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Let’s be honest, calves are one of those oft-neglected body parts. I mean, nobody says ‘what I want in a man is a good set of calves’ (but, on a side note, if you really want to upset a body builder, go ahead and mention just how small his calves are!!!).
The real problem with calves is that they rely so much on genetics that it is actually very hard to change them, with any massive differentiation that is… however, this article is not about how to get massive, or even slim, calves, depending upon your preference!
No… this article is about stretching those beauties out because nobody wants to wake up at 2a.m with that paralysing calf cramp! And, even worse, wake the whole household up in panic as they think an axe-wielding-psychopath must have broken in, at least judging by your piercing screams!!
How can you get rid of calf cramp?
So lets start with an anatomy overview… here’s a lovely picture of your lower leg:
The main muscle in the calf is the Gastrocnemius, which is split into two heads the lateral and medial. This is the muscle that you will normally feel tension, soreness or cramp in, particularly if you are a runner. And that pretty muscle down the side is the soleus.
You may be wondering why it is important to stretch your calves out… Well, aside from the fact I am a Yoga Instructor and happen to think all stretching is just incredible, tight calves affect the mobility of your knee. Poor knee mobility causes pain and eventually poor hip mobility, which causes back pain and so on and so forth. Basically everything in us is connected and likes to work together so we should try our best to keep it that way.
The first thing to do if you are suffering from any muscle cramp is to up your water intake and go and get yourself a magnesium supplement, here is one I like to use: Solgar Magnesium with Vitamin B-6 . If you are not a fan of supplements, you can increase the magnesium in your diet with dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, bananas and yogurt. Magnesium deficiency is surprisingly common and can result in lack of sleep, as well as cramps.
Personally, I think a great way to tackle that solid tension that can build up, after say a sprint workout or a spin session, in the calf muscle is a foam roller or if you really need to get deeper into the muscle a lacrosse ball or a spiked ball also work wonders. When choosing a foam roller, try to get one with a variety of ridges, such as: HardCore Foam Roller and here are some great spiked balls and lacrosse balls: Spiky Massage Ball Rollers and Lacrosse Balls for Myofascial Release .
Before you start rolling, try to decide if the calf cramp that you are suffering is directly linked to running, cycling or walking or may be a sign of something more serious. Tension in your calf may be coming from your upper leg or even your lower back so a trip to the Physiotherapist may actually be your best choice. However, if you know that you just overdid it running then a fifteen minute foam roller session, where you target the calf, hamstring, TFL and Quadratus Labarum (lower back) is the best tactic.
In fact, I would recommend that you alternate after every training session by targeting the muscles on the back of your body and the muscles on the front of your body. Therefore, day two you would want to work on your Tibialis Anterior (shins), the Quadriceps and the glutes. Try to avoid pairing the two groups, because by foam rolling you are lengthening out your muscles. Therefore, if we take a pair of muscles as an example, such as the hamstring and the quadriceps: as one contracts the other lengthens. Thus, if you did the two together you would be counteracting your work.
Now we are on the final step of releasing calf cramp, with some lovely Yoga based stretching! The most efficient way to stretch the calf is to create plantar flexion and dorsi flexion or to point and flex your feet to most of us.
So a great pose would be a seated forward fold (paschimottanasana), as your body relaxes into this pose, try to pull your feet further towards your head with every exhale. Another nice pose to try to release the calves is a Reverse Plank Pose (purvottanasana). I also think a great pose to try for stretching out and even engaging your calves is Tip-Toe Pose, Dedicated to Goddess Kali (Prapada Kalyasana).
So to summarise, to really nip calf cramp in the bud, follow this three step plan:
1.) Drink more water and take a magnesium supplement
2.) Foam Roll and use Myofascial Release Balls to gently massage out tension
3.) Perform these three yoga stretches: seated forward fold, reverse plank and Goddess Kali Pose
I really hope that that helps to solve any calf cramp you might have! Let me know how you are getting on!