Basic Anatomy of Stretching the Calves

It's important to know the basic anatomy around joints you are trying to mobilize because it may make you set up a stretch a certain way depending on what you're trying to accomplish.

A great example of this is the calves.

There are two muscles we primarily need to take a look at: the gastrocnemius (gastrocs) and soleus.
Both of these muscles combine to be your 'calf muscles', which is how they are a group are commonly referred.
The biggest difference, attachment-wise, is that the gastrocs cross two joints: your knee and your ankle.
The soleus only crosses the ankle.

Implications of attachment

First, if you are trying to stretch your calves to improve ankle range of motion for squatting, you don't need to focus on the gastrocs.
The reason is because when your knee is bent, they aren't the limitation since they cross the ankle AND the knee.
The soleus, since it only crosses the ankle, would be more of a muscular limitation to ankle dorsiflexion in your squat than the gastrocs since they are not affected by the knee bending.

Predispose the stretch

Point being, if you want to stretch your gastrocs, do calf stretches with a straight knee.
If you want to stretch your soleus, do it with a bent knee.
If you try to stretch your calves and feel no stretch but just pinching in the front of your ankle, you may have more of a joint limitation and the muscles aren't the thing limiting your ankle.

Know what you are doing

So, know what you are doing when it comes to stretching and think about your intent!


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