When I started practicing yoga I noticed that every-time we were in a squat position I was the only one who was not able to get the heels on the ground.
For the first two years of consistent yoga practice, my teachers told me that I needed to work on my hips to overcome the issue and be able not only to squat but also get the heels down on down dog. Lots of “hip openers” did not change that. One day, vacationing with my family, I was watching my little nieces and nephews play and I saw that none of them were able to put their heels down when playing on the floor. I started checking all my adult relatives there and after their annoyance, we realized that none of us could squat with heels down. It was all in our calves and pretty much we were all created by the same “designer”
More than 2 decades of practicing yoga I can say that even though I am still not able to put my heels on the ground, I do work my calves on a daily basis to make sure they do not stiffen up more than needed.
Yes, you might have shorter muscles or less articulation or joint space but it does not mean you have a free pass on the “calf stretch”, you might be needing it more than others. And yoga is not about the goal but the process, even though you might have an intention for your journey.
A side note for yoga teachers: it is important to be aware of the differences in bodies, shapes and abilities so we can help our students feel that they belong and have a place in the class as well as making sure and that there is nothing wrong with them just because they are not doing the poses the way you were taught they should be doing it. There is a huge misconception that we need to be flexible to practice yoga. Being able to educate people on the yoga myths can save the students a lot of grief as well as keeping them practicing.
No matter what, we do need to make sure our calves are toned. Your calf muscles are in charge of a lot of everyday movements: when you point your toes, push the gas pedal of your car, jump or come onto your tiptoes to reach for something overhead.
If you are not moving those muscles through their range of motion then they get tighter. There are repetitive movements or lack of movements that we might be doing daily that contribute to tightness in these muscles. If you sit at a desk for hours without moving or stretching it will make the joints of your knees and ankles stay in one locked position, so your calves do not move, so they stiffen.
If you wear heels, even an inch heel will shorten your calves by restricting the range of movement of your ankles. If your shoes are rigid it will prevent your foot from articulating when you walk so you will not be able to roll from the heel to the ball of the foot.
Your muscles want to conserve energy so if you spend a lot of time in a fixed position such as sitting: the muscles will shorten and tighten to keep you in the position you spend most of your time in.
Calf raises help toning help with stability and endurance as well as stretching the plantar muscles of the foot.
There are a variety of issues and problems that can be traced to tightness in the calves: Achilles Tendonitis, knee pain, plantar fasciitis, even back pain.
In terms of regular exercises, it can prevent you from having a good form in your squat, which is a great overall movement for bone density, muscle toning and core strength that you would want to incorporate into your regular exercise routine.
Regular massage of these muscles either with a foam roller, tennis balls or tune up balls can bring circulation to the feet and legs as well as bringing blood back up to the heart.
Here are some exercises to reduce calf tightness that you can include throughout your day. In these videos you will find a specific massage, a dynamic stretch and a passive stretch. They complement each other and work to keep your calves toned.
A passive stretch on the calves, especially after spending time seated or even after a hike can help with ankle articulation, lessen or get rid of the leg cramps and keeping the lower back from tightening.
You can visit my Posture Course full of complete exercises, tips and tricks not only for the calves but pelvis, spine, neck and more, or visit the Healthy Feet Course which focuses on plantar fasciitis, bunions, neuromas, hammertoes, all things related to the tightness of the calves
Connect with me if you would like to work one on one with Yoga and Posture Therapy
Enjoy the exploration!
Please know that if I am sharing a product with you, it is because I love it and use it myself. I might get a small commission on some of the purchases you make through the external links.