Tight Calves: What Can You Do?
With the European Inferno coming to a close this evening, there are bound to be some tight calves leaving Cardiff's National Indoor Athletics Centre. If that includes you, or you have chronic calf pain, here are a few things you can try:
Do you find you loosen off and mobilise your calves, only for them to tighten up a few hours later? If you want to have a big impact, and reduce the pain on a long-term basis, you need to commit to doing something with them every day.
The most effective stretch will depend upon where the tightness originates, but here are a few you can try:
Seated Calf Stretch
If the pain and tightness occurs in your outer calf, sit on the floor with both legs straight out in front of you. Grab a resistance band (choose one with a high resistance), and loop it around one of your feet, keeping enough tension in the band. Flex your foot and try to bring your toes towards your knee, until you feel the stretch.
Drop Step Stretch
Stand on a step, or a curb if you're outside, placing the ball of your foot close to the edge. Lower your heal down towards the floor, supporting yourself on the handrail or wall if you need to steady yourself. Do this slowly, and don't push yourself too far to begin with. As you improve calf flexibility, you should aim to touch the ground with your heel, keeping the ball of your foot on the edge of the step.
Downward Facing Dog
This classic yoga pose is another great way to stretch the calves. Start on your hands and knees, with your wrists in line with your shoulders, and your knees with your hips.
Distributing your weight evenly across your hands, straighten your elbows and relax your upper bag. At the same time, tuck in your toes and straighten your legs. Lift your pelvis up, aiming for ceiling, imagining your legs and hips being pulled backwards.
Try to bring your chest towards your thighs, and keep your heels as close to the ground as possible to maximise the calf stretch.
Foam Roll and Mobilise
We've already talked about the importance of mobility, and that couldn't be any truer when it comes to fixing issues with your calves.
Foam rolling is a good idea, but you might need to get a friend to help you out - you'll probably need to apply a little bit more pressure to get the best results. Use the foam roller to mobilise your calves as you would normally, then ask a training buddy to gently apply pressure, rolling your calves from side to side. The principles are the same - when you find a knot, apply a little more pressure and focus on the affected area until the pain subsides.
As well as using a foam roller, you should also make sure you have some massage balls in your mobility kit too. These are particularly effective when it comes to self-myofascial release on the calves.
You shouldn't do this every day, so make sure you give your muscles enough time to recover after each session on the roller or massage ball!
See a Professional
The calves are a problem area for many people, and in a variety of sports. The muscles are often overworked, and it's easy to overlook this in your recovery routine. If you're not getting results from regular stretching and mobility work, it's time to visit a professional!
Most sports physiotherapists will have lots of experience when it comes to tight calves, so will be able to diagnose the cause of the problem and provide you with some exercises to give you the most benefit.
For both chronic pain, and sore calves from a competition or event, a sports massage is also recommended. This can be an uncomfortable 45 minutes, but the results are often noticeable straight away. For long-term problems, you might need to have a few sessions before the pain begins to subside.