From walking and running to cycling and climbing, these your calf muscles support your entire body and every day movement. If they’re feeling tight and causing pain, here are easy moves to loosen them up.
Let’s pause here for a quick anatomy lesson. Our calf muscles are made up of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the larger calf muscle that forms two heads that attach to either side of the femur. Both heads of the gastrocnemius merge together about halfway down the calf and form the calcaneal tendon (aka the Achilles tendon). The soleus is the smaller calf muscle that lies underneath the gastrocnemius and attaches to the tibia and the fibula. Towards the bottom of the calf, the soleus merges with the gastrocnemius and thus becomes the Achilles tendon.
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The gastrocnemius and the soleus are both responsible for plantar flexion, allowing your heel to pull up to allow forward movement. So, if you are on your feet a lot, you can see how this constant movement causes your calf muscles to shorten and become very tight. If you shorten your calf muscles without stretching them, it can lead to all sorts of problems like shin splints and plantar fasciitis. This is where yoga comes in!
These 10 yoga poses for tight calves will help to gently release your calf muscles and reverse the shortening that happens every time you walk, run, cycle, etc. To really see a difference in the flexibility of your calves, we recommend doing these poses consistently 3-4 times a week.
Walk Your Dog | 10 sec, 10 reps
- Begin on your hands and knees in a table top position. Spread your fingers wide, press into your hands and tuck your toes. Lift your hips in the air, making a v shape with your body to bring yourself into a Downward Facing Dog.
- Bend your right knee, keeping your left leg straight and pressing your left heel down. Hold for 10 seconds to feel the left calf stretch and then straighten your right leg out as you bend your left knee. Press down through the right heel for 10 seconds. Continue “walking your dog” out by peddling your feet one at a time for 10 repetitions.
Tip: If your shoulders get tired, lower down to your knees to rest and then go back to the Downward Facing Dog position to complete your repetitions.
Toe-to-Heel Downward Facing Dog | 20 sec per side
- Start in the Downward Facing Dog position.
- Inhale to lift your right leg straight up for a 3 Legged Downward Facing Dog. Take the big and second toes of your right foot and place them on your left heel.
- Exhale as you press the left heel down with your toes. Hold for 20 seconds. Inhale and lift your right leg high again for 3 Legged Downward Facing Dog, then exhale to place your right foot hip-width distance from your left, bringing you back into Downward Facing Dog.
- Lower down to your knees and find a table top position to rest your shoulders, then make your way back into your Downward Facing Dog to repeat on the other side.
Seated Forward Fold with Calf Stretch | 20 sec, 3 reps
- Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Sit up tall with a long spine and engage your core by pulling your bellybutton in towards your spine.
- Bend your knees slightly. Keep a long lower back and start to hinge forward at your hips, bringing your belly to touch your thighs.
- Reach for your feet and grab the tops of them. Pull back gently on the tops of your feet to feel your calves stretch. Hold for 20 seconds. Release the feet and sit up tall to rest. Repeat 3 times.
Tip: Bend your knees as much as you need to in order to keep your belly on your thighs so that your low back doesn’t round.
Table Top with Calf Stretch | 20 sec, 3 reps per side
- Begin in a table top position. Keep shoulders stacked above your wrists and hips stacked above knees. Your knees should be at 90-degree angles.
- Lift your right leg up and straighten it out behind you. Flex your right foot so that the ball of your foot comes to the ground.
- Apply gentle pressure to the ball of your right foot and shift your hips back to stretch the calf. Hold for 20 seconds. Shift your weight forward again to bring your shoulders back above your wrists and to release the calf stretch.
- Repeat by shifting your weight back and holding again for another 20 seconds. Do this stretch 3x on the right side and then come back to the table top position. Switch sides to stretch the left calf for 20 seconds 3x.
Half Downward Facing Dog | 20 sec per side
- Start on the floor in the table top position from above. Stack your shoulders over your wrists, then tuck your toes and lift your hips up so that they are in line with your shoulders and your body is in a high plank position.
- Pick your right foot up off of the ground and draw your knee in towards your chest. Begin to lift the hips up towards the ceiling and press your chest slightly back towards your left leg. Keep the right knee tucked in the whole time with your belly pulling in towards your spine.
- As you lift your hips, press your left heel towards the ground so you feel a stretch through your left calf muscles. Hold for 20 seconds and then place your right foot back on the ground. Lower down to your table top position and then repeat on the other side.
Vajrasana with Towel | 30 sec
- Start by rolling up your towel up. Bring your body into a table top position with your legs all the way together.
- Place the rolled-up towel behind your knees. Walk your hands back towards you and sit your hips back towards your heels. Lift your chest and place your hands on your thighs so that the weight of your body is pressing the towel into your calves. Hold for 30 seconds.
Forward Fold with Rolled Towel | 30 sec
- To begin, place your rolled-up towel on the floor. Standing, step the balls of your feet onto the towel, keeping your heels on the floor.
- Bend the knees slightly, lower your upper body, and reach your hands towards the ground to bring your body into a forward fold position. You can play around with shifting the weight more towards your toes to deepen the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds then bend your knees and slowly roll up to stand one vertebrae at a time. Once you are standing up, step off of the towel.
Supine Calf Stretch | 20 sec per side
- To start, lay down on the floor on your back.
- Lift your right leg up off the ground and bend your knee to draw it in towards your chest. Keep your left leg extended out in front of you with the foot flexed.
- Flex your right foot and with a bent knee use both hands to grab the top of your foot. Straighten out your right leg as much as you can while still being able to hold onto your foot. Pull gently against the top of your foot to feel a stretch in the calf muscles. Hold for 20 seconds and then switch legs.
Low Lunge with Arm Roll | 30 sec per side
- Begin in a low lunge position with your right leg forward. Make sure your right knee is stacked above your ankle and does not pass in front of your toes.
- Place your left hand on the floor inside of your right leg to help you stay balanced, and take your right forearm between your right calf muscles and thigh. Press your hips forward so that your right thigh pushes your right forearm against the calf. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch sides. Bonus: You should also feel an awesome release in the left hip flexors.
Tip: You can use your rolled-up towel in place of your forearm so that you can have both hands on the ground for more stability.
Pyramid | 30 sec per side
- Start in the low lunge position from above. Frame your right foot with both hands and tent your fingertips. Tuck your left toes under and start to press into your feet to straighten out both legs, lifting your hips up towards the ceiling. Make sure to keep a bend in the front knee if you need to in order to keep the fingertips on the ground.
- Heel toe your left foot out and forward a couple of inches so that your legs are hip-width distance and you can press your left heel into the ground at a 45-degree angle. Begin to flex your right toes back. Keeping your right fingertips on the ground, grab the top of your right foot with your left hand. Gently pull back on the top of the right foot to feel the stretch through your calf muscles. Hold for 30 seconds, and then switch sides.
Tip: To modify, start in the low lunge position. Keep your back knee on the ground and straighten out your right leg to form Half Splits. You can then use your left hand to stretch the right calf by pulling back on the toes. Hold 30 seconds and then switch sides.
(Your Next Workout: 10 Easy VS Advanced Yoga Modifications)