards. Then lean forward, lowering your chest towards your leg, and reach for your toes with your hands or a band while flexing your foot.

 

Downward facing dog

This move is great for stretching your muscles after a workout. Start out on all fours with your knees below your hips and your hands below your shoulders. Step back onto your feet to go into a high plank and then raise your hips up so that your body forms a triangle with the ground. Keep your back straight and place most of your weight onto your legs.

Then bend one knee and push the heel of your other foot into the mat to stretch the calf. Hold this position for about 10-15 seconds and then swap legs and repeat.

In conclusion, the calf muscles play a huge role in running and by avoiding tight calves by using the methods outlined above will go a long way to keeping you injury-free and on the road or trails where we belong.

 

What are you training for?

Simply click on any of the images below to access our running training programmes.