You stretch out your quads before and/or after a run. You stretch your hamstrings—or you try—in yoga class. If your neck is tight, you do a couple shoulder rolls. You’re good, right?
Well, if you wear shoes with any amount of heel – and that includes running shoes and “flats” with even a slight heel — or sit for more than a couple hours a day—there’s one area of your body that’s almost definitely mighty tight. And these shortened muscles are creating a widespread ripple effect throughout your body.
What is this mystery body part?
“Wearing shoes with a heel is like putting a cast on your feet, a cast that keeps your toes permanently pointed and your poor ankles pointing perpetually downhill,” says biomechanist Katy Bowman, founder of the Restorative Exercise Institute in Ventura, California in her book, Whole Body Barefoot. “Your calf muscles, too, are casted in place by this arrangement.”
This arrangement is bad, Bowman explains, because the bones these muscles attach to must bear weight to stay healthy. Additionally, Bowman says tight calves affect your entire body by:
- Limiting range of motion in your ankles, which increases the likelihood of falling and makes it harder to stand for long periods of time
- Leading to a clunkier gait
- Increasing tension in the neck and shoulders by slowing your natural forward momentum while walking, which causes your upper body to whip forward with every step; this makes the muscles of your neck and upper spine work extra hard to keep you upright.
“If I could make everyone do one stretch, it would be a calf stretch,” says Bowman.
A good calf stretch allows your ankle to essentially go uphill for a change. It also loads your calf muscles and ankle joints in a different way—a way that leads to healthier legs and feet.
From a yoga perspective, releasing the calf muscles also helps increase your connection to the floor and thus, your sense of “groundedness.”
As someone whose husband broke his ankle after slipping on ice this year, I can tell you that it is very important to have well-functioning ankles and lower legs! His recovery has been slow and his mobility so very limited over these last five months.
So take it from me: Stretch your calves a few times a day. You’ll start to see and feel the results in the form of less cranky feet and ankles.
This video gives you the visual on one of the best ways to stretch your calves.
And these are the instructions:
- Roll up a thick yoga mat, or fold and then roll up a bath towel and place it on the floor.
- Place the ball of your right foot on the top of your roll with the heel stretched down to the floor.
- Step your left foot forward as far as you can while also keeping your hips stacked over your heels. (Your range of motion and position may vary depending on your strength and flexibility.)
- Hold for 30-60 seconds, then switch legs.
- Repeat on the first side, but this time bend the knee of the leg you are stretching. This stretches the deeper muscles of the calves.
- Switch to the left leg and bend the knee.
For more calf stretch ideas check out this AcaciaTV yoga video: