Tight calves? Look at your footwear

by Ryan Wagner

Many, many people have tight calves. Simply put, it’s largely a consequence of our sedentary lifestyles. Even the fittest among us often have to put in some extra effort to ensure that we still have good movement in this part of our leg. And for a lot of women, it’s natural to wonder, “Are high heels bad for your calves?”

Unlike back pain, which is very obvious, tight calves often go somewhat unnoticed. At least until you do something out of the ordinary like play a game of pickup basketball or go hiking. Then, overuse injuries like achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis tend to pop up.

But what do I mean by tight, in the first place? A good example is a guy who works an office job, seated and hunched over a computer for many hours of the day, only to go to the gym and bench press three days a week. His rounded posture and internally rotated shoulders are helping to shorten his pectoralis major muscle. In other words, his pecs are tight. And because he’s working out so much, he’s “over toning” that muscle. His pecs are hypertonic.

Similarly, many of us are constantly fighting with tight calves. Women, I think, have even more work to do if they want to keep their calves happy. Why? Their footwear. Wearing shoes with an elevated heel has a tendency to shorten both the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscle. Taking all of your steps each day in a 3 or 4 inch heel is basically training your calves to remain shortened.

This can be a real problem when you take the shoes off and try and do something more natural, say, walk on flat ground! Or, should you go hiking or play a sport, your tight calves are being asked to now lengthen and support your body in all sorts of dynamically challenging ways.

Fortunately for your calves, high heels are apparently on their way out of fashion.

From a fitness and movement perspective, this certainly isn’t a bad thing. I think you can do your feet and calves a world of good by choosing footwear with a more open toebox and a shallow to zero degree heel lift. Foam rolling and stretching can help too, but the best thing you can do if you’re dealing with tight calves is to give them some room to move and stop wearing those high heels (at least as your day to day pair of shoes)!

Tight calves? Look at your footwear by