Actually, the topic here is not about another calf muscle, although the debate is ongoing about whether or not this muscle, the Soleus, may take claim to its own separate existence or is it part of what we most often think of as our calf muscles, the Gastrocnemius.
Regardless, it is there, right there below the Gastrocnemius, your most popular calf muscle.
The Soleus plays an important role in our everyday lives - posture, walking, maneuvering. It promotes and allows flexion of the ankle, leading to movement of the foot and has a lot to do with that one tendon that has gained notoriety for being able to take a human down if done harm, the Achilles.
The Soleus is used more when the knee is flexed and that accounts for a lot of our daily movement and much more when we are out on the tennis court, jukin' and jivin'.
So, how do we stretch this somewhat demure, yet important muscle?
First, let's set up properly to do what we know as the typical calf stretch.
- Find a pole, a door jamb or a railing - not a wall, but something you can lean over or beyond. The corner of court fencing, a gate post or the lower fencing will work just fine.
- Plant the foot of the leg (calf) you want to stretch with the opposite leg only needed for balance, placed lightly on the ground.
- Lean into whatever you have chosen for support, creating a 30 to 45 degree angle, with your body, from the ground to the vertical plane of what you are leaning into.
- Keeping your body straightly aligned, from heel to head (not curling your head downward or pushing off your support), find a static position.
- Push your heel down and rearward to a planted position and push your knee rearward to a locked position.
- Focus, not to a great extreme, on planting your heel down as much as possible and pushing back through your knee while not allowing your hip to move or drop.
- Do so for a slow paced count of 30 - this will equate to about 20 seconds clocked. Of course, you can resort to the One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi thing if you prefer to, for about 20 seconds.
- Hold the position you have on the same leg - do not allow your height/position on your support to change.
- Now, simply let your knee drop (move forward). It will only go so far if you maintain your body alignment and relation to your support. Allow your hip to move forward or drop just slightly.
- If you do all the preceding while keeping your heel planted, you are now stretching your lower Gastrocnemius and Soleus. You should feel the difference between the two different stretches and may feel as if you are stretching muscles in front of your shin. You're not, but you may as well be.
Switch to the other leg and do the same - 3 to 4 sets of both stretches, each leg, for 20 seconds. As always, isolation is the key.
It's that simple. So make this a part of your fitness routine whether you are at the gym, warming up for a run or about to play the best match of your life.
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