What causes tight calves & how to beat tight calf muscles with the best calf stretches
Want to skip straight to our best calf stretching exercises? Click HERE.
Stiff and tight calf muscles are something almost every runner experiences, so don’t worry, you’re not alone! If you’re experiencing stiff calves either during running or after, read below for the best calf stretches as well as how to avoid this problem in the future.
Firstly, what causes calf pain and why do you get it even if you have no pre-existing calf injury?
Causes of tight calves and tight calf muscles
What’s interesting about having tight calves is that it tends to be newer runners that experience it the most often or people who have gone long periods without running and suddenly start back again. This gives us a really strong clue about the cause of the problem!
Generally people think that they might be experiencing “tight calf muscles for no reason” but we’ve found that the below factors are strong contributors as to whether you experience this or not, we’ll dig into these more below:
- Running form – Front foot striking (not a bad thing).
- Poor flexibility – Not being used to a wide range of movement.
- Tired calf muscles – Overtraining can play a big role.
- Poor shoes – unsupportive shoes can be a big factor, so can daily use of high-heels.
- Running too much, too soon – a strong cause, especially for new runners.
- Lack of warm up – going from zero to full speed without a warmup can contribute.
- Muscle imbalances elsewhere – overuse of calf muscles can be caused by this.
How Running form can cause tight calves
If you’re a new ‘front foot’ runner (or generally new to running) you’ll likely notice calf tightness right away. The reason for this is that your calf muscles are not used to the new load and strain being placed on them. So it takes time to build up your calf strength and get used to the new demands being placed on them. The calf stretches and calf strengthening exercises coming up shortly can be a BIG help with this.
For “front foot runners” The new demands on your calves comes from the fact that previously when “backfoot running”, your skeletal system was absorbing a lot of the strain from running and your muscles were being engaged in a different way. This is actually a good thing in the long run as you’re taking strain of your knees and joints, which is why we always recommend front foot running but in the short term, tight calves are a common symptom of this.
Why poor flexibility in general causes tight calves
If you’re new to running or never warm up and stretch in general, this can cause a lack of flexibility in the calf muscles. In short, they’re simply not used to being used or stretched in the way that running demands.
Fortunately though, this is the easiest aspect of calf tightness from running to solve. Consistently stretching in the right way 2 to 3 times a day can completely solve this in most people. To skip to our stretches section, click HERE.
Tired calf muscles and how they lead to calf tightness
Overtraining and fatigue can be major contributors to calf pain and calf muscle tightness. This type of issue tends to build up over time, tiny tears in the calf muscle which are a natural part of running and fitness training but overdoing it can cause injury and stiffness.
A good regime of rest and stretches can massively help with this too. Additionally, as you become more experienced at running, your calf muscles generally strengthen and build up their tolerance which can also decrease the likelihood of this factor.
Poor shoe choice with little foot support can contribute to stiff calves
There are a number of ways that shoe choice can play a roll in your calf stiffness.
New shoes – shoes with higher or lower ‘drop’ – which is the difference between heel and midfoot height, can change how your calf muscles are engaged and used. This can be a major cause of calf pain. Whenever you start running in new shoes, be sure to cut your distance until you’re used to your new style of trainer.
High heels – daily use of high heels alone can lead to this problem. Highheels tend to lead to the shortening of calf muscles over time, to avoid this happening to you, be sure to stretch regularly in the ways suggested below.
Poor support shoes – shoes with poor support can cause all kinds of running injuries and not just extremely tight calves including things like “over-pronation”.
Are you Running too much, too soon? Not warming up? It can cause very tight calf muscles
If you’re fairly new to running, it’s all too easy to run too much, too soon.
What this does is make your muscles tighten because of the new and increased stress that they are just not used to. Doing a warm-up before you actually go running with an exercise that doesn’t engage your calf muscles (think cycling or cross training) can really help here.
You can also stretch your calf muscles before running, although research indicates that static stretching before exercise is not effective at reducing injury rates.
To solve this issue, try not to increase your running distance more that 10% per week and be sure to take 1 to 2 days rest between runs until you’ve become accustomed to running more regularly.
Muscle imbalances could be the cause of your tight calf pain
As with most running injuries, a large portion of the time weak or imbalances muscles can be the root cause of the issue.
A good indicator that this is the cause of your problem is pain elsewhere such as tight hip flexors or TFL muscle pain. These can result in your calves being overused during running as they’re needed for extra help.
The best calf stretches & soleus stretch
Here are the three best calf stretches that you can repeat 2 to 3 times are day that are going to make a huge difference to your tight calves.
Another great calf stretching routine is this one here:
Remember consistency is everything. Performing these tight calf stretches once or twice isn’t going to have the desired effect. You should do this 2 to three times a day and morning noon and night are excellent times to do this.