“Why are my calves so tight?” Many runners may ask themselves. Usually, the reason for this tightness is simply fatigue.
If you read my blog on load and capacity earlier, you would understand that each muscle is able to withstand a certain amount of load (whether it be strength or endurance). The point at which this is exceeded is when you feel your calves get tight. But, you have been running for years, why are they only getting tight NOW?
At some point in your running regime, you’ve either overloaded your calf muscle, or your calf muscles have weakened or lost endurance.
This means you need to ask yourself, what has changed recently and does it correlate with your calf problems? This blog purely relates to load. However, other things that change in your life, such as stress, sleep or diet can also be a contributing factor.
Common changes in your running routine that cause an increased load on your calves include hill or speed work such as increasing your intensity or duration. You might have changed running shoes, or decided to begin barefoot running. If you run barefoot, it causes your forefoot to become more rigid, placing more stress on the calf muscles and Achilles in comparison to supportive running shoes. Or maybe you’ve started a new exercise regime on top of running, such as Body Pump or Pilates.
Even if you’re adding things to your routine that you think may be quite innocuous or small, the body may find that these subtle things lead to a cumulative effect. Sometimes people run so often and often get used to being tired through their lower limbs a lot of the time.
So, where do we go from here? A physiotherapist would assess your calf strength, and the easiest way to do this is a single calf raise. Stand near a wall or a high surface for balance, and push up onto your toes as high as you can and slowly down. Do as many as you can, and count the repetitions. Do it also on your other side to compare, not just on the symptomatic side. If you’re a keen runner, Running Physio Tom Goom suggests that you should be able to achieve at least 40+ reps on each side without too much fatigue. If this test exacerbates your symptoms, stop and don’t push through pain.
If you have a lack in calf strength based on this test, this then becomes your very own home exercise program! You need to be able to comfortably work up to 25-30 reps in 3 sets.
Lastly, never ever underestimate REST. A few days rest, gentle stretching and/or foam rolling will often release this calf tightness. Rest is also good to try before starting a strengthening program; because if the calf is already overloaded, strengthening it further will probably just exacerbate the fatigue.
In conclusion, you must know that improving your calf strength, endurance and power can prevent calf pain when running, and most likely will also improve your performance. Therefore, it’s not just something you put up with, but calf tightness can also be hindering your performance! We encourage you to work with your physio for ways in which you can help this.
Blog by: Dayna Fimmano (Physiotherapist)
Tom Goom – Running Physio. Bulding strength to prevent calf pain when running. https://www.running-physio.com/calf3/
Tom Goom – Running Physio. Calf pain when running. https://www.running-physio.com/calf2/