Woman stretching against a wall

Stretching: 4 of the best calf stretches for runners and walkers

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Overdoing the running or walking can cause our calves to cramp up. Release tightness with these simple stretches. 

Every January there’s an influx of new or returning runners out on the road, dedicated to achieving their new year plans to get a little stronger. This year, the number of runners taking to the pavement is more noticeable than ever – unsurprising given that gyms and yoga studios are closed. If you’re one of the keen runners who has spent the last 10 days increasing their miles, now is probably about the time you’re experiencing a few aches and pains.

Perhaps you’re experiencing tight hips from keeping your core straight, or sore knees from the impact of your foot hitting the ground. Sore calves are the other common complaint from runners, and while these muscles are small, the pain can be mighty. It’s annoying, but it’s not surprising, considering running requires increased stability and strength from all over your body.

Usually, this pain comes from overuse, meaning the muscles are under more load than they are used to. “Repetitive strain can cause tightness, but depending on our foot placement and running style, we can inadvertently put a lot of extra weight through the muscles,” says fitness trainer Emma Obayuvana. “Not stretching before you run can also mean that the calves aren’t ready to take the load, and can lead to them tightening up.” 

The best way to release that tension? Stretching, which isn’t just satisfying in the short-term, but it also ensures that you can keep up your training. “If our calves are tight when we walk, squat or do any form of training that utilises the muscle, the muscles and joints won’t be functioning in the same way. That can be dangerous and lead to injuries,” says Emma. 

Here, she’s shared her go-to calf stretches for when the post-training pain strikes. 

woman stretching her calves during downward dog
Stretching: downward dog can stretch your calves

The best calf stretches for tight muscles

Wall stretch with front knee bend

  1. Stand facing a wall and place your hands against it at shoulder height. Your feet should be a few steps away from the wall, so that you’re leaning forwards. 
  2. Take your right foot forward so your toes are close to the wall and bend the right knee. 
  3. Keep your left heel on the floor and left leg straight. 
  4. You should feel the stretch throughout both calves, but mainly the left-hand side.

Hold for 15 seconds and repeat on the other side

Wall stretch with double knee bend

  1. Start in the same position, but stand a little closer to the wall. When you step your right foot forward, there should be a smaller gap between your right heel and your left toes than before. 
  2. This time, bend both knees. 
  3. See if you can get your right knee to touch the wall, or bring it as close as possible. The left knee should go as deep as you can to feel a stretch in both calves. 
  4. Keep your upper body straight and upright. 

Hold for 15 seconds and repeat on the other side

Step stretch

  1. Place the ball of your right foot onto a step, stair or large book placed on the floor, with your heel remaining on the ground. 
  2. Push your weight into your right foot to enhance the stretch. 
  3. Play with leaning forwards, backwards and side-to-side to see where you feel the deepest release. 

Hold for 15 seconds and repeat on the other side

Downward dog stretch

  1. Find a downward facing dog position, with your hands and feet placed on the ground and your hips pointing up to the sky. 
  2. Bend your right knee so that you are on the ball of your foot, while your left leg should straighten, pressing your left heel towards the ground. 
  3. You should feel the stretch throughout the back of your left leg, including the calf. 

Hold for 15 seconds and repeat on the other side

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).