Muscle Group of the Week: Calves

by Sep 11, 2023

The posterior lower leg consists of two main calf muscles known as the gastrocnemius and the soleus.

Gastrocnemius

Gastrocnemius

Soleus

Soleus

Superficial to the soleus, the gastrocnemius is a two-headed muscle running from the posterior surface of the calcaneus (heel bone) up into the femoral condyles just above the knee.  The soleus, originating from the posterior tibia (shin bone), joins the gastrocnemius at the heel to form the largest and strongest tendon in the body known as the Achilles tendon.

 

What Do They Do?

The gastrocnemius and soleus, both responsible for the ability to walk, are responsible for moving the lower leg.  They both play an important role in standing posture and quick movements such as running and jumping.  More specifically though, what are the functions of the main calf muscles?

Gastrocnemius

  • Ankle (talocrural) joint: Foot plantar flexion
  • Knee joint: Leg flexion

Soleus

  • Ankle (talocrural) joint: Foot plantar flexion

 

Making it Strong

What are the best exercises for building strong calves?

Standing Calf Raises with Dumbbells

Calf Raises

Seated Calf Raises on a Machine

Seated Calf Raises

person playing soccer - legs and soccer ball only in view

Running Sports

Resistance Band Calf Stretch - woman in purple

Resistance Band Calf Stretch

The Best Stretches

What are the most effective stretches for maintaining flexibility and reducing likelihood of injury to the calves?

woman standing at a wall doing a calf stretch

Standing Calf Stretch

man stretching calf on a wall ladder

Wall Calf Stretch

Keeping It Happy

Tight calf muscles benefit from deep tissue massage, sports massage, heat therapy, ice therapy, or a combination.  Bodywork and hot/cold therapy remove adhesions from muscles, promote healthy circulation to undernourished tissues, and improve flexibility once the knots are loosened.

 

chiropractor working on patient's calf muscle

Bodywork Performed on the Calf by a Chiropractor or Massage Therapist

 

When the gastrocnemius and soleus become short and tight, their antagonist muscles lengthen and weaken.  The tibialis anterior, a shin muscle, is overstretched by hyper-contracted calf muscles and requires strengthening.  Shin exercises, which can be executed alone or with assistance, apply resistance to the tops of the toes and feet.  A therapist can address the tibialis anterior through proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation by pressing on the top of the feet while the patient extends the toes.

 

woman in purple sitting on a blue yoga mat in a pike stretch to stretch out the calves and back of the legs

Sitting Shin Stretch

 

At-home self care is also important for keeping the calves healthy.  Foam rollers can be an effective tool when used with proper form, and if you don’t have one you can take a look in your kitchen to see if you have a regular rolling pin in the drawer!

 

massage calf muscle on a foam roller

Foam Rolling

 

Now You Know!

Take good care of your calves!  Your ability to walk, run, jump, and stand depends on them!

Next time we’ll talk about the hamstrings and how to keep them healthy!

Katrina Jenkins

Katrina Jenkins

Author, Licensed Massage Therapist

Katrina Jenkins graduated from Towson University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and worked as a nurse’s aide briefly before pursuing her true passion. She graduated from the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in April 2016 with honors and completed the Touch of Healers Scholarship Program the following summer. She has been a part of the Moyer Total Wellness Team since the summer of 2017.

Resources

Rebecca Buffum Taylor. “Calf-Strengthening Exercises.” WebMD, WebMD, 29 June 2011, www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/strengthening-calf-muscles.

Sears, Brett. “Anatomy and Function of the Calf Muscle.” Verywell Health, 8 Mar. 2022, www.verywellhealth.com/gastrocnemius-muscle-anatomy-4684083.

Sears, Brett. “Soleus Muscle: Anatomy, Function, and Treatment.” Verywell Health, 6 Feb. 2022, www.verywellhealth.com/soleus-muscle-anatomy-4684082.

The Healthline Editorial Team. “Foot Muscles Anatomy, Function & Diagram | Body Maps.” Healthline, 22 Jan. 2018, www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/foot-muscles#1.

Photo Credit

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