foam rolling calf

Improve Your Flexibility & Strength with 5 Best Calf Stretches

No one has time for leg cramps and muscle soreness after running. Here’s how to properly cool down and care for your calf muscles.

By Team PelotonUpdated September 13, 2023


Whether you’re a casual jogger, competitive marathoner, or anywhere in between, you’ve likely noticed that running can be especially tough on your calf muscles.

Your calves power your running. But as much as you depend on them, they need to be continually strengthened, as well as properly warmed up and cooled down, after every workout. Calf stretches allow you to stay strong and avoid pain or injury. 

This is why calf stretching plays such a critical role in your running routine. Aside from preventing injuries, it can:

Peloton Tread instructor Jess Sims knows that stretching before and after a workout—especially when running—is just as important as the rest of your workout. Even five minutes of stretching is better than nothing, she says. Warm ups and cool downs that include calf stretches are what will allow you to keep running in the long-term. 

The Importance of Strong Calves for Running

Before we share some of our favorite calf stretches, it helps to understand the role your calf muscles play in your running routine.

Your calves are primarily powered by two main leg muscles, which come together where your Achilles tendon meets your heel: the gastrocnemius muscle (the one you can see bulge) and the soleus muscle. 

Your calves help you absorb the impact of running and protect your bones from injuries, such as shin splints. It’s thanks to your calf muscles that you're able to lift your heel and propel yourself forward when running, directing force with every step you take. This power helps dictate your speed as you run. So, the stronger your calves, the more force you’re able to apply as you launch off the ground and propel yourself forward, and the faster you can run.

Jess Sims running on Tread in Peloton Studios

What Are the Benefits of Calf Stretching?

There are many benefits to strengthening and stretching your calves before and after a run or workout on the Peloton Tread. Here are a few of them.

Calf Stretching Enables Faster and Longer Running

Your calf muscles are part of the support system that keeps your body moving. By stretching and strengthening them as part of your running workout, you’re releasing and reducing tightness or stiffness. 

Engaging, targeting, and training these muscles over time will help boost them to power you through your runs with more energy and endurance in your push-off and running form.

Calf Stretching Improves Your Strength 

Balance is everything and in movement, your body is like a relay race, with one muscle paying it forward to another. Studies have shown that calf stretching helps improve and build strength and stability in the calves, so they can effectively power your other muscles too and better propel you through your workouts. 

Regular calf stretching can also help if you’re in recovery from an injury—although always consult your physician before doing any post-injury exercises.

Calf Stretching Increases Range of Motion

Over time, calf stretching can reduce muscle stiffness, improving your general flexibility and quality of movement. In turn, this mobility helps your body be better protected against potential injuries or strains. And, with practice, you’ll be able to stretch for longer and deeper, helping strengthen your muscles even further.

Calf Stretching Prevents Injuries

With research showing that regular calf stretching leads to a greater mobility, this reduces the likelihood of accidents or injuries including shin splints, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and Achilles tendon issues. Regular stretching can also relieve and release post-workout muscle soreness.

Calf stretching improves circulation

Research in The Journal of Physiology has shown that regular stretching can help improve blood flow and circulation in the legs, reducing stiffness in arteries and blood pressure too. It also found there was a positive effect on the blood flow to the rest of the body, with a general relaxing of arteries and blood flow in the arms. This can help with the prevention or management of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. 

Adrian Williams Calf Stretch Post-Run (GIF) in Peloton Studios

5 Best Calf Stretches For Runners

Your ability to move freely, without pain, is the key to feeling good in your body now and for years to come, says Peloton Tread instructor Adrian Williams. A proper warm up and cool down are essential to muscle health and mobility. Spending an extra 5 to 10 minutes before and after every exercise session goes a long way toward preserving your long-term lower-body mobility and overall health, he says. 

With that in mind, here are some of the best calf stretches for runners: 

1. Traditional Calf Stretch

A. Place both of your hands at shoulder height on a wall or pole in front of your body. Keep your arms straight and your lead leg bent under your body.

B. Place the heel of your rear leg about two feet behind your body. Keeping your rear leg straight but not locked in position, place the heel of this foot on the ground. You should feel a stretch down the outer part of your rear-leg calf muscle. If not, move your rear foot back a little farther, but make sure your upper body remains vertical and straight. Do not bend forward.

2. Double Calf Stretch

A. With this variation of the traditional calf stretch, place both hands at shoulder height on a wall or pole in front of your body, keeping your arms straight and both legs bent under your body.

B. Place the heel of both legs about two feet behind your body or until you feel the stretch down the outer part of your rear-leg calf muscles.

3. Eccentric Calf Stretch

A. Place the front of your feet on a step. 

B. Then, go up onto both tip toes and lower your heels down in a slow and controlled manner, allowing your heels to drop below the level of the step, until you feel resistance within the muscle.

C. Return to the start position.

D. Do two sets of 15 repetitions each. You can perform this stretch in two ways—with one knee slightly bent or without, which targets different calf muscles. After a couple of weeks, you should be able to progress to one-legged versions of the described stretch. 

4. Single-Leg Downward-Facing Dog

A.  Start this stretch in the downward-facing dog pose. Make sure your feet are about hip-distance apart. 

B. Lift your hips up and back. Press down into your left foot, then lift your right heel as high as possible while keeping your right leg strong and active. Press your left heel into the mat.

C. Then, point your right toes down (heel up) to create inward rotation through your right leg. Lift your leg as high as you can, and extend so you feel the stretch through your right leg. Flex and point through your right toes, bringing your gaze down toward the ground between your arms.

D. Hold the position for 5 to 10 breaths, and release onto your knees to come out of the posture.

E. Switch back and forth between your left and right leg. Repeat two to three times. 

5. Calf Stretch With a Foam Roller

This foam roller stretch is designed to soothe aching calf muscles.

A. Start by sitting on the floor (or mat) with a foam roller underneath your calf muscle. Keep your buttocks on the ground with your hands behind you.

B. Then, move your calf up and down the roller. When you feel a tender spot, stop and extend and flex your foot to work deeply into the muscle. Press your leg down into the foam roller for a deeper massage. 

How To Get the Best Results From Calf Stretches

Just like with any form of exercise, there are key ways to get the most benefits out of them, and stretching is no different. Here’s how to stretch calf muscles to optimize results.

Pay Attention to Pain

When stretching after a run, be careful not to push the calf stretch too far as it may risk injury. Instead, do it slowly and only for several minutes. If you feel a sharp pain, stop. The purpose of calf stretches is to loosen tight muscles in the lower limbs and help them recover from exertion. 

Hold Your Stretch

Don’t just do a quick stretch and release. Pause in your calf stretch for between 30 to 60 seconds, or until you feel that deep satisfying feeling. This will really make the difference and helps give your muscle fibers time to release and relax.

Lean Into it

Stretching is all about that feeling of release which can be uncomfortable but should never feel painful or hurt. All sensation should stop as soon as your stretching is over and there should be no lasting discomfort afterwards. 

Repeat Your Stretch

Got your stretch form down? Now try repeating the same stretch three to five times to really reap the benefits and encourage deep muscle release. 

Perfect Your Form

With several different muscles at play in your calves, they’ll need different forms of stretching to isolate them. For gastrocnemius, you’ll be stretching with a straight leg, and to stretch soleus, your leg will be bent. Find the right stretches for both muscles to make sure you’re getting the full potential from your calf stretches.

Can Yoga Help With Calf Tightness?

Other forms of exercising and cross-training can help with calf tightness and improve running performance. For example, yoga is great for flexibility and strength, as well as for posture and balance. 

Yoga not only can help strengthen calf muscles that have been weakened from lack of movement, but the stretching in yoga helps with muscular tightness caused by overuse, as well. 

Do Tight Calves Contribute to Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis typically begins with tightness in your calf muscles. When your calf muscles are too tight, your ankle’s range of motion becomes restricted. This, in turn, affects the connective tissue (plantar fascia) that runs along the bottom of your foot, from heel to toe. It becomes irritated and inflamed, leading to symptoms such as heel pain.  

One of the best ways to prevent plantar fasciitis is to stay active with low-impact activities such as walking, biking, swimming, and yoga, as well as stretching your foot and calf muscles daily.

Stretch and Strengthen Your Calves with Guided Warm Ups

The Peloton App has a wide variety of stretching and warm up classes—both live and on-demand—to complement your running workout. 

Peloton’s running classes, which take place on the Peloton Tread or through the Peloton App, include beginner and low-intensity runs, hills, speed race prep, heart rate zone runs, and music-driven fun runs. Peloton offers the most immersive total body training experience available on your own time and in the comfort of your own home, with world-class instructors who will leave you feeling accomplished and ready for more.

Discover even more stretching exercises on the Peloton App.

Want to switch up your low impact cardio?

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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