Short calf muscles, mainly the deeper soleus muscle can easily hold back your squatting ability. When this muscle is short you will have trouble letting the knee travel past your toes. In a normal squat (and particularly once you add load) in order to bio-mechanically keep everything aligned, the knee needs to travel past the toes around 5-10cms. The only exception is if you have knee problems then you would do a modified squat. Rest assured however that healthy knees are happy squatting in the correct way and sometimes knee pain can come from the hip or bad alignment so get checked out by a musculoskeletal trained practitioner such as a Myotherapist, Clinical Pilates Instructor or Exercise Physiologist.
Dynamic soleus stretch with kettle bell and band
- Anchor the band and place a 12-20kg kettle bell on the floor about 1.5 metres forward of the anchor (depending on strength and length of band)
- Place the band around the ankle of the calf you want to stretch first. Walk forward until you feel the band is tight but controllable.
- Step into a backwards lunge. At the bottom of the lunge, safely hold the kettle bell.
- Stand up into the lunge with the kettle bell.
- As you lunge down once more, place the kettle bell on your front knee. The ankle should feel like it is being gently pulled backwards and the weight is helping you to drive the shin forwards. You should feel a stretch in the bottom third of your calf and possibly down into the achilles area as well. There should be no pain.
- Repeat the stand and lunge 10 times, only stretching for a few moments with the kettle bell on your knee to keep it dynamic.
- Even it up on the other side.
Contract-relax soleus stretch with band and weight
- Anchor the band behind you and place the weight on the floor to act as your step.
- Put your foot in the band around your ankle and walk forward until you feel a good amount of resistance.
- Place your pads of balls of toes on the weight and take your knee as far forward as you can.
- To contract – press your pads of balls of toes into the weight for approximately 6 seconds.
- To relax – ease the pressure off the weight and take your knee further forward into the stretch.
- Repeat the contract/relax cycle between 3 and 5 times until you feel your knee is no longer traveling further forward when you relax. Hold this end position for 30 seconds and then slowly and carefully exit the stretch.
Putting it all together
- Start with some self-myofascial release on your calf with a foam roller,rumble roller, spikey ball, lacrose ball or the handle of a kettle bell; what ever you want to use or know how to use! Do this for approximately 60 seconds on each main sore spot (soleus trigger points pictured right indicated by the cross, red area is usual referred pain pattern).
- Perform 10 dynamic soleus stretches each leg as shown above.
- Perform your normal squats you wish to do.
- Work back and forth between the dynamic soleus stretches and however many sets of squats you have planned for that day.
- When you are finished all you sets finish with the contract-relax soleus stretch to help with the long term flexibility of this muscle.
You can do the contract-relax stretch every day even away from the gym to help get flexibility into this muscle. It only takes 6 weeks of not stretching consistently to completely return back to a shortened muscle state so keep it up at least 3 times per week.