Calf (Gastroc) Stretches

The “runner’s stretch” (the one where you put your hand against the wall and your foot out behind you) does not work. Period. More specifically, the foot will evert and all you’ll accomplish is to crank the foot into an unnatural position.

The reason these stretches need to be done with the knee straight is that the gastroc muscle (the one that is usually tight) goes up past the knee to connect to the thigh bone. Therefore, bending the knee relaxes that muscle and makes it impossible to stretch it at all. When the knee is bent, the soleus muscle is the only thing under tension and able to get any kind of a stretch. Both of those muscles (the gastroc and soleus muscles) blend together to form the achilles tendon.

If these stretches don’t work, you might need to have a gastroc release procedure.

gastroc muscle illustration


“Strap Stretch”

Click here to print out a summary of these tips.

The gastroc stretch is a very important part of most of my patient’s recovery. This stretch is done using a rigid strap/towel/belt/dog leash and NOT a large rubber band.
Therabands (large rubber bands) are for strengthening. This is stretching.

  1. Put on a shoe so that you have a stable flat surface.
  2. Put the strap/towel/belt around the foot just barely behind the ball of the foot, basically at the arch part of the foot.
  3. Pull the inner hand a little more than the outside hand as if you are flying a kite with two strings. (see pictures below)
  4. Make sure you completely relax the entire leg so that the knee is completely straight (extended). If not, you won’t get a true stretch.
  5. Pull this stretch for 3 minutes
  6. Then engage the hamstrings by straightening up your low back to rotate the pelvis. You’ll know you’re doing it right because you’ll feel the stretch now extend up to the back of your thigh muscles.
  7. Repeat the above sequence 2 or 3 more times.
  8. Do this 2 or 3 times a day if able. Even once a day is better than none.

Example of stretch, LEFT side:

right and wrong calf stretches Left

Example of stretch, RIGHT side:

right and wrong calf stretches Right

Side view using a towel and sitting on the ground:

towel stretch

Side view using a strap and sitting in a chair (both ways of doing it are fine):

strap stretch

Stair Stretch

A “stair stretch” also works along with the “towel stretch” in the link above. It looks like this:

stair stretch

You will get a better stretch if you put something under the inner (medial) part of the forefoot. That means the part of the foot just behind the big toe.


Academic Journal article about calf tightness and how it can feed into other foot problems

2002_Isolated Gastroc Tightness_JBJS_DiGiovanni_Sangeorzan_Hansen