Squatting to Fix My Calves

The last few times I’ve run have been a disaster. My calves have been so tight … like to the point that I am stopping to stretch about every five minutes.

By the end of a run my calves feel like rocks. They are super tight and hard, and only after a few minutes of rest do they go back to their normal state. I have had calf tightness before; it’s always come and gone. It’s been an annoyance but never as frustrating as what I’m experiencing right now.

When I got home from my run last night I decided I need to replicate EVERYTHING I used to do when the calf tightness wasn’t really an issue:

-Stopping to stretch after five minutes of running

-Stopping to stretch at mile two

-Doing the standard calf stretch against a wall after each run for 90 seconds on each leg

-Going back to wearing the Brooks Adrenalines

-Doing strength training at least 2X per week to address any muscle weaknesses or imbalances that have developed (most important)

Since January 2016 I’ve been dealing with these calf issues on-and-off and since then I’ve been doing all kinds of things to try and fix the issues. I have taken on new calf stretching routines. I’ve started doing calf raises every day. I changed my running shoes. I feel like I’ve done it all and nothing is really helping.

Maybe I am over stretching/over stimulating my calves and I just need to go back to the basics. It really seems like since January of last year the issue has only gotten progressively worse.

While I really want to see if going back to the basics helps, my biggest theory is that I have muscle imbalances (outside of my calves) that are causing problems with my calves. 

When your calves are as bothersome as mine are some days you simultaneously want to baby them and stretch them. There have been many leg days that have been skipped because I just want my legs to feel totally healed.

In retrospect this is silly because squats, deadlifts, etc. do not impact the calves that I know of. Skipping leg day has possibly made my issue worse by making my other leg muscles weaker.

Let’s face it, I am not light as a balloon and running puts a lot of pressure on my legs. If they aren’t strong then running will likely make them feel weaker. That’s my train of thought right now anyway.

This means I really need to recommit to doing leg day every week without fail, along with getting back to the basics with stretching.

I was reading this running physio blog post yesterday. It’s written by a physiotherapist called Tom with over a decade of experience. He’s also a runner!

Tom recommends assessing calf strength by seeing if you can do 40 single calf raises on each leg. He says he likes his runners to be able to do this easily. Luckily I was able to hit 40 on both legs with no issue so I think my calf strength is fine. It’s really got to be something else.

From what I read last night, weak glutes and/or hamstrings can very easily lead to calf tightness. This means I really need to get back to upping my squat game.

If you’re a long time reader you’ll probably remember that in 2013 I used to be able to squat 150lbs and deadlift 190lbs. I stopped squatting and deadlifting that heavy when I started training for my first half marathon; as you can imagine lifting that heavy will leave your legs very sore and make it hard to hit your paces.

Deadlifting 180lbs

Since then, every year I have squatted/deadlifted less and less weight. It used to be that 100lbs was EASY to squat; I could do it in my sleep. These days if I squat 50lbs I am feeling it the next day and the next day after that.

This cannot happen any longer. It’s time for me to up my squat and deadlift game!!! I feel like clearly I’ve lost the gains I made before and now I need to build back up. I feel almost certain this will improve my calf issues. If it doesn’t then I will need to go see a doctor but everything I’ve read online seems to suggest that in most cases a person can take care of calf issues at home.

Basically, this whole post is to say I need to get back to the basics all around!

Have you ever done the 40 single calf raise test?

Do you still squat/deadlift heavy when you’re in training mode for a race?

Any certified PTs out there, are there any other specific exercises you recommend?

14 comments

  1. Lisa @ Mile by Mile

    I think that makes alot of sense! Also, have you gone to a running shoe store to get a gait analysis? Maybe you need totally different shoes than what you’ve been wearing?

    1. Kristina

      I haven’t had a gait analysis in a while, maybe it’s changed? I did use the Brooks analyzer quiz thing which has you do several mini exercises to see what shoe is right for you and it said the Glycerins which is what I’ve been wearing for the last 1.5 years. Before that I wore the Adrenalines for a couple of years which is what was recommended to me by the shoe store.
      Kristina recently posted…Squatting to Fix My CalvesMy Profile

  2. Megan @ Meg Go Run

    Well your detective work makes total sense. Luckily, you love lifting, right!? How long do you think until you notice a difference?

    My PT told me my calves were tight and I was like WTF I stretch them after every run! I get to the point where I’m like, there’s only so much I can do! Not sure I can do the calf raises because Jelly is on my lap right now and I can’t get up! 😉 I’m lifting chest here in a minute though so I will try it in between push up sets. 🙂
    Megan @ Meg Go Run recently posted…I feel like my body is falling apart and I have a “race” in two months!My Profile

  3. Lisa @ TechChick Adventures

    Isn’t that funny how some body parts are a problem for some people, but not others? I mean, I’ve never had a calf issue but wonder what it would be like to run without hamstring tightness!! The whole issue is such a mystery, and as you know I’m still on the path to solving mine.
    Squats and deadlifts are on my “do not do” list because they aggravate my issues so much. I really wish I could do them. But not now 🙁
    Lisa @ TechChick Adventures recently posted…Trail running in the OaksMy Profile

  4. Heather [is probably running]

    Your theory about hamstring/glute weakness and calf tightness due to cutting down on your squat/deadlift routine seems sound. I hope it helps because you have been complaining about calf tightness forever!
    Heather [is probably running] recently posted…5k #20: Shanty 2 Short’s 2017My Profile

  5. Karen Bayne

    The chain down the leg is so connected…I have dealt with the calf issue on and off, although for the first year I ran it was never an issue, but now I can’t seem to totally escape it. My calf that gets tight seems to stem from my foot issue. When my foot feels sore, my calf acts up.
    I hope your heavy lifting helps!! It is good to build muscle 🙂 I’ve been seriously slacking in the weight training department for awhile now.

  6. Hanna @ minimal marathoner

    I have a feeling your theory about weak glutes is right on the money. If your calves are tight it makes sense they might be overcompensating for another muscle that’s not pulling its weight.

    Is it possible it could be related to a form issue as well? Maybe something about running form or gait is also putting added strain on the calves? I have no idea, just a thought!
    Hanna @ minimal marathoner recently posted…Base-Building UpdateMy Profile

    1. Kristina

      I have wondered that as well… I mean I am pretty sure on the days that my calves are SUPER TIGHT my form probably does break down which only exaggerates the issue. I made a dr. appointment so hopefully I can get more insights!

  7. Kerri

    I relate to this so much!
    I am also trying to psych myself up to get back to the weight room; I haven’t lifted in months! I’ve been pushing myself hard on my runs, trying to train to hit a PR at my most recent race…which I did hit, but not without a whole lot of pain in my calves. I’ve never tried that 40-calf-raise test…I will get on that:)
    finding the right balance of strength training/race training is so, so tough!

  8. Susan

    I hope you can figure this all out…it’s been going on for so long. I used to always stretch my hamstrings because they felt tight but they aren’t tight, they are overworked and due to my sway back they are always “on stretch”. My PT told me no more stretching them and that along w/ my exercises has really helped a ton. I never stretch them anymore!!

    1. Kristina

      That’s so interesting about your hammies. Before we had our chat the other night I was really against going to the dr. I was in denial I suppose, but now I am looking forward to figuring out what’s actually wrong. Today I was even thinking I might make a PT appt for next week to get some additional insight since I can’t see the dr. until the following week!

  9. Ali @ Hit the Ground Running

    Which shoes have you been using lately? I didn’t even know you switched.

    I’m sorry your in the calf-pain boat with me. Don’t wait as long as I did to get it diagnosed! I was in SUCH denial and if it hadn’t been for Elizabeth’s insistence, I wouldn’t have seen a doctor.
    Ali @ Hit the Ground Running recently posted…A Calf Update – Hopeful News!My Profile

    1. Kristina

      Since last Jan I’ve been running in the Brooks Glycerins. They look and feel very similar to the Adrenalines — but I’ve got a new pair of Adrenalines arriving on Tues!
      Kristina recently posted…Squatting to Fix My CalvesMy Profile

  10. Ana

    Calf pain is so stressful to deal with!! it hurts so bad and one just wants to stop and go home ! I hope the new changes help out!

    I’ll tell you about my calves issues, whenever I don’t drink enough water, or electrolytes, my calves hurt, like a burning pain. I haven’t changed shoes in 2 yeas, and Roger (who helps me train) has me do calf stretching and some workouts with resistance bands.

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