Stretching your muscles before and after you exercise might not be as exciting as the exercise itself, but it's a vitally important part of your workout regimen. When you plan to exercise your calves, either through a gym workout or by playing a sport, proper stretching can help you avoid a muscle strain. While stretches have several benefits, they do not increase the size of your calves.
One of the chief benefits of stretching is that doing so increases the flexibility of the muscle to prevent injury. The process of stretching lengthens the muscle's fibers; the more the fibers stretch, the longer the muscle will be, which is important because muscles naturally want to shorten. Other benefits of regular stretching include improving your performance during exercise and increasing blood flow to the areas you stretch.
Dynamic vs. Static Stretching
It's ideal to devote a few minutes to stretching your calves before and after each workout, but you should always use dynamic stretches before exercising and static stretches at the conclusion of your workout. Dynamic stretches are more active stretches that not only put your muscles through their full range of motion, but also increase your heart rate and core temperature, which helps you transition into the workout. During your cool-down period, use static stretches to improve your flexibility and relax your muscles.
Although stretching is important to keep your muscles healthy, regular stretching won't build your calves. Building your calves requires specific exercises that provide resistance and contract the muscles. You can use many types of exercises to build your calf muscles, including body-weight exercises, weight machine exercises and resistance bands. A simple calf exercise that you can perform with or without weights is the calf raise. Stand on the edge of a platform on one foot with your heel hanging off the edge, and then lift your heel as high as you can before lowering it back to the starting position to complete one rep. Complete 20 reps and then switch legs.
A simple dynamic stretch for your calves is a set of calf step-backs. To begin, stand with your feet together at roughly shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Quickly take a step backward with one leg and bounce slightly to warm up your calves. Switch the position of your feet and continue this step-and-bounce pattern for 20 reps. To perform a static calf stretch, stand a couple feet away from a wall with one leg behind the other, your arms straight and your palms pressed against the wall. Bend your front leg but keep the back leg straight and keep your heel down. When you feel a stretch in your back calf, hold the pose for 30 seconds before switching legs.