It was as a successful long run.
I got back home tired but cheerful.
And of course headed straight for the post-long-run snacks,
struggling and waddling all the way because my calf muscles had had it.
Between the fatigue, different shoes, and added miles, they decided it was time to tighten up and take hostages.
Tight calves become part your norm as a runner, especially for a runner in an aggressive training phase.
Aches and soreness happens.
But problems begin when you go for your run the next day
...and the next,
and start running funky.
Tight ankles and calves can leave you creating subtle (or not so subtle) compensations that could add up after a week of heavy mileage.
So while I can't prevent you from getting sore ever again,
I can give you some of my favorite exercises to help gently, ACTIVELY stretch out tight calf muscles and then strengthen them to not only help your post-long-run recovery, but keep you running healthy well into race day.
Improve your Post Run Recovery: Stretch and Strengthen Tight Calves
Down-Dog Pedaling Feet
3 sets // 30 secs minimum!
For FATIGUED CALVES:
2 sets // 8 reps each leg;
emphasis on full range, gentle movement, & control
For Building Stronger Calves:
3 sets // 12 reps each leg
Down Dog Single Leg Calf Raise
8-12 reps ea side, slow descent down
Runner's Lunge Heel Raises
8-12 reps ea side, 90% of body weight on forward leg
Challenge mode: front foot can be on edge of step
Curtsey lunge on Stair
8-12 reps ea side; forefoot on edge of step
FIXING TIGHT CALVES AFTER RUNNING
Down Dog Pedaling Feet
This is an ACTIVE stretch that takes advantage of contract-relax principles, rather than a passive stretch that simple tries for forcefully lengthen muscle fibers.
My personal philosophy: you'll get better and longer lasting resulting with active stretches.
To do this correctly: pedal your feet while in down dog, bending and straightening knees, gently alternating between stretching your calves and standing on your tip toes. DON'T force heels down and take your time here.
You can't rush this process. But it'll be worth it, promise!
Down Dog SINGLE LEG Calf Raise
WHY This instead of a normal calf raise? It's a little harder for you to cheat and you get some extra core and upper body strength thrown in :)
THE PURPOSE: focus on the sloooow descent down. When you stand on your tip toe in this exercise, you are actively shortening or contracting the muscles. When you sloowly lower your heel, you are actually still contracting those muscles, but in a lengthening or eccentric manner. This mimics the EXACT muscles actions that occur with every stride.
Not to mention this single leg position obviously resembles running ;)
Runner's Lunge Heel Raises
TOP TIP: KEEP 90% of your body weight in the front leg! Trust me, after 2 reps you'll begin to back off because it's hard and our bodies always like to take the easy way. Be patient, reset, and keep going :)
Keeping your front knee bent and 90% of your weight forward encourages your soleus to work harder while in a position that looks like and places similar demands on your body as running. The gastroc is the main player in our calf muscles but the soleus is a behind-the-scenes necessity.
Gently reminding BOTH muscles how to work together through their entire range of motion can encourage the muscles to "loosen up".
Challenge mode: only do this with non-fatigued calves! This is an excellent progression that will also help you build strong feet, an often over-looked component to decreasing calf tightness.
Curtsey Lunge on Stair
Get ready for spicy! This exercise begins to target smaller, but equally as important foot/lower leg muscles such as your posterior tibialis and peroneals, muscles required for ankle strength, foot strength, and general lower leg stability.
THE SECRET to this exercise: it targets your glutes too ;) Did you know your ankle and glutes have a direct connection? Often ankle tightness can be resolved with improve glute stability or hip mobility work.
Your body may be tighten up your ankle joint because it's trying to protect the area because it senses your glutes might not be "strong enough"(aka lack stability). Want to learn more? check out my STRONGER FEET WORKSHOP!
Sometimes I have to take my own advice and pull out these exercises when it would be so much easier to foam roll or massage gun things out.
The crazy part?
The following day I feel 1000% times better if I follow through on my exercises.
The days that I don't? I feel stiff, clunky, and maybe only 50% recovered.
Learn from my own stubborn, lazy mistakes ;)
You can still use the massage gun and foam roller if those tools are effective and useful for you!
But don't underestimate the power of movement...and the correct dosage ;)
So before you get started those exercises, double check which reps and sets are ideal for your calf muscles.
Become the expert of your own body, and you'll be a stronger, faster, better, unstoppable runner. ;)
Want to be even more unstoppable?
I've just finished putting together a new and entirely STRONGER RUNNER FREE 14 Day Challenge all in a handy app so you can access it anywhere (videos included).
Grab it HERE!
I can't wait to cheer you on!
Dare to Train Differently,
Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit
P.S. no really! It's 14 days of FREE, programed strength exercises designed for YOU, a runner!
It's not body building, not a bunch of generic squats or push ups.
It's real strength training based on what YOU need!