| Article written on November 16th, 2016 at 11:16am | Follow Garrett on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram |
The calf is an area that needs to withstand tons of stress throughout the day. This is true for anyone that walks, runs, plays sports, or even sits at a desk for that matter. What we need to realize is the calf has high levels of activity which often lead to developing tension and tightness.
One of the biggest problems I see is that people do not understand the difference between the gastrocnemius and soleus. I mean why would you? Unless you are an anatomy geek, these two muscles are more easily called the calf. But, if you struggle with flexibility issues, stiffness, or injury at the lower leg and foot, it makes a big difference!
The calf is comprised of two muscles… The larger and more superficial muscle is called the gastrocnemius. While the smaller and deeper muscle is called the soleus. One big distinction between the two is that the gastroc actually attaches above the knee joint, while the soleus attaches just below. This difference is what we need to take into consideration when differentiating between the two while stretching.
Simply put, keep the knee straight when stretching the gastrocnemius. And, bend the knee slightly while stretching the soleus. As you do this, do you notice a difference between the two?
Oftentimes, I come across people complaining of calf tightness who only perform the straight leg (gastroc) version of the calf stretch. They wonder why they feel tightness if they stretch a lot. This could be because they are missing the soleus which is actually the source of their tightness. Or, because there is some other factor contributing to this feeling.
The soleus is actually more active throughout the day and while sitting. While sitting at your desk or driving, the soleus is contracting to some degree to hold your foot in place. This causes it to develop high levels of tension that can create restricted range of motion. And, let’s not even go into wearing heel-elevated dress shoes and/or poor footwear!!
To learn more about how to differentiate between gastroc and soleus flexibility, watch the video below:
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART