In Part 1 of this article, we looked at the relationship between how flexible our calves are and how well we can squat. We learned that a healthy, full squat requires a good amount of dorsiflexion at the ankle joint and that inflexible calf muscles will limit our ability to dorsiflex and therefore have a negative impact on our ability to squat well.
We could all improve our squat somewhat and calf-stretching is a wonderful practice for us to integrate into our movement routine. But as we discussed in Part 1, the majority of calf stretches target only the most superficial of our calf muscles – the gastrocnemius. While it’s great to stretch this muscle, if our goal is to squat better, we need to also be targeting our deeper calf muscle – the soleus.
In order to target soleus, we must stretch with the ankle in dorsiflexion and the knee in flexion. Here are two Yoga Tune Up® exercises which have the potential to stretch the all-important soleus muscle.
Monk Walks – Monk walks can dynamically stretch the soleus of your back leg. You can also freeze your monk walk and hold a single monk “step” for several breaths for more of a static stretch of your soleus. Your monk walk (or monk step) will be a better stretch for soleus if you really focus on dorsiflexing that back ankle – think of pressing that back heel straight back until you can begin to feel a stretch in your calf.
See a static version with YTU Teacher Trainer Sarah Court below:
Squat Arms Up – In order to stretch your soleus muscles in this pose, you should only lower your hips to the point where you can keep your heels on the ground and your feet can point straight forward. For example, if you lower your hips as far down as they can go, but your heels have to lift off the floor or your feet rotate to point outward, you’ve gone too far. Lift your hips back up to point where you can align your feet again and practice the pose from there. Hold for about 10 breaths. Try this with your sacrum at a wall to help with balance as you maintain alignment and integrity in the pose. Once you’ve mastered the lower half of the body, try taking your arms overhead into full flexion for a greater challenge.
For an extra bonus, to encourage your central nervous system to allow you more dorsiflexion range of motion, actively “gas pedal” the balls of your feet into the floor (plantarflex) for a few breaths, and then actively “gas pedal” your feet away from the floor (dorsiflex) for a few breaths while you are in the squat.
There are many different ways that you can create this joint arrangement in your body for a successful soleus stretch. Enjoy experimenting with them!
Enjoyed this article? Read For Strong And Supple Pelvic Muscles – Squat
I will see “the monk’s walk” differently!
I really appreciated the video here as well. Quite helpful when I went to practice the stretch. Seeing so many injuries of repetition, mine included, I’m offering isometric exercises more and more as a way of safely building strength. I was especially interested to learn about how the flexing of the foot in the second exercise encourages the central nervous to allow a deeper dorsiflexion and would have loved to know more about why this movements triggers the nervous system.
Continuing from the past post, I never thought that the Monk Walks could target the soleus muscle! I always thought of them as a strong workout for the thighs and a hip stretch, but changing the attention to the feet feels very different. I tried it with the back foot on the wall (in the static version) and it really helped. Thanks for sharing a new perspective on how to address soleus stretches in the poses.
I read both part 1 and 2 of this blog post for better squats. The monk walk is a perfect adjustment needed for hip flexor relief and extension without jamming the lower back like in poses like back bending crescent. I like both articles and tips to target these muscles of the foot and ankle to increase mobility in the hip.
This is a great detailed explanation of why we might actually use the “Monk Walk” to improve our squat and to stretch the soleus muscle. My squat has improved so much since I put ankle dorsiflexion into the mix as something to try . . . and I really like the idea of the added “gas pedaling” of the feet for a greater affect. I am also thinking of “sitting seza with a strap with doresiflexion” as a way of creating a ncie soleus strecth too!
Thanks for the quick video reminder that typical lunges (from yoga space, ‘crescent lunge’) don’t really get the extension that my hips are craving from there 90% flexed static state most days!
Thanks for this enlightening was the reach my soleus. I especially like the idea of doing it at least one a day. While I never considered myself a “sitter”, my short hip flexors tell me otherwise. Thank you.
Love monk walks! After doing these during my YTU L1 my crossfit coach commented on my deeper squat!
A great article to highlight strengthening the neglected muscle (soleus of your calf muscles) in addition to gastrocnemius. Will be using moon walks to warm up the soleus for chair poses and weight lifting exercises that involve squatting.
Thank you for sharing! This is wonderful. I didn’t realize that improving your rolling on the soleus muscle can deepen your squat. I have so many students that have a hard time squatting no matter how many squats they do. Monk Walks are great for targeting this! And improving the the dorsiflexion too in Squat Arms up. Making sure you only go as low as the heels can stay can help the ankles range of motion. This is great and helpful as many students get frustrated that they’re not able to squat as low as others. Thank you for your help!
I cycle a lot every day … I will add this exercise to my daily routine! Thanks,
I have been happily reading the first part of your blog, so thank you for pointing me to the need for calf stretches with bent knees. Besides the Monk Walk that you suggest, I might also investigate into using balls to smoothen certain parts of my calves, as this might work well with bent knees, too, I guess. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
Thank you for releasing this antidote for sitting! I am on YTU training day4 now and my calves are screaming! I anticipate to learn the monk walk om day 5!
Thank-you for the Part 2 with the Monk Walk! So simple, yet I could feel the targeting of the soleus right way with this technique. I like that this can be static or a dynamic move too.
Thank you for providing the information about the soleus. I am struggling in my squats and now I have some ways to break it down and target the soleus muscle.
Is that the correct video? I’m seeing one called Hip Stretch for Quads and Hip Flexors, but I’m not seeing the connection to the soleus. Maybe I’m missing something as I’m not familiar with “Monk Walks” and google and bing searches aren’t helping me out at all. 🙂
I absolutely love the static monk walks! You can easily target the front and back of the hip in extension! During my YTU training I found it really difficult to perform the actual walking because of my knee pain. This static version gets the job done and you can use a piece of furniture to stabilize yourself and you get that awesome Soleus stretch as well!
Having just completed the TYU Level 1, I understand that not all exercises for the calf region are created equally. As it is a pose I so obviously require – I do find Monk walks a real challenge. However the static one takes away the need to balance as well, so will be added to my morning “exercises to do whilst brushing my teeth” routine! Thank you for sharing.
Great insight on the Soleus muscle. I used to wonder I stretch my calves so much but why I can’t I still do a full squat. Now I know. These are intricate details like Soleus will stretch only when the ankle is in dorsiflexion and knee is also in flexion. Thanks for sharing!
I’m so excited to try the “Monk Walk!” There are days that I sit a lot at work, or sit and stand, sit and stand and end up with super tight hip flexors and lately have been feeling it in my calves and ankles. I will try this tomorrow-looking forward to it! Thank you!
I’m on day 5 of my YTU level 1 and we did Monk Walks today! WOW! I had no idea what I was missing. Your pose really helped me learn more about the benefits of this exercise! Thank you.
I knew bending the knee in a calf stretch felt different, but I didn’t know why. Your post helps clarify this, but I am still a little confused about the monk walk…is there an actual “walk” or is the static hold the entirety of the pose? The “gas pedalling” action in squat? Ouch!
Monk Walk is a great stretch position for hips, knees and ankles. It took a while for me to realize that keeping the knee under the hip is more efficient to stretch the hip flexors than sending the leg back farther, and the soleus is needs to be stretched with bend knee to increase dosiflexion for greater squat depth. So many of my personal training clients have tight hips and ankles that limit their range of motion in squat and lunge patterns. I’ll be adding this to their warm-ups!
Thank You Sarah for the fun modification to actively “gas pedal” the balls of your feet It really helped increase my range of motion.
I agree that the soleus is often overlooked, we focus on the superficial muscle of the gastronemius without really studying and working on the underlying issue and tissue that needs TLC! I can see this being a great routine to discover the blind spots. I would love to introduce this to my sports players as many suffer plantar fasciitis as well. I will be incorporating in my routine as well so that I can improve my range of motion with my knee as I have rehabed an old injury from running.
I love that your soleus stretch is actually the monk walk. I had never thought of it like that. Double motivation to do it!
Thank you for your blog. I appreciated your video demonstration of a static monk walk and explanation of how to stretch the soleus muscle with the ankle being dorsiflexion and knee in flexion.
Thanks for sharing! I love monk walk! I now love it more as it will help me to stretch the soleus! I injured my knees a few months back and lost the range of motion when squatting. I sure want to gain it back with more monk walk! Thanks again, Michelle
I really love the static Monk Walk, felt a nice mild stretch. However, I didn’t feel that much of a stretch with Squat arms up, I can even go to deep squat like Malasana without feeling intensity.
Thank you for these stretches of the soleus muscle, they so helpful to get into and develop the deep squat but also to stretch this part of the calf.
Great tip for lengthening the soleus to improve our squat. I will try to find ways to stretch the calf with my knee flexed too now.
Thanks Jenni! Great article, you made me appreciate the importance of the Soleus when squatting. I don’t think I thought about that before. Also, it made me love Monk Walks even more than I do. I use a lot these Monk Walks on my classes as it is a very complete movement, it is great for hip flexors, psoas stretching (when adding some side bending) core integration as all comes into play. I use them to prepare my students bodies for a lot of poses that involves the above mentioned areas and although I acknowledge the feet/leg and knees involvement, your blog inspire me to use this move and so many others in a totally different way or for poses I haven’t thought about it. I’ve seen students struggling with Utkatasana pose because of their calves among other things but is something I might emphasize into. And why not, if you change orientation on a squat, soleus stretching may add up to crow pose (especially when done with dorsiflexed feet)
I am always getting clients to do the hip flexor stretch, just didn’t realize that it was also a way to stretch the soleus of the calf. I am definitely going to incorporate the monk walk into my own training as well as with clients. Also love the tip on keeping the feet forward for the deep squat – something I feel like I might be ‘cheating’ with! Great article!
Thanks for the reminder on the importance of keeping your heels grounded and feet parallel to really target the stretch. Your tip of resting the sacrum at the wall is wonderful for balance assistance.
a powerful dynamic movement to warm up the lower body ready for the might warriors.
I never really thought of the monk walks as a stretch for the soleus until now. Great information. Thanks.
I don’t think I appreciated monk walks (or steps) as a way to stretch the soleus before now! Thanks for the tips and information.
Always looking for more mobility in squats!
I love the moon walks great solution to two issues the hip flexors and the soleus. I’m going to try them right away.
The soleus is so often overlooked! So great to read an article that specifically addresses ways to stretch and mobilize it! Thanks!
The soleus muscle is always a hard one to stretch. I loved the monk walk and tips. I found it great to do the first time while looking in a mirror for proper alignment. I tried what i think would the dynamic version though would like to see it demonstrated. Thanks!!!
These two articles were great! I’ve got a CrossFitter that needs to work on her posterior chain strength and ankle mobility to improve her squat, and I’m going to send her this info.
Thanks for this helpful post!
This is completely anecdotal, but it is related the soleus (and possibly gastroc). With the help of Yoga Tune Up® I discovered that when I stand I tend to raise my left heel – that is, bear more weight on my left forefoot. Yep, a blind spot! I was suffering from plantar fasciitis at the time on that foot. Just the awareness that I was holding extra tension helped me start to relax. Soon after, I noticed I was restricting dorsiflexion in my left ankle when riding my bike. Since my legs always have some degree of flexion when pedaling, most likely it was my soleus where I was holding this tension. It took a good chunk of the summer to learn to relax that troubled soleus when standing, biking and walking, but it was worth it as the plantar fasciitis vanished. Still working on my squats though.
OH….the Monk Walks!! I really enjoy all your video segments you post on fb Jenni! A question–Are you leaning into the wall with the sacrum or is it more like just barely touching the wall??? I assume that any knee pain means stop and back off a bit?
Great, of course Monk walks! All these are very helpful. Thanks!
ohhhh! I am going to make my athletes do these two poses, especially my football players. Thanks so much- very helpful (and love the feet facing forward in a squat- YES!)
very helpful. thank you!
I learned this sole us stretch from a PT and it was like finding the missing link! Very helpful for more than just squats. Better DFD, better warrior 1, etc. For me, sometimes it takes a few seconds for the stretch to find the spot and settle in, but when it does, it is heaven!
Very helpful! What does the monk walk consist of? I’d like to see a dynamic version if possible. Thanks!