Last week, we featured yoga poses that show some love to the feet. This week, we’re moving up on the leg to the calf.
From charley horses to soreness, tight calves can be a serious hindrance. Frequent exercisers often have overly-developed or shortened calf muscles from running and walking, which can affect stride and lead to injuries in the calves and the ankles.
You can find relief by taking a few minutes to do the following poses before or after each run to open and lengthen the muscles. All of these poses combined take less than 5 minutes to complete, and they are easily done in the grass at the park or on your living room floor — no mat required. Play around with which poses feel best for your body and stay as long as you’d like.
You’ll find down dog in almost every yoga class. It is a staple for flow classes and great for opening up the shoulders, hamstrings, and calves.
To start, come to your hands and knees. Place hands shoulder width apart pointing straight ahead. Spread your fingers wide and ground down through the knuckles, especially in the thumb and index fingers. Bring your feet hip’s width apart (that’s about the length of two of your fists side by side) and tuck your toes under.
Now, begin to straighten through both legs, leaving a slight bend in the knees. Draw your sit bones toward the sky and the heels toward to ground. Take a few breaths to pedal through the feet. Lift one heel, then drop it down, lift the other and drop. Work this pose for up to a minute while allowing the backs of the legs to open and your heels to slowly draw toward the ground. This will feel especially amazing for trail weary calves.
Aptly named, this pose is perfect for runners. It not only targets the calves, but also stretches the hip flexors and groin.
Start in down dog, inhale to lift your left leg up and back while continuing to ground through both hands. Exhale to step the left foot in between your hands with your left knee directly over your left ankle. Come onto the fingertips. Lengthen your right heel toward the ground, lifting the right kneecap to engage the quad of the back leg. Lift your chest and gaze to create a long line of energy from the crown of the head to the back heel. Take 5 long, full breaths. Return to down dog on an inhale then switch sides.
(pictured at the top of the article)
This pose is wonderful for opening not only the legs but also the side body and shoulders.
Come to your knees. Extend the right leg out to the side, heel drawing into the ground, toes pointing toward the sky. Allow the hips points to rotate forward slightly. On an inhale, take hands to a T at shoulder height. Extend your right hand toward the right leg and your left arm up and overhead to side bend to the right. The torso may want to droop downward, work to lift it up and away from the floor. If you feel you can go deeper, take the sole of the right foot to the floor pointing the toes down instead of to the sky. Breathe here for 5 breaths. Bring the right leg in and change sides.
Focusing a few minutes on the calves can have a huge impact on how your legs feel during and after training runs and races. By taking the time to lengthen the calves, you counterbalance the effect of hours of shortening the muscles through walking, running, and climbing stairs — a small investment for a large gain.
Photos and article by Walk Jog Run contributor Lisa Horvath. Lisa is a Boston-based certified yoga teacher, runner, and blogger. You can ask her a question in the comments below.