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6 Exercises to Fix Tight Ankles & Calf Muscles After Your Marathon

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

Hot Take: It takes *almost* as much work to RECOVER from your race as it does to train for your race.


Because, recovery is:

deliberate

purposeful

planned out

and...you have to fully commit to it (there's no half butts about it).


But there's a fine line that every runner walks.


Because you already know: if you sit around on the couch for an entire week, you're going to be as stiff as the tin man.


Particularly, stiff, tight, and fatigued calf muscles and ankles are a drag.


So while you can stretch and massage gun for days...

you might find the result you're looking for isn't "sticking".


How about we get you some more lasting results that will help you:

  • recover faster,

  • loosen up your calf and ankles consistently,

  • and re-introduce some gentle strength into those muscles that worked so hard on race day?

Let's dive in.


EXERCISES To FIX TIGHT ANKLES AND CALF MUSCLES

Circuit:

2 rounds // 1-2x a day // every day or every other day the 1-2 weeks post marathon


Down Dog with Knee Bends

  • x10-15

Down Dog Pedaling Feet

  • x10-15 each foot

Down Dog Dynamic Calf Stretch

  • Contract and relax: calf raise on both sides up, hold 5 for secs, relax down. repeat x 4

1/2 Hooklying Quad Pump

  • to fatigue R and L. Perform all 3x's on one side before moving on to the opposite side. (be cautious with this one if your quads are trashed!)

In-line lunge

  • x15 ea side (don't forget to switch sides)

Skiers

  • x10

THE WHY & HOW TO FIX POST MARATHON ANKLES AND CALF TIGHTNESS

Down Dog Exercises 1-3

  • I love down dog positions for tight calf muscles :)

  • THE SECRET: with each of these exercises, you are gently asking your calf muscles to contract FIRST instead of immediately forcing them into a lengthened (or stretched out) position. This is important because tight, injured, or just super fatigued-post-race muscles will always contract to STAY SAFE because it's trying to heal.

  • By gently contracting FIRST followed by dynamically lengthening the muscle, we are taking advantage of the natural contraction cycle a muscle flows through.

  • by following a pattern your calf muscle is already used to and perceives as SAFE, you are more likely to get a positive, longer-lasting, desired result of happy calves and ankles.

  • It's basically "you catch more flies with honey than vinegar"

1/2 Hooklying Quad Pump

  • Yup, throwing this one in AGAIN. Because it works. Reciprocal inhibition is a magical thing. (if this is making your head explode, it's ok. I go in depth on how this works in previous blog posts)

  • HOWEVER: if your quads are extremely trashed, sore, fatigue, etc...BE CAREFUL with this exercise.

  • It requires your quad to contract and hold that contraction during a fast movement, which is great for getting your calf to relax, but not so great if your quad is still super fatigued and recovering. It's ok to pass on this exercise for now and incorporate it later in a few days.

In-Line Lunge

  • This one is deliberately performed AFTER being nice to your calf muscles.

  • Makes sense that your ankle joint would feel "locked-up" if the muscles surrounding it are tight, right?

  • This exercise takes advantage of the calf muscles "playing nice" now and begins to address and work into the forward-backwards motion of your ankle joint (specifics: the talocrural joint).

  • This *should* help you go up the stairs a little easier ;) (going down the stairs: you're still on your own haha)

Skiers

  • PRO TIP: hold onto something sturdy. (the edge of the sink, a railing, etc)

  • 1 rep = swinging to the R and the L.

  • this dynamic mobility drill is also deliberately placed AFTER the muscle-specific ones and might become your new favorite exercise if the very front and "inside" your ankle joint feels stiff. here's why:

  • While this exercise might look silly, it specifically targets 2 motions that occur in your foot and ankle: supination and pronation. Specifically, this targets restoring eversion and inversion.

  • BONUS: you might even notice your hips feel better after this one too. ;) (your hips are traveling through internal and external rotation).

WRAPPING UP

I won't lie.

I should take my own advice more often.


While writing this blog and filming the video for it, I noticed my own calves were pretty tight from this morning's run.

Ok, they were actually tight BEFORE my run...and I thought about doing one of these stretches.

And I didn't. oops.


But I could feel as I performed the entire circuit, my heels started to drop lower and lower towards my mat and the general tension in my calf muscles started to ease off.


I'd say after doing all the down-dog exercises, I'd gauge myself at 50% improvement.


This is to tell YOU: you *could* stop there, at the end of the down dog sequence.

BUT...(and I normally would have...)


Continue onto the remaining half.

And here's why.
  • While I struggle bused my way through the quad pumps, I realized my quads were still pretty fatigued from my run.

  • this exercise was harder than normal.

THIS MIGHT BE YOU especially post marathon.

Just give it your best and move on.

You're still getting the benefit from whatever you can do.


By the time I finished everything, I had made it 100%, meaning, I could get into a down dog position and I could touch my heels to the mat no problem.


THIS MAY OR MAY NOT BE YOU.

And to feel consistent relief and "no longer super stiff ankles" it may take you 2-3 rounds spread out through out your day,

THIS IS OK.

Your body is healing and recovering after doing a hard, amazing thing.

It's normal for your ankles and calf muscles to feel tight-ish again in an hour or two.


But keep taking your movement-medicine above, and I promise... recovery will be right around the corner.


Until next time running fit fam...


Dare to Train Differently,

Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit


P.S. If you're looking for EVEN more exercises for your calf muscles, ankles, and feet...

..then you're going to LOVE my STRONGER FEET WORKSHOP. Especially if you struggled with plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, post tib issues, or generally really fatigued, tired feet after long runs.


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