Whether you’re a runner or just tend to speed-walk through your commute, tight calves are commonplace for anyone who’s active. Here’s how to find relief when a foam roller just doesn’t cut it.

By Alyssa Sparacino

If you’ve ever gone for a run after taking an extended break from pounding the pavement, you know tight calves are an inevitable side effect. But whether you’re cranking up the mileage (and want to avoid shin splints—a common result of tight calves) or just fail to prioritize stretching out your lower limbs, these calf stretches are going to save you. (Related: 9 Running Stretches to Do After Every Single Run)

Follow along with Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., creator of Le Sweat and a movement and mobility specialist with a degree in sports medicine, as she demos five calf stretches that “hurt so good” you’ll have no doubt that they’re working.

While some of the movements might look small, don't discount their ability to make a big impact on your mobility and pain management. Limber limbs make for a greater range of motion, and improved range of motion helps keep joints healthy and gives muscles the space needed to properly activate. (Related: The 7 Mobility Exercises You Should Do Before Every Workout)

How to do it: Go through the following movements for the indicated number or reps or time. Try incorporating these calf stretches into your post-workout routine or recovery day activities.

What you’ll need: a lacrosse ball (or tennis ball or small recovery ball), yoga block, mat

5 Calf Stretches to Loosen Up Tight Lower Limbs

Ankle CARs

*CARS stands for controlled articular rotations, which are slow and methodic rotations of a joint.

A. Find a comfortable seated position on floor or mat, bending one knee at a 45-degree angle with heel digging into floor.

B. Hold onto shin to keep leg still as you draw a circle counterclockwise with your toes. Toes are flexed at top of the circle and pointed at bottom.

C. Continue counterclockwise for 5 rotations, then draw circles clockwise for five rotations.

Complete 5 reps in each direction, then switch sides.

Ankle PAILs and RAILs

*PAILs and RAILs stands for progressive and regressive angular isometric loading, which is a kinesthetic exercise to improve range of motion and strength in both the flexed and extended position of a joint. 

A. Begin kneeling on one knee with right foot planted in front.

B. Move right knee slightly forward over right toes, heel still pressed into ground.

C. Engage whole body (glutes, arms, and core) while pressing toes into the ground as if trying to dent the mat. Hod for 20 seconds.

D. Peel roes up off ground and flex. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat

Complete 2 reps toes up and 2 reps toes down, then switch sides.

Kneeling Calf Stretch

A. Begin kneeling on one knee with right foot planted in front.

B. Move right knee slightly forward over right toes, heel still pressed into ground.

C. Continue inching forward with heel down until you feel the muscles catch and begin to stretch.

D. Hold for 30 seconds. Release, pause, then repeat for another 30 seconds.

Complete 2 reps, then switch sides.

Pike with Bent Knee

A. Begin in quadruped position with knees on floor directly beneath hips and palms directly beneath shoulders.

B. Curl toes under, and slowly reach hips back and up, coming into a modified Downward Dog position with knees slightly bent and heels lifted. Find where you feel the muscles catch and begin to stretch.

C. Hold for 30 seconds.

Complete 2 reps of 30 seconds, resting in between as necessary.

Recovery Ball Release

A. From seated position on floor, bend left leg, plant foot on floor, and grab shin.

B. Stretch right leg out long, placing calf directly on top of a lacrosse ball, which is elevated by a yoga block.

C. Roll calf side to side across ball for the entire length of the calf. Rest and repeat.

Complete 2 reps for entire length of the calf, resting in between as necessary.

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