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The calf muscle is located on the back of the leg between the knee and ankle. Its primary responsibility is to cushion the ankles and feet when they hit the ground during walking or running. Performing calf stretches prior to running or other exercises can help ensure the muscle will be able to absorb the extra shock and prevent injuring the muscle, as well as the ankles and feet.
The Achilles tendon is a hard, fibrous band that attaches the calf muscles to the heel. If the tendon becomes torn or otherwise injured, it can cause extreme pain and make walking difficult. One of the most common types of calf stretches is performed to prevent injuries to the Achilles tendon before physical activity. In this exercise, a person sits on the ground with one leg extended and one leg bent in toward him or herself. He or she grabs the foot from the extended leg and pulls it slightly toward the body to flex and stretch the calf muscle near the Achilles tendon.
Calf stretches also deal with the inner calf muscle as well. To exercise the inner calf, a person will typically sit on the ground with one leg bent and one leg extended, similar to stretching the Achilles tendon. The heel of the bent leg is kept flat on the ground, while the person pulls the bent leg in toward him or herself as far as possible until feeling a distinctive stretching in the inner calf muscle.
To fully ensure the preparation of the calf muscles before physical activity, a person can also stretch his or her outer calf muscles as well. Calf stretches that target the outer calf muscles generally involve a person sitting on the ground and extending both legs straight in front of him or her. A jump rope or stretchy exercise band may be wrapped around the outside of his or her feet so that when the rope or band is pulled, it gently stretches the outer calf muscles. If a person is flexible, he or she may be able to forgo the assistance of a rope or band and simply bend forward toward the ground and gently pull his or her feet inward.
Calf stretches must be performed correctly to be as effective as preventing injuries as possible. A person will typically need to hold each calf muscle stretching position for around 10 seconds to fully stretch the muscle. Any extended legs must be kept completely straight during the stretching process or it will take away the necessary pressure needed to fully feel an actual stretching motion in the calf muscles.