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How to Prevent Tight Calves While Running?
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How to Prevent Tight Calves While Running?

Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Published on 2022 July 13
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7 min

Calf tightness is part of your running experience, especially when you’re just starting. But that doesn’t mean tight calves aren’t preventable.

tight calves running

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Tight calves are a common occurrence for most runners. It’s uncomfortable and inhibits your overall running performance.

If you have tight calf muscles, you might experience calf pain, discomfort while walking or running, and muscle spasms. This article explains why your calves feel tight and how to prevent calf strain.

What Causes Tight Calves While Running?

Generally, tight calves occur when you place excessive stress on the lower leg muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus muscles), resulting in sudden pain. Below are some events that could cause tight calves:

Bad running technique and posture

If your running biomechanical technique is bad, your muscle fibers are less likely to remain injury-free. As a result, you’ll experience tight calves running.

If your foot strikes the ground unevenly or overpronates, you’ll place undue weight on your calf muscles. The repetitive strain on those calf muscles can result in tightness.

Running shoes/footwear

The right shoes positively affect your performance and prevent tightness in your calf muscles. Conversely, shoes that have lost their shock-absorbing qualities transfer the impact from the shoes to your calves and Achilles tendon and make running harder.

Also, transitioning too quickly from shoes with a high heel-to-toe drop to one with 0 degrees will force you to change your running style and run on your toes. Toe running puts more pressure on your calves and Achilles tendon, causing them to be sore and overworked, and may cause calf tightness.

If you’re confused about the type of running gear to use, check out some articles on Joggo’s blog. Joggo devoted the blog to runners, helping them reach peak performance.

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Body weight

The human body structure is designed to carry a certain amount of weight. Surplus frame weight can cause muscle tightness due to the excess weight placed on the calf muscles at impact.

Suppose you already have muscle injury in a part that supports your weight. In that case, excess weight places that area at risk of further muscle damage. Runners who are overweight should talk to their personal trainer or physician about their ideal weight and how to achieve it.

Lack of lower body strength

Your lower body muscles, including the muscles in your hips, thighs, and calves, need strength to achieve biomechanical efficiency for high running performance.

Lacking strength in your hip and thighs can put undue pressure on your calves to compensate for that lack of power.

How to Prevent Tight Calves?

Below are some recommended ways to prevent tight muscles in your calves:

Strengthening exercises for the calves

Strong calf muscles are a requirement for dialing back recurring calf muscle strain. Having established that weak calf muscles are a bane to your running form and muscle health, here are some strength training exercises you could try out:

  1. Barbell calf raises

Barbell calf raises strengthen and stretch your gastrocnemius muscles. The gastrocnemius muscle is the primary calf muscle to move the knees and ankle. To perform this calf strengthening exercise, you need a barbell and an exercise step.

To start, place your toes and balls of your feet on the exercise step. Your arches and heels should extend off the edge. The bar should be on your strap muscles across your shoulders.

Next, contract your core muscles, straighten your back, and raise your heels as high as possible. Once you’ve reached your maximum, pause for a count, then slowly lower yourself back down without touching the ground. Do this up to 10–15 times.

  1. Seated soleus calf raise

The seated soleus calf raise targets the soleus muscles in the calf. The soleus muscle bends the foot to point the toes downward. To perform the seated soleus calf raise, you need a calf raise machine or an object that’s heavy enough to cause fatigue after 30 seconds.

If you don’t have a calf raise machine, sit on a stool and position your feet on an exercise step like the barbell calf raises above. Bend your knees at an 80-degree angle.

Place the heavy object across one or both knees, and drop your heel as far down as possible without touching the floor. Then raise your knee back up while pressing your toes down. Hold it for a few seconds, then slowly lower it back to your starting position.

  1. Jump rope

Jump rope is a cardiovascular exercise that builds calf muscle strength and endurance. To jump rope, hold the rope’s handle out on either side of you with the center hanging behind you.

Next, swing the rope over your head by rotating your wrist. Then jump over the rope with both feet and land softly on the balls of your feet. Repeat the motion as many times as you’re comfortable.

Slow stretching before and after a run

It’s a written and unwritten rule to never run with cold muscles, except if you’re in danger. When you stretch your calf muscles regularly, even outside your running routine, you prevent calf muscle cramps and pain.

Warm up your leg muscles with some calf stretches before your run to ease your body into the workout and cool down and recover. Doing this will reduce your risk of calf muscle injuries while running and after running.

Choose the correct footwear/shoes

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all footwear type, but the right shoes perform wonders. The kind of running shoes you should wear depends on your running style and feet.

Generally, you shouldn’t wear tight-fitting or loose-fitting shoes to run. When buying a new pair of running shoes, consider your comfort, shoe width, stack height, heel drop, and weight. Ensure they’re your perfect fit, or you’ll have problems down the road.

Stay hydrated throughout a run

When you work out, your body’s temperature increases, making it sweat and disperse excess heat, so it doesn’t overheat. Staying hydrated is essential to prevent heatstroke, replace water lost during sweating, regulate body temperature, and prevent cramps.

Drinking the recommended dose of water hydrates your body and helps your muscles recover from muscle injury. Conversely, failing to drink enough cool water causes muscle fatigue, increasing your risk of muscle injuries.

Drink magnesium before and after

Magnesium is one of the essential minerals in the human body. It’s responsible for nerve and cardiac function, muscle movements, energy production, etc.

For runners, increasing their magnesium intake helps support metabolism for converting glycogen to glucose for energy production and reducing the production of inflammatory chemicals.

When there’s a shortage of magnesium in your body, you’re at a higher risk of calf muscle cramps and other symptoms of magnesium deficiency. Ingesting magnesium supplements before and after your run can enhance post-run recovery by preventing magnesium deficiency.

Don’t overdo it

To improve their running performance, some runners schedule mileages that aren’t compatible with their fitness level and capabilities. In doing so, they stress and overwork their muscles, causing them to strain under pressure.

Instead, work with your personal trainer to decide your weekly mileages according to your abilities and ensure you take your rest days.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults do 150 minutes of moderate workout per week or 75 minutes of intense workouts. So you can work this out to be a 30-minute easy run for 5 days, with 2 days of rest or 25 minutes of intense running for 3 days.

Improve running posture and technique

You need better running posture and technique for the best running performance and reduction in calf muscle strain. Try out these tips below to improve running posture and technique and reduce your risk of muscle injury:

Maintain a straight and erect posture

While running, make sure you have leveled shoulders, straight back, and head up. There’s a tendency to slump your shoulders when you’re tired. Remember to shoot your chest out whenever you notice you’ve slouched over due to fatigue.

Relax your shoulder muscles

Always relax your shoulders and have them squared out, not slouching or hunched over. Slouching forward tightens your chest and restricts your breathing. A relaxed shoulder is critical for breathing more easily.

Don’t overstride

The ideal stride is when the knee flexes directly above the ankle upon initial foot-ground contact. If the ankle is ahead of the knee, you’re overstriding and putting greater landing force on your leg muscles.

A quick cadence reduces the impact loading on your lower leg structures and prevents overstriding.

Don’t forget the massage therapist

If you’re experiencing intense and recurring calf tightness, you should see a massage therapist or physical therapist. A physical therapist will help you recover and heal by easing the muscle tension in your calves and enhancing circulation.

A Word From Our Coach

Your overall fitness is vital to your calf muscles. Don’t stay inactive for too long, and incorporate full-body exercises into your workout routine.

Remember, stretching shouldn’t be painful. It can be uncomfortable, but dial back your stretch to a better position or angle once you feel pain. Also, avoid static stretching as it might pile on the calf strain problem.

To avoid dehydration as an athlete, drink 7–12 ounces of cold fluid about 15–30 minutes before your workouts. During your run, 4–8 ounces are optimal with 15–20 minute intervals.

In the absence of a physical therapist, use a foam roller on your calves. Foam rollers are a way to perform a self-massage on your muscles and increase muscle flexibility. A belt or towel will do if you don’t have a foam roller.

Conclusion

As a beginner runner, it can get discouraging when you’re always dealing with strained calves. When this happens, remember to stay hydrated, stretch regularly, and improve your running posture.

If symptoms persist, consult your physician.

Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified Yoga Instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed byRosmy Barrios, MD
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