Smutty Fitness: Tight Calves

July 31, 2015 13:58:34 Posted at July 31, 2015 13:58:34
Hayley Posted by Hayley
AKM-GSI/ Splash News

Hi Hayley, I'm training for my first 10km! I have been stop-start about trying to get fit for years, I am usually good for two-three weeks, then get lazy again. I also get pains in my lower legs, particularly the outside of my calf, which is a disincentive to go out and run. This time however, I've told people I'm doing it, so there's no backing out now!

I have been using the Nike Training app (which is great!), however when I go running I usually have to stop and stretch my lower leg muscles again after 1-2km. It's really frustrating, especially as I'm trying to push the distance I run and I don't want to have to do that during the race. I stretch for 5-10 minutes before I go out, focusing on my lower legs, I've loosened my shoe laces (as my feet were becoming numb-ish while out) and I'm drinking lots of water before I run too.

The stretches I do are -
1) touch toes - slowly lowering down, grab the back of calves to increase the stretch
2) one leg in front of the other - front knee bent
3) one foot on wall - toe on wall, heel on ground, other foot flat behind and lean into it
4) feet shoulder width apart, bend knees as low as I can with back still straight over hips.

The first 3km of my run is uphill, and I know that it's not as painful when I'm on the flat sections. Unfortunately I don't know of any completely flat routes near me, and the thoughts of doing the hills in the middle or at the end of a run is not appealing. I also think the hills have helped make less hilly routes easier to do, and I like that!

I was hoping you could help me with stretches and strengthening exercises I should do on run days, and non-run days. Is there anything dietary I should be looking at as well? Thanks!


The first thing you need to do is see your doctor and get a referral for a physiotherapist. It is easy for us to try and guess what is wrong when we experience pain but you need to make sure that you have your calves examined by a professional, so you can get yourself on the right path to getting better. I also deal with nagging calf injuries and have spent a lot of time during my running seasons working with chiropractors and physiotherapists. Trust me, don’t do this alone.

If I was to guess, I would have to say that your issues are a combination of poor running mechanics, muscular imbalances and skeletal alignment issues. All of these areas need to be addressed in order to enable you to run pain free. 

Find a physiotherapist who will analyze your running technique and will help you improve your gait and your muscle function. Also, visit a specialty running store and have a professional shoe fitter find the best shoe for your foot. Sometimes getting your feet into the correct shoe is all that needs to be done.  You are going to have to pay a little bit more but the advice and knowledge you will receive from a fit specialised is worth it. Bring your old shoes with you too, as that will help you find the perfect shoe.

Your running route is not ideal but since you do not seem able to change starting your run with a massive hill, then you must warm up before you even step outside. Do these exercises before and after each run, as well as the exercises your physiotherapist will prescribe for you. I wish I could snap my fingers and make all the pain go away but unfortunately you are going to have to do some serious work to become stronger and a faster runner.

You can find rollers pretty much anywhere these days, but your best bet is a physiotherapy clinic or a specialty running shop. The stick is my favourite for calves, as it really allows you to target all the muscles that are tight. Basically, pretend it is a rolling pin and your calf is the dough and roll away before, and after, each run. 

Half foam roller calf stretch
This is a great tool to have at home as you can use it for so many more exercises than just stretching.  Again, you can find these anywhere but most likely they will be at a physiotherapy clinic or specialty running shop. Barefoot, you will place the ball of one foot on the rounded side of the foam roller with the heel pressed to the ground, and the other foot forward, flat on the floor with a bent knee. Position your elbows against a wall and lean the body forward, ensuring you are not arching your back and that your hips are level and your arches in your feet remain high (don’t allow them to drop). Hold for 30-60 seconds on each side.

Half foam roller hamstring stretch
After you have finished the calf stretch, slide the foam roller back a few inches and then place the balls of both feet on the foam roller, with your heels down, and position your hands on the wall with a straight arm. Keep your back flat and work on lifting your sit bones up to the ceiling in order to lengthen your hamstrings. Hold this stretch for 30-60 seconds.

Heel Drops
This exercise is going to help lengthen and strengthen all of the muscles in the back of your legs, and it is a great way to warm your legs up before a run. When I was dealing with my own calf issues I would stop a few times in my run when I was feeling pain and do 1 or 2 sets of 10. Find a step and place the balls of your feet on the step with your heels hanging off. Lift up onto your tip toes and then take one foot off, slowly lowering your body down by dropping your heel, ensuring you maintain a high arch. When you have dropped your heel as far as it will go, place the other foot back onto the step and raise yourself back up. Repeat this 10 times on one side and then switch to the other.

Once you have finished these exercises, complete a basic warm up of 30 – 60 seconds of high knees, butt kicks, strides, squats, lunges, jumping jacks and mountain climber. Hopefully, after doing all of these warm up exercises, your calves will be ready to tackle your run.

Attached - Lena Dunham on the set of Girls this week in New York. 

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