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!