Stretching Exercises for Soleus and Calf Muscles

The calf contains a network of muscles and tendons on the back and sides of the lower leg. The large muscle directly under the back of the knee is the gastrocnemius and the long muscles on the side and lower part of the calf are the soleus muscles. Both are connected to the heel through the Achilles tendon.

Calf pain can have many causes, including tight and weak muscles of the lower leg, or an injury such as a calf strain or pull. Sometimes the pain isn't intense enough to prompt you to see a doctor (often times this can be in the soleus muscle), but it can still impact your fitness ability and enjoyment.

Stretching the calf muscles may help reduce pain and muscle soreness. Try these five moves to help keep your calves in good shape. Always warm up with a few minutes of cardio or a warm bath before stretching, and don't forget to take your time to stretch well after a workout.

Standing Gastrocnemius Stretch

The Runner's Hamstring and Calf Stretch

Photo: Ben Goldstein / Model: Melissa Castro Schmidt

This stretch targets the large muscle directly below the back of the knee. Use a wall, railing, or chair to lean against.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Stand about arm's-length from the wall.
  2. Lean forward and place both hands on the wall about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Extend one foot (the side to be stretched) behind you with one heel on the ground, and the other foot closer to the wall.
  4. Lean into the wall with your hips until you feel a stretch in the calf of the extended leg.
  5. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds, and then change sides.
  6. For a deeper stretch, move your foot farther back.

This stretch is similar to an Achilles tendon and heel stretch. However, by keeping your knee straight, you focus the stretch on the calf rather than the Achilles tendon.

Standing Soleus Stretch

woman doing standing soleus stretch
zooze.com

This is a very simple stretch you can do while standing. It targets the soleus muscle on the side and lower part of the calf as well as the Achilles tendon. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Standing tall, take a half step forward.
  2. Keeping your weight evenly distributed on both feet and your heels on the ground, slowly bend your knees and sink down toward the ground.
  3. You should feel a stretch in the back leg, just above the heel.
  4. Continue to sink down slowly with your hips to deepen the stretch.
  5. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds and change sides.

By bending your knee, this stretch targets the soleus and Achilles tendon rather than the gastrocnemius muscle.

Calf and Achilles Stretch

downward facing dog pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein / Model: Melissa Castro Schmidt

This is a more advanced way to use the whole body to stretch the back of the entire lower leg, including the calf (gastrocnemius), soleus, Achilles tendon, and even the hamstrings to some extent. If you are familiar with yoga, this stretch is similar to the downward-facing dog pose.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Begin the stretch on your hands and knees.
  2. Slowly lift your knees off the floor and lift your hips up into an inverted V position.
  3. Keeping one knee bent, straighten the other knee and push the heel down to the ground until you feel a stretch in the calf.
  4. Your heel may or may not reach the ground depending upon your flexibility—don't force the stretch.
  5. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat on the other leg.

Foam Roller Exercise

foam roller for calves
Getty Images

Using a foam roller to perform self-massage and myofascial release is another way to stretch muscles and tendons. This particular use of the roller targets the muscles and soft tissues of the lower leg.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. In a seated position on the floor with the legs extended in front of you, position the roller under the calves.
  2. Using your hands for support, slowly roll from the knee down to the ankle pausing on any tight or sore spots.
  3. Experiment with your toe position (in/out or pointed/flexed) to work the entire muscle group.

Increase or decrease pressure by using one or both legs at a time, or placing one leg on the other for even more pressure.

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Article Sources
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  1. Green B, Pizzari T. Calf muscle strain injuries in sport: a systematic review of risk factors for injury. Br J Sports Med. 2017;51(16):1189-1194. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-097177

  2. Fleckenstein J, Wilke J, Vogt L, Banzer W. Preventive and regenerative foam rolling are equally effective in reducing fatigue-related impairments of muscle function following exerciseJ Sports Sci Med. 2017;16(4):474-479.