"The calf muscles are made up of two muscles: the gastrocnemius, which is the large part, and the soleus, which is smaller and underneath," says Sarah Frick, yoga instructor and founder of The Works. "Not only does your fitness affect tight calves, but so does sitting for a long period of time, any sort of prolonged travel, a high heel, or dehydration."
One of Frick's favorite ways to stretch out her calf muscles is through the "short dog"—a subtle variation of the downward-facing dog that involves only stepping back a little in order to get a deeper stretch in your calves. If you'd prefer to stay seated, grab a blanket, roll it up into tight wad, and come to a kneeling position. Slide the blanket in the crook of your knees and sit down. You'll immediately feel the pressure of the blanket easing into your calf muscles in that "hurt so good" kind of way. Both options are yoga teacher-approved, so enjoy them for as long as you want before moving on with your practice.
"Your calves are attached to your heels and your knees, so think about your body as a whole when stretching," Frick says. "For this stretch, walk into traditional down dog, then walk your feet in—closer to your face—so your heels touch the ground. From there, play with peddling your knees out like you're taking your down dog for a walk. Then play with taking your feet back a few inches to enhance the stretch."
Because "short dog" is a full stretch that targets the entire backs of your legs, it won't just feel great—it also helps lengthen and prevent injury, says Frick. And if you want to add a bonus round to this calves-stretching extravaganza, add the "declined calf stretch" into the mix, too. "What you do is hang your heel off a yoga block while placing the other foot on the ground. It really catches the whole heel and calf," she notes. "Both of these stretches will help prevent plantar fasciitis and heel bursitis with consistent stretching."
When you do these stretches on a regular basis, you'll never have to deal with painful, cramping tight calves again.
Skip your next massage. These yoga moves are just as good:
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