Experiencing tight calves is very common among athletes, particularly runners. Pushing your calf muscles to work to its maximum threshold is needed in reaching your optimal performance but do not forget to take care of yourself as overfatigue can cause quite a slowdown in your progress. The best way to recovering tight calves is by reducing as much as possible the risk of injury. This is so the body can focus on fixing and strengthening the muscles.
Staying in top condition is key to reaching your peak, so here are info and tips to avoiding, recovering, and knowing more about tight calves.
Possible Causes Of Tight Calves
Running is a high-impact activity, which places constant stress on the calf muscles resulting in tightness and soreness. Also, according to a Sage Publications journal on Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps, dehydration or lack of electrolytes may cause tight calves.  This occurs from a lack of fluid intake for normal muscle tone and function, as well as proper blood circulation.
This is usually glossed over but a poor shoe fit may also cause tight calves. Because of an improperly supported foot arch, your calves are in a forced shortened position which may cause tightness. And this happens to both men and women. With this, we suggest wearing minimalist shoes and doing calf stretches to ease out the calves after workouts.
Get to know your running technique too. Placing excessive and unnecessary stress to your calves may happen if you put them in a position to work too hard by pushing you up and moving forward. Jae Gruenke of The Balanced Runner advises athletes to consider moving your torso more to balance your body weight while running. This movement reduces the strain of having to push with your feet .
Knowing about your body and ways to improve them is one way to reach progress. You can always consult your physical therapist to know more about your conditions.
Foam rolling when done right helps in recovering tight calves. Work your ankle up to your knee slowly, as doing so makes you hit all the sides of your calf as well as your back. A study on muscle soreness and recovery in the US National Library of Medicine found that foam rolling does improve muscle tenderness by a moderate to a large amount during fatigue, boosting performance in later workouts .
Let’s Talk About Activation Stretches
As exciting as starting the day by running is, take a few minutes to do some walking first. Walking especially uphill (a flight of stairs, or an extra incline in your treadmill) can be a great calf activator and naturally stretches your calf muscles. This prevents a potential risk of shock and muscle strain especially in the calves if you are planning on an intense run.
In General, Stretching Works Wonders
As a matter of fact, it has been long proven that stretching daily keeps the muscles active and flexible. According to Harvard Health, a lack of stretching puts you at greater risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage . So, after doing your warm-ups and cool downs, do not forget to stretch, and do not rush it. Avoid bouncing while stretching as this may increase your risk of rupture.
Drink Your Fluids
We have mentioned in our blog on Triathlon Nutrition Tips that fluid intake is important to balance the low sodium levels. This is important especially for athletes working out for long periods (greater than 60-90 minutes), through fueling with fluids containing electrolytes. A lack of fluids in the body causes tight calves so remember to maintain proper hydration before, during, and after workouts. Simply add an electrolyte tab or a pinch of salt to a few of your drinks; this works wonders.
Strengthen Your Calves
One way to prevent a greater chance of getting tight calves is by strengthening it. Taking time to do some calf strength exercises such as squats help strengthen your calves and legs in a way that avoids any more straight-leg exercises. You can engage in a quick set of calf pumps to balance out the excess fluid pooled up in your calf muscles during an intense workout.
When The Pain Persists
When the pain persists, you can do gentle stretches or a self-massage. An ice pack on the affected area, along with fluids boosted with electrolytes are common remedies to recovering tight calves. You can also consult a physical therapist, especially if the calf tightness is persisting after rest.
Avoid Too Many Repeating Workouts
Remember that the goal is to improve your overall performance in any athletic goal that you have. There may be some key points to emphasize specific goals, but it is important to keep yourself well-balanced. This is done by avoiding repeating workouts. Pushing your calves by running too hard too often may cause repeated stress that increases your risk of injury and plateauing. Workouts that focus on improving different key points such as strength, resistance, and endurance, and engaging in active recovery are as important as maximizing your threshold.
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- Number of participants in triathlons in the United States from 2006 to 2017 (in millions)*, by Christina Gough, January 24, 2020
- Don’t Skip It: Active Recovery 101, by John Mayfield, active.com
Strength Training for Distance Runners, by Greg Crowther, faculty.washington.edu, March 2000
- Training and Competition Readiness in Triathlon, by Naroa Etxebarria, Iñigo Mujika, and David Bruce Pyne, April 29, 2019
- Nutrition for Athletes: A quick-guide, scientifictriathlon.com