By: Jeremy Neisser
Many runners tend to have one common challenge time and again; experiencing calf tightness. The reason for this is calf muscles are the most vital muscle groups used when running.
But what really causes calf tightness after running?
There are five typical reasons for calf pain from running:
- Muscle fatigue by overuse
- Non-supportive footwear
- Poor running form
- Not warming up effectively
- Incorrect stretching before running.
Remedies to recover from calf tightness from running are foam rolling, massaging, and stretching.
Let’s dig in a little deeper:
What Causes Calf Tightness From Running?
Calf pain is one of the most common injuries in runners. Tight calf muscles from running can cause a sharp and unbearable calf pain in the lower leg sometimes starting near the achilles tendon.
1. Muscle Imbalance/Overloading
The calf region is surrounded by three major muscles including, the plantar, soleus, and gastrocnemius.
You don’t have to know each muscle and their function, but they are all involved in the movement of the feet as you run.
Suppose one of the muscle group around the calf area is overloaded, it will weaken the other muscles.
For the record, muscles normally depend on the activeness to be strong enough.
That is why bodybuilders hit the gym to flex and strengthen their muscles. So if any muscle is inactive, it naturally becomes weak.
Running Physio points out that some of the causes of a muscle imbalance around the calf are when you introduce a speed or hill work, when you increase the training intensity, and also when you increase the weekly mileage.
Another thing that can cause an overload to your calf muscles is when you intro a different drill to your normal running. This can immediately lead to tight calf muscles.
For instance, if you blend in gym sessions the same day you are running or the next day, it can make your calf muscles fatigued.
2. Continuous Running
Even though muscles depend on regular activeness to be strong, too much of it can lead to soreness. For instance, when you run continuously without enough rest, your tight calf muscles. This can even cause partial immobility to your leg.
I once experienced the same when I was in a marathon training. Since I was training day after day and running long distances, I ended up fatiguing my muscles. I was unable to even do a calf raise due to the tight muscles, though I didn’t experience any pain.
3. Wrong Footwear
Inappropriate footwear is another common aspect that causes calf tightness when running. Before you purchase any running shoes, you must ensure that they are perfect for your feet. It must fit perfectly, and the cushioning features should also be considered.
The shoes should also have shock absorbing features, and they should not promote overpronation.
You can have that checked and modified appropriately before you purchase them. Other than your running shoes, your regular footwear can also cause calf tightness and often times shin spints.
4. Running Form
According to Rehab 4 Runners, your running form can highly affect your muscle pain and can create tight calf muscles. The running form is simply how you run. What strategy do you apply when running? And how is it affecting your calf in the long run?
I wrote a specific post about ways to run a faster 5K inside you can find a really simple infographic on how to improve your running form.
The shoes should also have shock absorbing features, and they should not promote overpronation. You can have that checked and modified appropriately before you purchase them. Other than your running shoes, your regular footwear can also cause calf soreness or lower leg pain.
With the modern cushioned running shoes, most of the runners apply a heel strike when running. A heel strike is when your heel lands first on the ground as you move. When you run with a heel strike, the chances of tightening your calf muscles are high.
For me, I land on my midfoot first, which is how our predecessors ran before the running shoes were invented. Running with your midfoot first helps to limit the pressure on your calf muscles.
5. Abrupt Activeness/Running
Not everyone is a devoted runner, especially because they barely step out to run or even take a walk. So if you are less flexible, and you have not been running almost like in your entire life, it can be challenging when you start running all of a sudden.
When this happens, the muscles will take time to respond to your recent activeness.
Since your muscles are not used to the level of stretching that running requires, it will cause them to tighten when you start running.
Warming up properly can safely help with this.
6. Training Faults
Training mistakes are also among the common causes of calf soreness when running. This happens with most of the newbies. If you are new to running, your calf muscles will experience increased stress because they are not used to it.
Some of the training faults include the lack of a proper warm-up before you start running. Other runners also fail to stretch accordingly, which ends up building pressure on the calf muscles.
Also, some new runners can spend too much time and engage in heavy drills before running. This makes them exhausted before they start running which can lead to a calf strain or calf pain.
How Can You Reduce Calf Tightness?
Now that you know what can lead to a tight calf as you run, you now need to understand the proper remedies to solve it.
Here are a few approaches you can apply.
1. FOAM ROLLING
Working with these foam rollers is also easy, and you can do the drills without the need for any professional supervision.
To do them, start by placing the roller on a plain floor. The floor should not be bumpy, which allows the rollers to put an even pressure to your calf.
Once the roller is on the floor, you will simply roll your leg over as you concentrate on the calf area. Amazon has a really good selection of Foam Rollers, you really do not need a super fancy one. A simple one like this one should be perfect for you.
This one is a vital pre and post warmup drill. Stretching helps to flex the muscles and solve sore calves from running. It is a perfect drill for newbies, though even the professional runners require stretching their muscles if they experience a calf soreness.
Start by bracing your hands on a post or a wall, then extend your legs behind you as far as possible. As you stretch out your leg, ensure that you keep both heels flat.
Hold that position for about 10 to 20 seconds, then release and change the legs. You can repeat this in about 10 sets
Though the foam rollers help to massage the calf, you can still massage with your hands for a direct impact. Massaging also helps to target the deep tissues, which might not respond to the foam rollers massage. This drill helps to enhance the blood circulation and relieve tension in your sore calves.
4. DRY NEEDLING
According to Leading Edge Physical Therapy, dry needling is also an effective remedy for calf tightness. This approach is basically an imitation of the common acupuncture, and it was introduced in the Western Countries to replace the traditional Chinese medicine.
This approach entails the placement of tiny needles in the target muscle groups. Since you will be solving the calf tightness, the needles will be placed into your calf muscles. It helps to solve shortened and fatigued muscles.
5. PULL BACKS
Here, you will require a resistance band that will work on the gastrocnemius, the large outer calf muscles. It is an effective drill that can release the fatigue in the muscle group and reduce the risk of a calf injury.
Start by sitting down on the floor as you stretch your legs in front. As you do this, straighten your back and loop the band around one of your footballs, then flex your foot backward towards you.
Stop and hold your leg in the band for around 30 seconds when you feel a pull on your calf muscle. Release and repeat in 10 sets.
6. STEP DROPS
This drill is also effective enough to relieve the tightness of the muscles. Start by standing with your feet balls on the edge of a step.
Your heels should be hanging off at this point, then drop them on the step level and hold for around 30 seconds. As you do this, avoid bouncing to make the stretch gentle and effective enough.
7. STANDING CALF RAISES
With this drill, you will stand on a flat ground with your feet wide apart to be in line with your shoulders. Hold the back of a chair as you rise to your feet balls, and hold the position for about 10 seconds.
Lower your heels slowly to the ground, and repeat the drill in about 10 sets.
Proper workouts can help to relieve the tightness of the calf muscles and reduce calf cramps.
For the therapy remedies like dry needling and massaging, you must consult a professional to help you with it. A wrong move can cause further injuries to your muscles.
How Can You Prevent Calf Tightness From Running?
If you haven’t experienced a calf tightness yet, or if you successfully apply the effective drills to relieve it, you will need to take the necessary measures to prevent it from creeping back to your calf.
Here are some measures to help you prevent having a tight calf when running.
1. PROPER DIET
While this might seem absurd, having a good diet can help to prevent calf fatigue and tightness. Very Well indicates how professional runners are including a healthy diet in their training to avoid fatigue.
For instance, Pickle Juice is a common drink that professional runners take as part of their healthy diet. Personally, I have tried the juice and it is very much effective. It might not be as appealing as other delicious juices, but a few sips of this magical drink can help to prevent muscle tightness and muscle soreness.
A well-balanced diet that contains high levels of protein is recommended if you want to enjoy a swift and fatigue-less running experience. Proteins also promote the functioning of the muscles.
Don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day. In case you are interested, I put together a FREE 7-day meal plan that you can download below.
2. PROPER WARMUPS
One common thing that leads to calf tightness is when the muscles are engaged in an abrupt activeness. The best way to counter this is to do some warmups before you start running. The warmup that you choose will depend on the target running drill.
Some of the preferred warmups include stretching, calf raises, ankle rolls and any other drill that is light on the calf muscles. The main objective of a warm up is to prepare the body, and specifically the muscles, for the subsequent drill.
For me, I normally start with a walk of about 5 minutes, before I advance to running. Also, I walk for another 5 minutes after running, which helps to prevent fatigued muscles. An easy jog, a short walk, and stretching sessions can really prevent a tightened calf.
3. PROPER FOOTING
Running is an activity that doesn’t entail many rules like soccer or basketball. However, you will have to follow some slight rules on how you should run.
For instance, when you run, avoid landing on your heels or on your forefoot alone. A midfoot strike or landing on your midfoot helps to shorten the length of your stride. Also, it alters the loading exerted on the calf muscles. The impact through the lower leg and the foot will also be reduced.
Conversely, landing on your toes increases the tightness of the calf. For that, you should land your feet flat on the ground as you run. The only thing about landing on a flat foot is that you will move slower, but you can run for long without experiencing shortness or fatigue of the calf muscles.
Calf Tightness from Running: Conclusion
Experiencing a tight calf is common with runners; both the newbies and the professionals. The main reason why many people have a tight calf when running is because the muscles don’t receive proper blood circulation. Even muscle flexing allows blood and air to flow through the muscle tissues.
For that, proper warmup drills will help to prevent fatigue and prepare your leg and feet for running. A well-balanced diet also supplies the muscles with the right nutrients to function properly. Blending a walk and other slight drills also balanced the pressure exerted on the calf muscles.
If you are new to running, always take your time to learn what is needed, which includes the proper footwear, and understanding the biometrics. Biometrics simply entails how the body works and functions as you are running. This will help you to prepare adequately for your next run.
Hi, Jeremy Here,
I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journey. About Jeremy.
I have run over 250 races including the California International Marathon, Clarksburg Country Run, and various other 5K & 10K races throughout the United States. I am a former Athletics department employee at University of the Pacific and Shoe Consultant with Dicks Sporting Goods