The exercise advice provided in this article is specifically for individuals who have suffered a calf muscle tear in the past, have been cleared for reintroducing activity and are seeking guidance on how to prevent it from happening again.
If you suspect that you recently tore your calf muscle, the “Diagnosis, Recovery & Rehabilitation” section below explains why it’s critical that you find the appropriate professional attention so that you can recover from the injury with as little negative effect on your performance as possible.
Below that, you’ll find 4 exercises for torn calf muscles that have healed, so that you can maintain the proper function of your calf muscles for optimal performance.
The technical term for a torn muscle is a “muscle strain”. Licensed Athletic Trainers (AT) and Physical Therapists (PT) use a spectrum to grade the severity of muscle strains, Grade 1 – Grade 3. This video will give you an idea of what torn muscle could feel like.
Remember! With each grade of strain, the approach for treatment, recovery, and rehabilitation vary, which is why it is crucial to seek professional or medical attention if you believe you’ve strained a muscle.
Again, determining this should be left to a licensed AT or PT. Once they diagnose the grade of strain and the affected muscle(s), your AT or PT will use a variety of treatments and exercises to restore the range of motion and strength of your calf muscles in a way intended to prevent the muscle from injuring again.
Once you’ve completed your muscle rehabilitation with your AT or PT, your journey to restoring optimal performance may be over, but your journey of maintaining optimal performance has just begun. If you’ve worked with a great AT or PT, they likely gave you a few stretches and exercises to do regularly in order to prevent re-injury.
Below, you’ll find 4 different exercises that are often recommended for improving the function of your calf muscles and optimizing your performance. These exercises are best done in the order written and as a warm-up before an activity that’s high risk for calf muscle strain, (running/sprinting, sports that require sudden changes of direction, or activities that require a lot of jumping).
Blood flow is the healing, warming function that is essential for muscles to get or stay healthy. Both intense stretching and vigorous exercise, without an adequate warm-up, can put your muscles at risk for injury. You can quickly and gently increase blood flow to a muscle by gently moving it and the joints around it through their range of motion with dynamic movements.
A common dynamic exercise used for ankle and calf rehab is writing the “ABC’s” in the air with the tip of your big toe as if it were the tip of a pen. Focus on writing the letters as large as you can and over exaggerating the motion of your foot so that you move through full dorsiflexion and plantar flexion. This is what it looks like:
During the rehabilitation of your calf strain, your AT or PT likely stretched the injured muscle a lot. The purpose of this is to ensure that the scar tissue doesn’t heal in a way that shortens and tightens the muscle fibers, which would leave them vulnerable to re-injury.
Now that you’ve healed, your goal should be to prevent your muscles from over protecting themselves by shortening and restricting the range of motion. It’s important to gently lengthen the muscle fibers before you engage in a high-intensity activity so that it’s less shocking if they suddenly lengthen during a sprint or jump.
The seated calf stretch pictured above uses a towel to assist with lengthening the muscle fibers in your calf. Be sure to slowly pull your toes back, then hold the stretch for a minimum of 15 seconds, 2-3 times. If you alternate pulling slightly harder with one hand, then the other, you will deepen the stretch in different parts of your calf.
When you find a spot that’s particularly tender, don’t pull back harder, but hold the stretch there as you take deep breaths to help the muscle fibers lengthen and alleviate tension.
Just like muscle fibers being too tight can lead to injury, weak muscles attempting to outperform their current strength can also cause a strain. Unless you’re in a large fitness facility, finding a calf exercise machine can be tricky. Luckily, a standard calf raise, which doesn’t require any equipment, will get the job done.
The first photo (avobe) demonstrates a calf raise on the floor, and the second (below) demonstrates a more advanced variation done with your heels hanging from the edge of a step. Performing the calf raise from the edge of a step will both stretch and strengthen your calves through a greater range of motion, which makes it more effective for preventing re-injury.
Whichever variation you choose, start with just your body weight and move slowly to ensure that you don’t re-injure your calf. Complete 2-4 sets of 10-20 repetitions. As you get stronger, you can progress yourself by performing more reps, holding weights to add resistance, or balancing on 1 foot to work 1 calf at a time.
The gastrocnemius is the calf muscle most prone to strains because it’s chuck full of Type II Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers, (they’re the type of muscle fibers responsible for making muscles contract quickly and with a lot of force).
There are both pros and cons to this because the more Type II Fast Twitch fibers that are involved in a movement, the more power you generate… but you’ll also sacrifice muscular control, increasing the risk for straining your muscle. To improve muscular control and precision during explosive movements, you must specifically train that skill.
An exercise like the alternating Step Skip-Ups pictured above will help improve muscular control during sprints or jumps. Focus on hopping high enough to point the toe of your working leg and consciously controlling the landing to put as little impact on your joints as possible. Perform 2-4 sets of 10-15 reps per leg. As you get stronger, you can progress yourself by increasing the number of reps or sets, hopping higher, using a taller step or increasing the speed that you move at.
Maintaining the optimal function of your muscles is all up to you and determined by the adequacy of your warm-up and recovery habits. Whether you wish to improve the performance of your calf muscles, or any muscle group, remember these 4 steps: 1. Increase Blood Flow 2. Improve Range of Motion 3. Strengthen the Muscle Group 4. Train for Optimal and Safe Performance.
Practicing these 4 strategies is your best bet in preventing an injury from recurring, or ever happening in the first place.
Hey! My name is Paul Sheldon. I live in Nashville, TN and I love all things related to sports. Naturally I love workking out and I do it every day. If you want to talk feel freee to hit me a message or if you happen to be in Nashville we can get a coffee, I know a great place. Peace!