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In calf raises, you lift your heel off the floor and stand on the balls of your feet. You can perform this basic exercise in a variety of ways: with straight legs, with bent knees, on machines, with a barbell or with dumbbells. While the type of weight you use doesn't affect the muscles you work, changing the position from straight leg to bent knee does work different muscles. Straight-leg calf raises target your gastrocnemius muscle, while the bent-knee versions target your soleus. Both of these muscles can get stiff.
If your calf muscles stiffen up after doing just a few calf raises, you are likely experiencing a muscle cramp. A cramp occurs when your muscle remains contracted and unable to relax.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Experiencing stiff calf muscles about 12 to 72 hours after doing calf raises can be a sign that you're suffering from delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. The eccentric phase of the calf raise -- during which you lower your heel back to the starting position -- is the culprit. Eccentric exercises produce microscopic trauma to the muscle fibers. You experience this trauma as pain or stiffness.
What to Do
When you experience a cramp, your first instinct might be to try to stretch the muscle. However, stretching a muscle that is contracted can tear the muscle. With a cramp, you should wait until it stops and then gently stretch the muscle. If you are suffering from DOMS, you need to rest the muscle to give it time to heal. Refrain from doing more calf raises until your symptoms subside. While you're waiting, you can do some moderate-intensity exercises such as brisk walking or jogging on a flat surface, and you can massage your calves.
You can prevent cramps by making sure you get enough rest, drink enough fluids and eat a well-balanced diet. To prevent DOMS, increase the intensity of your training sessions gradually. Add weight and repetitions in small amounts, and don't work your calves on consecutive days.
When to See a Doctor
Almost every active individual will experience cramps and DOMS at some point. While these can be painful, they are rarely serious. If, however, you get frequent, severe cramps, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. If your DOMS symptoms include debilitating pain, swelling of the calf or dark urine, see your doctor.