How to Stretch Your Calf to Ease Knee Pain During Squats

Have you ever tried to do a squat, but have knee pain? We often see clients who have trouble doing squats complain of knee pain during this movement. A lack of ankle mobility limits the forward motion of the lower leg; to compensate the knees travel forward more or even start to move in front first instead of the hips. Stretching the calves often eliminates this pain and enables them do the exercise properly.

In university, we were taught that a “muscle had to cross a joint to act on a joint.” Several years ago, Michol Dalcourt threw this theory out the window and changed how I look at deadlifts and squats.

The soleous is a deeper calf muscle that attaches to the tibia, and runs down the lower leg to become part of the Achilles tendon. During these two exercises, as well as during the lunge, it helps to bring your lower leg back as you stand up. When it is tight, it no longer flexes forward, placing a lot of the load into your knees, and forcing the upper body to move forward if you want to get lower.

How to Complete a Dynamic Calf Stretch

Instead of placing a plate under your feet, trying doing this dynamic calf stretch.

  1. Stand in front of a wall and place your forearms and elbows on the wall.
  2. Reach one leg back behind you, planting your heel down on the ground with your leg straight. The other leg is forward with knee bent
  3. Lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back leg. Try shifting the direction of the foot, inward and outward until you feel a stretch.
  4.  Breathe in to push your leg back, shortening the calf of the lower leg. Exhale to go back into the stretch. Move your foot side to side and try rotating your hips to explore where you are tight.
  5. Stretch Wave breath is about 1-2 breaths per position
  6. Keep going until you feel it is "loose"
  7. Repeat on the other side.
  8. Repeat twice on the "tight" side.
  9. Repeat steps 1-8  with your knee bent.

Why Stretch Calves in Two Positions?

Have you noticed that in gyms there are both a steated and standing calf raise machines? It's important to do these stretches with your leg straight and then with the knee bent because there are two major muscles to be addressed. Firstly, the gastrocnemius crosses the knee joint to assist with knee bending and the ankle to help with forefoot planting. Secondly, the soleus attaches to only to the tibia and foot.

Are your lower legs stiff all the time? Do you need some coaching on squats, multi-directional lunges or deadlifts? Book a session with Lifemoves today to help you relieve knee pain so you can get the most of your training.

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Alfred Ball

CEO | Practicing Kinesiologist | Certified Fascial Stretch Therapist. He founded Lifemoves in 2007. He has been a Practicing Kinesiologist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach with the NSCA for over 15 years. When he isn't helping people regain their strength and confidence to move with ease he is hanging out with his wife and young son, writing, or training for his next endurance running race. His big audacious goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

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