Tight calves don’t get the respect that they deserve. Yoga teachers and exercise instructors of all stripes tend to be hamstring-centric, to the detriment of calves that usually need some serious stretching.
When teaching stretches I am often talking about working a particular muscle and speak to only that muscle. But the body doesn’t really work that way. Everything is connected and even though I often speak of isolating muscles, the body isn’t actually capable of doing that.
We could draw a picture of the back of the body from the heel to the crown of the head and show just how connected everything is back there. The back body version of the “shin bone is connected to the leg bone” goes like this:
The achilles tendon connects the calves (soleus and gastrocnemius) to the heel. At their top they connect to either side of the femur, or leg bone. The hamstrings insert onto the two shin bones and this means the calves and the hamstrings cross paths, essentially shaking hands as they pass each other.
The hamstrings originate at the ischial tuberosities, commonly referred to as the sit bones. From there the connection gets a bit more esoteric as the linking of the hamstrings and the erector spinae of the spine comes through the sacrotuberous ligament.
Back to calves the size of cantaloupes*. Something that I have basically come to take for granted is that most all of my clients are going to be in need of work on their calves (and fibularis). For whatever reason calves don’t seem to be on the radar of so many practitioners.
One of my first tasks when teaching people to walk is to get them to stop hyperextending the knees with each and every step. All too often people have a stride that is too long and forces them into hyperextension with every step.
This is one of the main reasons why calves are so tight, and why the twofold assignment to stop hyperextending the knees and start stretching the calves, is often enough to help people work their way out of hip, back and neck pain.
Knowing whether you need work on your calves is pretty easy to judge. Do the stretch in the picture above and if you make some strange guttural noises from the intensity of the stretch as you dive into it, you know this is something you need.