How To Foam Roll Tight Calves Correctly For Best Results
By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1
Learning how to foam roll tight calves doesn’t take learning rocket science. It’s actually quite easy once you learn the basics. Foam rolling, or sometimes known as self-myofascial release (SMR), is a great way to loosen tight muscles and improve mobility.
Here’s a brief overview of what you’ll learn in this article:
We’ll start with what you are after. When rolling out your calf muscles, focus on these key points:
- Based on how intense you want to make the movement, you can put one leg over the other to help push the calf into the foam roller.
- Start with the foam roller near your ankle and roll it all the way up your leg until you are close to the back of your knee.
- If you are able, keep your hands on the ground and lift your hips off the ground as your roll.
- Play with your toe angle and experiment with pointing your toes outward, inward, and straight up.
- If you find a spot that is more tender than others, spend extra time there to let that area loosen up.
- Spend 30 seconds on each leg or about 5 - 10 rolls back and forth.
The great thing about foam rolling is that you can’t really do it too much. That means anytime you are sore or feel tight in your calves, feel free to grab that foam roller and get to work.
The best times to use the foam roller on your calves are:
- Before a workout to help prime your muscles and get them ready for exercise.
- Post workout as a cool down.
- When your calves are tight (Duh, that’s what this article is about!).
- As part of a stretching and mobility routine.
When learning how to foam roll tight calves correctly, there are a few basic mistakes that I see beginners make.
- Not rolling the whole muscle
You want to know where the muscle insertion points are so you can focus on rolling out the whole muscle.
- Spending too much time in one spot
Spending extra time on a tight area is totally fine, but it gets to a point of diminishing returns. An extra 15 - 30 seconds on a tender area is great and then get back to rolling the whole muscle.
- Not applying enough pressure
As you saw in the video above, I showed you different ways to apply more force while your roll. Make sure you are choosing a variation that is putting enough pressure on the foam roller for your muscles to benefit.
- Foam rolling too quickly
This isn’t a race. Rolling back and forth as fast as you can has no benefit to you. A constant, steady pace is the way to go.
Back in the previous section I mentioned that you want to know where the calf muscles connect in order to target the whole muscle.
This isn’t an anatomy class and I don’t think the average person needs to know every muscle in the body, so we’ll simplify this down.
Your calves are made up of two muscles:
- Gastrocnemius - Crosses the knee and ankle.
- Soleus - Crosses the ankle.
What that means is that the calf muscles are going from your ankle all the way to the back of your knee, so it’s important to roll out the whole muscle.
In addition to foam rolling, stretching out the calves and surrounding muscles is a great idea.
Not only can it help alleviate soreness, but it also can improve your ankle mobility which can help improve your squat and lessen your likelihood of injury.
Try the standing calf raise (use weight or just your bodyweight) and the anterior tibias raises to stretch all the muscles connecting to the ankle.
With an improvement in your calves from foam rolling and stretching, a great area to work on next would be your hips.
From sitting all day and exercises in the gym, our hips often tighten up and could also benefit from foam rolling and stretching.
Check out this guide on how to stretch your hips.
If you have any questions about how to foam roll tight calves or any other body parts, feel free to reach out and I'm happy to help!