Foot Fitness Exercise: Flexing the Ankle for an Effective Calf Stretch
Posted Feb 09 2011 11:49pm
Today’s foot fitness tip is especially important for runners, walkers. It also can benefit people with lower back issues. I’m going to share my “secrets for success” in improving leg, ankle, and foot flexibility with an easy and effective calf stretch. Whether you’re fit with no injuries, or are experiencing back pain, or just have tight lower back muscles from lifestyle habits or vigorous workouts taking the time to stretch your ankles and calf muscles can help keep both your legs and lower back in great shape! Check out this video clip to discover how to get the most from your calf stretch.
One of the great things about Pilates training is the number of exercises, especially on the Reformer where we get to rise up on our toes, and lower our heels against the resistance of the springs to help elongate the legs while strengthening and stretching the calves. But you might not always have a Reformer or Pilates Tower handy for an effective calf stretch, so here’s a great way to stretch your ankles and lower legs at home before or after any fitness workout!
Lay down on your back.
If you’ve really got tight hamstrings, bend your left knee and put your left foot flat on the floor while you lift your right leg up towards the ceiling.
If you’re more flexible, you can keep your left leg extended straight on the mat while you lift your right leg up.
You can do this with no extra equipment, but I like to use a towel, strap, or magic circle to help me release the ankle and deepen the stretch.
Place your toy of choice across the ball of the foot and hang on with your hands to use your upper body to assist your stretch.
Inhale to point the foot, Exhale and hinge where the foot meets the leg thinking about lengthening the heel up to the ceiling for a good stretch.
Hold this flexed foot position and take three to five long deep breaths striving to relax the ankle and deepen the stretch with every exhale.
After your 3-5 breaths, inhale to point the foot and exhale to flex again. Hold or deepen the flex for another 3-5 breaths. Inhale to point, and flex again to repeat one more time.
Be sure as you flex the ankle, that you initiate the hinge from the heel reaching away from your body, rather than the toes pulling backwards. If you start from the toes, you’re actually jamming the toes toward the foot, and jamming the foot into the ankle joint which will restrict your movement at the ankle and reduce the effectiveness of your stretch (even though you are probably still feeling a stretch!) Elongating through the heel to start and deepen your stretch helps keep the ankle joint open. More joint space means more potential movement and a more effective stretch!
Be sure that the whole foot hinges back evenly. I like to think about the inner side of the heel lengthening away to help the little toe side of the foot pull down to keep the whole foot even. It’s kind of like you’re trying to stand on the ceiling. You can also use your hands on your towel, strap, or Magic Circle to help keep the foot in good alignment as you stretch.
As you’re stretching your ankle, strive to keep your butt and pelvis still and square on the mat.
Abdominals should be pulled in to support holding your back in a steady, neutral position.
Especially if you’re doing this with your supporting leg bent, be sure you’re not pushing with that leg to tuck your pelvis under, or hiking a hip up. Think about your hips and shoulders square like a box. Keep all four corners of your box evenly weighted on the floor with your sitz bones lengthening out to the far end of your mat.
Last thing, you will stretch different parts of your calf with a straight leg versus a bent knee, but the hinging aspect of moving the foot from the ankle is the same. So be sure you’re clear on if you’re doing a straight leg stretch (which will give your Hamstring, Gastrocnemius, ankle and foot a stretch.) Or if you’re choosing to stretch with a bent knee (which will be less Hamstrings, the Soleus muscle, ankle, and foot.)
Especially if you run and walk a lot, I’d recommend doing both legs with a bent leg first 3-5 breaths, 3 times, then repeating it all with a straight leg. If you’re short on time, do at least one set of 3-5 breaths with a straight leg, and time permitting another set of 3-5 breaths with a bent leg.
Remember to lead with the heel reaching away from the body to flex the ankle, so the front of the ankle can stay loose and relaxed to help you get the most movement from the ankle and best stretch possible.
Hope you enjoy improved ankle flexibility to keep you healthy and injury free. Have a GREAT Day!