Why Your Calf Stretches Should Always Involve Your Feet, Too

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Photo: Getty Images/monkeybusinessimages

Warmups are super important before working out because they wake your muscles up. This rings especially true for the lower half of the body ahead of cardio workouts like running and cycling. While it's easy to focus only on the big lower body muscles, to loosen up the calves (which are incredibly tight for many), stretching out some of the often-forgotten muscles can make a big difference, too. One stretching tip to remember, according to a trainer? You should involve your feet when doing calf warm-up exercises.

This is something that Peloton instructor Matt Wilpers discovered after attending physical therapy sessions for Achilles tendinitis. "My physical therapist had me start stretching the bottom muscles of my feet," he says, adding that foot stretches helped him perform better—and without pain—when running. "All of the muscles and tendons are connected, so when one's really tight, it affects everything else. That tightness can pull and yank and can even cause tendinitis."

When warming up before a run (or cycling or really any other type of workout), Wilpers explains that restoring mobility to your foot muscles allows your body to perform easier. "Your stabilizer muscles are just as important as your primary muscles, because without them, you'd put an extra workload on the primary movers which fatigue them more quickly," he says, pointing to the many stabilizers in the foot. If the muscles in your feet aren't woken up or stretched, Wilpers likens them to "paddles" when you move. "When you don't wake up the muscles under there, they can feel like a paddle, which puts a lot of extra stress on your Achilles tendon."

Including your feet in your calf warmup will also help with your overall range of motion. "You want everything to be able to move through its full range of motion," says Wilpers. "That way, when you start jogging or moving, you'll be able to distribute your force evenly throughout your muscles." As for how to warm your foot and calf muscles up, keep scrolling for his go-to moves for optimal mobility.

3 calf warm up exercises that also prep your feet for movement

1. Downward dog: The staple yoga pose stretches both your calf muscles and your feet. "You can do a downward dog or modified downward dog and pedal out your feet and calves," says Wilpers. "As you're doing that, think about spreading out your toes and bending at the toe a little bit as you stretch the muscles underneath your feet."

2. Modified lunge: Wilpers is also a fan of working through modified lunges. Start with your left foot forward with your knee over your ankle, and your back knee on the ground or hovering and your toes curled. Spread out your toes and hold for a few seconds before switching legs.

3. Toe spreading: The easiest thing you can do is to spread out your toes while barefoot before you start running or working out. "You can simply stand up without socks or shoes on and dig your toes into the ground as you spread them out," says Wilpers, noting that this will help to wake up those muscles for better mobility when you move.

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