Key exercises to get (and stay) pain-free.
WALL STRETCH: Stand with your hands against a wall with your left foot approximately 50cm to a metre from the wall. Keep your left leg straight, your right leg bent, your feet pointed straight ahead, and heels on the ground. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, switch legs, repeat two or three times, and switch sides. Exercise physiologist Janet Hamilton suggests doing the stretch several times a day; stretching only post-run may not be enough to loosen really tight calves.
FOAM ROLL: Rolling your calf over a foam roller after running can help break up microadhesions – where muscle tissue sticks to the outer fascia – that cause pain. Sit on the floor with your right calf on the roller. Cross your left leg over your right, resting that ankle on your right shin. With your elbows supporting you, lift your glutes off the floor and shift your body to slowly roll your right calf along the roller. Repeat on your left leg.
SHIN LIFTER: Lie face up on a hamstring curl machine, and place your toes under the footholds. Flex your feet toward you to work the muscles in the front of your lower legs. An at-home alternative: sit on a chair or the edge of a bed with your feet hanging down, not touching the floor. Put coins in a sock and rest it on the top of your foot. Raise and lower your foot, flexing at the ankle.
HEEL/TOE WALK: Walk across a room with your forefoot off the ground. Then walk back on your tiptoes. These exercises will strengthen your compartment muscles. You want to build up these muscles so that they take the brunt of the impact of running, not the bone.
SEATED CALF RAISE: The gastrocnemius is easy to target with standing calf raises. But you won’t reach the soleus, unless you work the calf with a bent knee. You can do that with seated calf raises using a machine at the gym (or by sitting in a chair, and putting some resistance like a dumbbell on your lap). Raise the weight up to a count of three, but then lower it slowly to a count of five to really work the muscle.
COMPARTMENT STRETCH: Standing up straight, bend one knee and bring your heel toward your glutes (like a classic quad stretch). But instead of grabbing your ankle, hold the top of your foot. Holding your foot is the key to stretching the compartment.