Calf Strain Exercises: How to Strengthen Calf Muscles Safely

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Calf Strain Exercises
Credit: iStock.com/MangoStar_Studio

There are effective calf strain exercises to treat the pain, swelling, and mobility issues often seen with trauma or injury to the calf muscles. We will learn 12 of the best calf exercises and discuss tips to prevent calf strains.

The two muscles most commonly affected by a calf strain are the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The diamond-shaped gastrocnemius is the bulging muscle you see on the back of your lower leg. The soleus is a flat, small muscle that rests under the gastrocnemius.

A strain of the calf muscles may be inhibiting your movement during running, jumping, and walking as these muscles work to pull the heel up in motion.

Performing calf muscle strain exercises beforehand could reduce your chances of injury. Calf strain strengthening exercises may restore power and range of motion and help your body recover from existing damage.

12 Best Exercises for Calf Strain

1. Towel Stretch

Begin the exercises for calf strain with this easy stretch. Sit on the floor with the affected leg straight out in front and loop a towel around the ball of the outstretched foot. Pull the towel toward your body while keeping the leg in a straightened position. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds before releasing tension. Repeat three times.

2. Double-Leg Raise

Stand next to a wall for support, if needed, and hold feet hip-width apart and hips, knees, and ankles in vertical alignment. Place weight on the balls of both feet as you raise your body up. Pull in the abdomen muscles to avoid distributing the body weight backward or forward. Repeat 15 to 20 times.

3. Standing Calf Stretch

In a standing position, face and place your hands on a wall at eye level. With the foot of the injured leg planted firmly on the floor behind you, slightly bend the knee of the other leg.

As you lean toward the wall, your back foot should be turned inward. Hold the position for up to 30 seconds. Return to starting position and repeat three times for several sets each day.

4. Resisted Ankle Plantar Flexion

This is the beginning of the next stage of calf strain rehab exercises, as the use of resistance starts. Elastic tubing or a resistance band is introduced after the first few of days stretching exercises.

In a sitting position with the strained leg stretched out in front of you, loop the band around the ball of the foot of this leg. Press the foot down on the band with the toes pointed as you tightly hold the band with both hands. Repeat 15 times for two sets.

5. Heel Raise

Stand with hands on a table or counter for support as you rise up on your toes. Hold the position for five seconds before slowly returning feet flat to the floor without the use of support. Repeat 15 times for two sets.

Once you have little-to-no pain, perform this exercise while standing on the affected leg only.

6. Single-Leg Balance

Using no support, stand on the affected leg only. Balance for 30 seconds and return to starting position. Repeat three times while trying to balance with the eyes closed. Once you feel strong enough, perform the exercise on a pillow.

7. Nose Touch

Standing on the affected leg alone, face and stand four inches away from a wall. Maintain a straight line with your body as you lean forward to touch the wall with your nose. Return to starting position and repeat two sets of 10.

8. Wall Jump

Place a mark with tape on a wall approximately two feet above your head. Face the wall with both arms above your head and jump to touch the tape. Use a spring-like motion on the jump. Jump for two sets of 15. Work at this to reach a level where you can jump on the i8. Wall Jumpnjured leg alone.

9. Side-Lying Leg Lift

Lie on the floor opposite the strained side. As you lift the affected leg at least eight inches, tighten your thigh muscles. Slowly lower the leg and repeat two sets of 15.

10. Step Stretching

Once you notice returning flexibility of the muscles, begin focusing on stretching exercises for calf muscle strain such as this one.

Stand with both feet on a step, and lower the heel of the injured leg to hang off the step until you feel a stretch. Hold position for 15 to 20 seconds. Repeat three times for up to five times each day.

11. Step Back

Begin standing on a step with both feet. Step back and down with one leg to have the foot completely touch the floor while the other foot remains on the step. Use a push-off move with the lowered foot to move back onto step. Repeat with the other leg.

12. Seated Calf Raise

In a seated position in a chair, bend the knees and lift the feet off the floor as high as possible. Repeat two sets of 10 daily. You can add weight to the knees for resistance training as well.

Calf Muscle Strengthening Exercises to Prevent Calf Strain Injury

The following exercises are calf strain strengthening exercises intended to regain strength and mobility of the injured calf muscles, and to prevent further injury.

1) Resistance Drive Back

Using a cable machine, or by attaching a resistance band to a sturdy structure, stand with the band looped around the ankle of one leg. Balancing on the other foot, bring foot forward before driving it back with force behind you until the band is taut. Slowly bring the foot back to starting position and repeat 20 to 25 times. Repeat with the other leg.

2) Single-Leg Glute Bridge

Lie on your back on the floor with one leg bent at the knee and the other straight in the air. The foot of the bent leg can remain flat on floor or balanced on a stability ball for added resistance.

Lift your pelvis off the floor slowly while you contract the core and the glutes. Keep shoulder blades onto the floor. Return to starting position and repeat 15 to 20 times on each leg.

3) Donkey Kicks

Position yourself on your hands and knees on the floor. Place a resistance band around the knee and foot of one leg. Extend the leg back and up into the air as you contract the glutes. Lower the knee without touching the floor and repeat 15 times. Repeat the exercise with the other leg.

4) Straight-Leg Bounds

4) Straight-Leg BoundsRun 50 meters while keeping the legs straight. Each bound should meet the ground with a force from the hips and glutes. Work up to running 100 meters.

5) Lunges

For the proper lunge, keep core muscles tight and avoid allowing the knee to bend past your toes. You can work up to adding resistance by holding a weighted ball or hand weight.

Stand with feet hip-width apart and step forward with one foot, placing weight on this leg with heel touching the floor first. Lower the body with thigh parallel to the floor and the shin vertical. Place weight into the heel to return to starting position. Repeat 15 times on each leg.

6) Calf-Building Sports

Once your calf muscles can be used without pain or discomfort, participate in calf strengthening sports and activities such as walking, running, hiking, soccer, tennis, and basketball. Swimming and dance classes are also recommended to retain strength in calf muscles.

Safety Guidelines to Follow While Strengthening Calf

  • Perform calf stretching and strengthening exercises consistently two to three times each week.
  • Start each exercise with low counts and work your way up each time.
  • Be aware of each movement of the exercise to maintain alignment of body.
  • Customize exercises to your personal ability, never pushing yourself too much.
  • Add any resistance or weight to your workout slowly over time to avoid injury (10% to 15% more weight every two weeks).
  • Have a goal of eight to 12 repetitions for one to three sets.
  • Refer to a professional if you have had calf injuries in the past, to know which exercises are best for you.

Calf strain exercises are intended to maintain the strength and flexibility of the calf muscles before the occurrence of injury. The calf muscles are used for movement of the legs, ankles, and feet. Each of these detailed exercises works the calf muscles in a unique way, and should be performed consistently.

Do each exercise at a pace that works for your physical ability. Start sets with low counts and gradually work up to the recommended counts.


Sources:
Dixon, J., “Gastrocnemius vs. soleus strain: how to differentiate and deal with calf muscle injuries,” Current Reviews in Musculosketal Medicine, May 23, 2009; https://dx.doi.org/10.1007%2Fs12178-009-9045-8, last accessed August 17, 2017.
“Calf Strain Exercises,” Summit Medical Group; http://www.summitmedicalgroup.com/library/pediatric_health/sma_calf_strain_tear_exercises/, last accessed August 17, 2017.
“Calf Strain Stretching Exercises,” Sports Injury Clinic; http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/ankle-achilles-shin-pain/calf-strain/calf-strain-stretching-exercises, last accessed August 17, 2017.
“Calf Strain Strengthening Exercises,” Sports Injury Clinic; http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/ankle-achilles-shin-pain/calf-strain/calf-strain-strengthening-exercises, last accessed August 17, 2017.
Gaudette, J., “Sore Calf Muscles? The Exercises You Need to be Doing to Prevent Injury”, Runners Connect; https://runnersconnect.net/how-to-strengthen-your-calves-and-achilles-to-prevent-injury/, last accessed August 17, 2017.
“Calf-Strengthening Exercises,” Web MD; http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/strengthening-calf-muscles#1, last accessed August 17, 2017.

 

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