If you’re a regular sufferer of running calf cramps then the first thing you need to know is that there are 2 muscle groups associated with the calves and they both need attention.
There are two muscle groups of the calves - the Gastrocnemius and the Soleus. And while most people, especially runners, are familiar with a ‘generalised’ calf stretch, you should be aware of the main difference in stretching technique to gain maximum benefit for each of the muscle groups.
The main difference we speak of is whether your knees are bent or straight.
Having the knees straight in any of the calf stretches allows you to stretch the Gastrocnemius muscles while applying the same stretch with your knees bent allows you to stretch the muscles of the Soleus.
Most people are pretty good at stretching their Gastrocnemius muscles but totally forget about the muscles of the Soleus.
The Gastrocnemius muscle stretch
To stretch the Gastrocnemius try and avoid a common method of standing on the curb and dropping your heels – this is too severe for a muscle to tolerate if it hasn’t lengthened sufficiently after any form of exercise.
Instead try this – keep your body upright, put one leg out in font of the other with the knee bent and the other leg back with the knee straight – it’s the same leg position as if you were leaning against a tree or post, except keep your body upright rather than leaning forward. For maximum stretch, keep the back foot flat on the ground.
Soleus muscle stretch
The same principles apply but it is important to bend the stretching leg at the knee.
This takes the Gastrocnemius muscle - which attaches above the knee - out of the stretch and concentrates the stretch on the Soleus.
Here’s another variation calf stretch. For this stretch you can use a door jam, a pole or fence, lamp post or railing: put your foot against the door frame/pole/fence, hold onto it with your hands and lean forward with your back straight.
If you’re wearing trainers, you’ll be able to put your foot against the door jam and get your heel as close as you can to the door and then bring yourself forward using your hands.
If you’re in bare feet or socks, you might not be able to get your heel against the door to start with but you can work towards it.
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Paul Newland is a health and nutrition consultant, trainer, martial arts instructor, commercial helicopter pilot and author. His Ultimate Cramp Busting Guide is the definitive guide to preventing, treating and curing cramps associated with exercise. In the Ultimate Cramp Busting Guide Newland speaks with 6 health, sports, nutrition, medical and complimentary health care professionals and explains why you get cramps, the best ways to treat them and how to prevent them from happening again.