If you spend time running, dancing, or playing sports that require jumping, such as basketball, you might be familiar with sore calves. Step classes, cycling, martial arts, and hiking can also over-work these lower-leg muscles, causing cramping and tightness. If your calf muscles are sore, it can be painful — even difficult — to walk around. Yoga stretches these often-neglected muscles and can put you on the path to balance and pain-free movement. Keep reading to learn more about stretching your calves with yoga!
Benefits of Calf-stretching Yoga Poses
Stretching your calves after activities can help release muscle tension and fatigue. Lengthening these lower-leg muscles will improve your leg mobility, which will help prevent post-workout pain and increase your leg power! Practicing calf-stretching yoga poses, like the ones listed below, will also lengthen and strengthen your feet, shin, and thigh muscles — which all work together to keep your body stable and coordinated. Improving the flexibility in these muscles will help keep you injury-free while simultaneously improving your physical performance in all standing activities.
Do not practice these poses if you have a current or chronic injury to the hips, knees, ankles, or lower back. Avoid practicing Downward-Facing Dog if you have carpal tunnel syndrome or a wrist injury. Be sure to check with your doctor before practicing yoga if you have any injuries, health issues, or concerns.
Do not practice these poses without warming up first. Try a few rounds of Sun Salutations [link] if your body is not already warm from prior activity. Do not bounce in the positions; hold each pose steadily.
Practice this sequence three times a week, or after every activity that requires running, jumping, or other heavy use of your calves. It should take about 15 minutes to complete all of the poses. Take it slowly. Never force your body into any position. If you feel any sharp, pinching or jarring pain, come out of the pose immediately and rest. Always keep in mind these general guidelines when practicing yoga:
- Move slowly in and out of the poses.
- Keep your breath smooth and even throughout the practice.
- Practice with an empty stomach.
- Never strain or force yourself beyond your current abilities.
Keep the exact order of this sequence, as it has been organized to bring you the most benefits. Do not change the arrangement of the poses.
Never stretch your calf muscles statically (as in holding a yoga pose) if you are currently experiencing a cramp or "charley horse." Doing so can cause deep muscle tears! Instead, ice the area first. Then try a massage and gentle walking to increase blood flow and speed up the healing process.
One of the most-recognized yoga poses in the West, Downward-Facing Dog — Adho Mukha Svanasana (Ah-doh MOO-kuh shvan-AHS-uh-nuh) — stretches the calves, hamstrings, shoulders, and spine. It also energizes and rejuvenates the entire body.
- Begin on your hands and knees. The fold of your wrists should be parallel with the top edge of your mat. Your middle fingers should also point directly to the top edge of your mat.
- With your feet hip-distance apart, exhale and lift your knees off the floor. Gently begin to straighten your legs, but do not lock your knees. As you lengthen your spine, lift your sit bones up toward the ceiling. Press down equally through your heels and the palms of your hands.
- Firm the outer muscles of your arms and press your index fingers into the floor. Lift from the inner muscles of your arms through the tops of your shoulders. Draw your shoulder blades into your upper back ribs and down towards your tailbone. Relax your head between your upper arms, but do not let it dangle.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release the pose, gently bend your knees with an exhalation and come back onto your hands and knees.
This pose — Malasana (mah-LAHS-uh-nuh) — stretches the calves, ankles, thighs, groin, hips, and torso. It tones the abdominal muscles and also improves balance, concentration, and focus.
- Begin by standing at the top of your mat with your arms at your sides. Step your feet about as wide as your mat.
- Bend your knees and lower your hips, coming into a squat. Separate your thighs so they are slightly wider than your torso, but do not widen your stance. If possible, step your feet even closer together. If your heels lift, support them with a folded mat or blanket.
- Drop your torso slightly forward and bring your upper arms to the inside of your knees. Then press your elbows against the inside of your knees and bring your palms together in prayer position. Work toward bringing your hands to your heart center and your forearms parallel to the floor.
- Lift and lengthen your torso, keeping your spine straight and shoulders relaxed. Shift your weight slightly into your heels.
- Hold for five breaths. To release, bring your fingertips to the floor. Then slowly straighten your legs, bring your hands to your hips, and come back up to standing with a flat back.
Eagle Pose — Garudasana (gahr-ooo-DAHS-uh-nuh) — stretches and strengthens the calves, thighs, and hips. It also opens the shoulders and back, and builds balance and concentration.
- Begin standing at the top of your mat with your feet together and your arms at your sides.
- Bend your knees. Balance on your right foot and cross your left thigh over your right. Fix your gaze at a point in front of you. Hook the top of your left foot behind your right calf. Balance for one breath.
- Beginners can omit the foot hook and instead cross the leg and rest the toes of the top foot gently on the floor.
- Extend your arms straight out in front of you. Drop your left arm under your right.
- Bend your elbows, and then raise your forearms perpendicular to the floor. Wrap your arms and press your palms together (or as close as you can get them). Lift your elbows, then reach your fingertips toward the ceiling.
- If your palms don't touch yet, press the backs of your hands together, instead.
- Hold for up to one minute, focusing on your breath, keeping your gaze fixed and soft. Unwind gently and repeat on the opposite side.
This pose — Uttanasana (ooh-tuhn-AHS-uh-nuh) — deeply stretches your hamstrings and calves. It also combines the benefits of forward folds and inversions, which include relief from stress, headaches, anxiety, fatigue, mild depression, and insomnia.
- Begin standing with your feet together and your arms at your sides. Exhale as you bend at the hips, lengthening the front of your torso.
- Rest your hands on the floor or on a yoga block. If your legs are very tight, bend your knees slightly. Let the crown of your head hang down. Press your heels into the floor and lift your sit bones toward the ceiling. Turn the tops of your thighs slightly inward. Do not lock your knees.
- Lift and lengthen with each inhalation. Then release deeper into the pose with each exhalation. Hold for up to one minute.
- To release, draw down through your tailbone as you inhale and come up to standing. Repeat 5-10 times.
Increase Your Mobility
Regularly practicing yoga poses that stretch your calves will gradually lengthen these powerful muscles. Remember to take it slowly and never force a pose. As you resist your bodyweight against your lower legs, you will increase the strength and mobility of these muscles, providing your body with a foundation that is solid and graceful.