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Why Stretch the calf muscles

The main muscle of the calf, the gastrocnemius, crosses the knee joint (behind the knee) and the ankle joint via the Achilles tendon. Two very strong calf muscles blend to make the Achilles tendon. Via the Achilles tendon these two muscles attach to the heel bone, so they will affect how the heel reacts with the floor during walking and running. Tight calf muscles can affect knee function as well as foot and ankle function, contributing to Achilles tendonitis and also plantar fasciitis – which is pain in the heel and/ or sole of the foot (see here for more on plantar fascia).

How to Stretch

calf muscle stretching using a stepcalf muscle stretch on a step view from behind

  • Stand with the ball of the stretching foot at the edge of a step
  • Place one or both hands on the banister or against the wall.
  • Allow the heel to drop until you feel a comfortable stretch in the calf. Keep the heel in line with the toes (i.e. the foot is perpendicular to the step).
  • For support place the other foot flat on the same step with a slightly bent knee.
  • Hold stretch for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat with other leg.


It is very important to use the other leg as well as your hands to have complete control of your balance and the amount of weight on the stretching leg.    

For best results, keep your foot pointing straight ahead.                              Don’t let heel turn inward.

proper foot alignment for stretching the calf muscles                                                                                improper foot alignment

Alternate Stretch

calf muscle stretch using chair -view from side

  • Stand facing a wall, chair or any vertical surface that is at least as high as your waist.
  • Place one foot in front of the other.
  • The front, support, leg should be flexed at the knee.
  • The knee of the back, stretching, leg should be fully extended.
  • Proper alignment of the back foot is to keep the heel in line with the toes perpendicular to the wall or chair. – See picture below.
  • While maintaining an erect posture gently move the hips foreword – all the while supporting yourself on the wall or other chosen surface.
  • The heel, of the stretching limb, must stay in contact with the floor.


For best results, keep your foot pointing straight ahead.                      Don’t let heel turn inward.

proper foot alignment                                                                      improper foot alignment


For both calf muscle stretches discussed in this article, your weight should be mainly on your back leg, and you should feel the stretch somewhere between the back of the knee and the back of the ankle. As with every stretch, there should be no pain. Position yourself to only feel a mild stretching sensation.

Suggestions made in this publication are no substitute for medical advice. If you have any pain or difficulty performing the described stretches, seek advice from your appropriate health professional.

About the Author
Domenic Lopez B.Sc., Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Licensed Massage Therapist, is owner and operator of Healthy Moves, a private practice where massage therapy and movement education help you achieve better living.