Many times, I am asked which stretch is most important because people are so busy, and they want to be efficient. It’s the daily calf stretch. This one area of the human body can affect every activity of the human body including balance, walking, running, twisting, and posture. Without knowing how to stretch this area properly it can lead to foot, knee, hip, back, and neck pain, and even all of them at the same time. This area can make you feel much older than you are. Today we will discuss why the calves are so important and why you should stretch them every day, twice a day.
The Anatomy of the Calf
Many of us rarely think about our calves unless we get a cramp in the middle of the night. The truth is, the calves are the most important area of the body for the performance of nearly everything we do. In each of our calves, we have two bones that run from the ankle to the knee. On the backside are the four major calf muscles that run from above the knee down to the arch of the foot. Due to the placement of these muscles, they are responsible for the vertical, lateral, and rotational movement of the foot. On the front side of the calf, there are three major muscles of the shin which run from under the kneecap down to the tips of the toes. These muscles allow you to lift your toes, so you do not trip over your toes as you walk. In-between the two bones of the calf are interosseous muscles that allow the bones to rotate.
Calf muscles, if not properly stretched and strengthened, can lead to supination, pronation, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, pain on the ball of your foot, and knee pain. On top of that, it’s in the calves that most movements begin. If the calves are tight, this can cause neck and shoulder pain as well. It is essential to maintain the calves correctly.
As most of us age, we fear falling and breaking a hip or shoulder. This will lead us to take shorter strides due to poor balance. The shorter strides will lead to a more head-forward posture which can cause headaches, stiff neck, and rounded shoulders, making us look much older than we are and no one wants that, right?
How to Improve with a Daily Calf Stretch
Taking care of your calves is very simple and only takes 15-20 minutes, twice a day. I would suggest you do your stretches in the morning after you wake and in the evening before bedtime. All you need is a yoga strap, the floor, or a hard-backed chair with an ottoman or another chair. There are three elements to keep in mind while doing these stretches:
1- The stretching itself–putting your body in the correct position to actually stretch the four muscles of the calf.
2- Breathing while stretching- Begin by inhaling fully, then slowly begin to exhale as you pull the toes back towards your body with the strap.
3- The brain- give the brain time to relax and release the muscle as you stretch it.
It is not about just stretching 10 times but sitting with the feeling for 5 seconds to show the brain the movement is safe.
When you sit on the floor, place one leg out in front of you. Make sure your hips and back are against a wall for support of the back. Place the yoga strap around the ball of the foot. Inhale, then slowly exhale as you pull the toes back towards you Use the strap. If you are sitting in a hard-backed chair, place one leg straight out in front of you onto an ottoman or another chair. Place the yoga strap around the ball of the foot, inhale, then slowly exhale while pulling the toes back towards you with the strap. Be sure to sit up straight while doing this or you may not feel the stretch.
Repeat the stretch 10 times to show the brain that the movement is safe. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds so as not to engage the stretch reflex inherent in every muscle to prevent an injury. Do not worry about how far the foot moves at this point, just focus on the feeling of the stretch and location of the stretch. If the foot is pointing up, you should feel the stretch up behind the knee. If the foot is tuned inward, then you should feel the stretch on the outside of the calf. If the foot is turned outward, then you should feel the stretch on the inside of the calf.
When I talk about feeling the stretch, I am not talking about feeling pain. This is not a “no pain, no gain” scenario. It may not hurt at all, but what I want is for you to feel the muscle letting go or releasing. With practice, you will get to know how your body feels as it is stretching versus what we have always been taught.
In using my technique, you are allowing the brain to release the muscles versus brute force that you see in many gyms and physical therapy. It takes practice, but once you get it, and you will, your body will feel more energized and vibrant.
Want my shoes?
Some of you have asked about where to get the shoes I wear.
Click here to order your own pair of Xero shoes.
Stretching is more about feeling the muscles letting go than forcing them to stretch. If you are forcing the muscle, you could be doing strength training, not stretching. Make sure you are feeling the intended muscle stretching. If not, the form could be wrong. Holding for 5 seconds allows the brain to release the muscle before it senses any danger. Repeating the stretches 10 times allows the brain to learn it is safe for the muscle to move that way.
Don’t forget the Tennis Ball Massage!
Softening your hips and back is easy when you use the tennis ball. Just lean against the wall and apply enough pressure to feel the painful area. The temptation is to press harder but resist it. Instead, breathe out and allow the muscle to soften under the ball. Then move to another spot and repeat. Continue doing this until most of the painful spots are gone. Check out previous newsletters to see the video.
Want to Talk with Me Directly? Start Here
We’re happy to offer you a complimentary 30-min virtual consultation so you can experience this for yourself. Schedule your introduction to Stretch n Release now.
.About The Muscle Repair Shop
Drawing upon his personal experience as a former competitive athlete turned wheelchair, obese, and chronic pain sufferer, Muscle Repair Shop Founder Butch Phelps decided to take his health into his own hands when at the age of 36 he was told he might not make it to his 40th birthday. Applying balanced nutrition advice from his doctor along with a sound exercise program, he went from 315 lbs. to 180 lbs. Motivated by his experience, he then acquired degrees in advanced therapeutic massage and aging sciences to help people eliminate chronic pain. This included applying his expertise in how people age, including the effects of dementia, anatomy, psychology, and the day-to-day struggles of living as an older person to his practice and development of The Muscle Repair Shop’s one-of-a-kind Stretch n’ Release Technique.
Available through in-office and virtual coaching treatment sessions, this unique combination of stretching and breath work teaches the brain to release the emotional side of muscle tension and pain allowing clients to find lasting relief and healing from stiffness, aches, injuries, and chronic pain. The at-home exercises come with customized instructional videos and virtual or in-office support, allowing clients to enjoy and experience life and sports as they did before limitations slowed or curtailed activities.