Runners Calves Care: Strengthening, Stretching + Recovery Protocol

Running injuries are extremely common among recreational runners, far more common than they should be.

The most common areas for injuries are the knee, thigh, and calf muscles. Therefore, if you don’t want to hang up your shoes due to injury, look after your calves!

If you want to give yourself the best chance to remain out on the trails or road, it is paramount that you adhere to a well-designed strength and conditioning plan.

In this runners calves guide, we will explore the best practices for calf care tailored specifically to runners. We’ll provide you with effective strengthening exercises to build calf strength, followed by essential stretches to improve flexibility and prevent injuries.

Additionally, we’ll discuss recovery protocols to help you bounce back from calf-related issues swiftly.

In this article, we will cover the following:

  • Runners Calves: 5 Of The Best Calf Exercises
  • Calf Stretches For Runners
  • What Other Recovery Protocols Are There?

Let’s get started!


Runners Calves: 5 of the Best Calf Exercises

Incorporating calf-strengthening exercises into your training routine can enhance your performance, reduce the risk of injuries, and provide better overall support for various physical activities.

Having strong calves will reduce the risk of succumbing to overuse injuries.

Overuse injuries can occur when your calf muscles are exposed to more stress and strain than they can handle in a given timeframe. Having stronger calves will reduce the relative severity of strain due to your capacity for dealing with stress being higher.

Here are 5 great exercises to strengthen runners calves:

#1: Calf Raises

Calf raises at a barre.

How to do it:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart, and make sure your toes are pointing forward.
  2. For stability, place your hands on a sturdy surface like a wall or a chair in front of you.
  3. Slowly lift those heels off the ground as high as you can while keeping your toes firmly planted.
  4. Hold that raised position for a count of one.
  5. Gradually lower your heels back down, but don’t let them touch the ground completely.
  6. Repeat this motion for 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions.

Variations for added difficulty:

  1. Single-Leg Calf Raises: Instead of using both legs, perform the exercise on one leg at a time. This increases the intensity and helps balance out any strength disparities between your calves. Follow the same steps but perform 10-15 reps per leg for 3 sets.
  2. Weighted Calf Raises: Hold a dumbbell or a kettlebell in one hand while doing calf raises. This added resistance makes your calf muscles work even harder. Perform 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions on each leg for balanced development.

#2: Weighted Toe Walks

Weighted toe walks.

Weighted toe walks are a fantastic exercise to target not only your calf muscles but also your ankle strength.

How to do it:

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells or something weighted and hold it in your hands.
  2. Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart.
  3. Hold the weights at your sides.
  4. Now, lift your heels as high as you can, shifting your weight onto your toes.
  5. Begin walking forward on your toes for a set distance or time.
  6. Maintain proper posture and balance throughout the exercise.
  7. After your set distance or time, gently lower your heels back to the ground. I’d recommend walking 20 meters to start and seeing how you feel – repeating for three sets.

Variations for added difficulty:

  1. Heavier Weights: Gradually increase the weight you hold in your hands as you become more comfortable with the exercise.
  2. Longer distance/duration.

#3: Elevated Calf Raise

Elevated calf raise.

How to do it:

  1. Find a sturdy and stable raised surface, such as a step or box. Ensure it can support your body weight.
  2. Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward, and your heels hanging off the edge of the raised surface.
  3. Slowly raise your heels by pushing through the balls of your feet, lifting your body as high as possible. Ensure you’re lifting through your calf muscles.
  4. Hold the raised position for a moment, feeling the contraction in your calf muscles.
  5. Lower your heels below the level of the step to get a full range of motion in your calf muscles.
  6. Complete three sets of 10-15 repetitions while maintaining control throughout the movement.

Variations for added difficulty:

  1. Single-Leg Calf Raise: Perform the exercise with one leg at a time to increase the intensity. This requires more balance and engages the calf muscles even more.
  2. Weighted Calf Raise: Hold a dumbbell or a weight plate in one hand or both hands to add resistance. Start with a lightweight and increase it gradually.
  3. Eccentric Calf Raises: Focus on the lowering phase (the eccentric portion) by taking more time to lower your heels. This places greater stress on the calf muscles.
  4. Calf Raise Jumps: After raising your heels, add a small jump at the top of the movement. Land softly and repeat. This adds an explosive element to the exercise.

#4: Jumping Rope

A person jumping rope.

Jumping rope is a great plyometric exercise that not only strengthens your calf muscles but also improves cardiovascular fitness.

How to do it:

  1. Grab a jump rope, and let’s get started.
  2. Stand with your feet together, and slightly bend your knees.
  3. Start jumping over the rope, landing softly on the balls of your feet.
  4. Keep your core engaged and maintain a consistent rhythm.
  5. Begin with 1-2 minutes, and as you get more comfortable, gradually increase your time.

Variations for added difficulty:

  1. High Knees: Lift your knees as high as possible with each jump to engage your calves and core even more.

#5: Sled Pulls/Pushes

Sled pushes.

How to do it:

  1. Find a sled and load it with an appropriate amount of weight for your fitness level.
  2. Stand behind the sled with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
  3. Grasp the handles or straps firmly.
  4. If you’re pushing the sled, drive forward using powerful leg and calf muscles.
  5. If you’re pulling the sled, lean forward slightly and take a few steps backward to create tension on the straps.
  6. Begin walking forward, pushing or pulling the sled.
  7. Keep a steady and controlled pace, and maintain proper form throughout the exercise.
  8. Push or pull the sled for a specific distance or time, depending on your workout plan.

Variations for added difficulty:

  1. Heavier Load: Gradually increase the weight on the sled to make the exercise more challenging for your calf muscles and overall strength.

Calf Stretches For Runners

#1: Downward Dog With Foot Pedal

Downward dog.

Let’s explore a variation of the classic Downward Dog yoga pose that targets your calf muscles. This exercise offers a great runners calf stretch.

How to do it:

  1. Begin by standing up straight with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Slowly bend forward at your hips, reaching down to touch the ground. Keep your knees slightly bent to avoid overstretching your calf muscles.
  3. Walk your hands forward until you are in a high plank position, resembling the top of a push-up.
  4. Make sure to spread your fingers wide and press your palms firmly into the ground for stability.
  5. Now, here’s where the calf stretch comes into play. Begin to raise your hips upward, creating an inverted V shape with your body. Keep your legs as straight as possible.
  6. As you reach this inverted V position, gently bend your right knee while pressing into your left toes. This movement will provide a deep stretch to your left calf.
  7. Next, push into your right toes while straightening your right knee, allowing your left knee to bend slightly. This action now stretches your right calf.
  8. Continue this alternating motion, bending and straightening your knees as if you are pedaling a bicycle.
  9. Pedal for 60 seconds, repeating 2-3 times.

#2: Lunging Calf Stretch

Lunging calf stretch.

How to do it:

  1. Begin in an upright, standing position with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Take a step forward with your left foot while slightly bending the left knee. Ensure that your right leg remains straight, with both heels firmly on the ground.
  3. As you establish this lunge position, focus on your right calf. Slowly press your right heel into the ground while keeping your toes pointing forward. This action creates a gentle yet effective stretch in your right calf.
  4. Hold this stretched position for a duration of 45 to 60 seconds. Feel the stretch gradually release any tension in your calf muscle.
  5. After completing this runners calf stretch on one leg, switch to the other side to ensure both calves receive equal attention and care. Repeat 2-3 times.


  1. Wall-Assisted Calf Stretch: While in the lunge position, place both hands against a wall or a sturdy surface for balance and support. This allows you to control the intensity of the stretch better.
  2. Dynamic Calf Stretch: Instead of holding the position statically, add a gentle bouncing motion to your lunging calf stretch. This dynamic movement can improve flexibility and range of motion in your calf muscles.

#3: Single-Leg Heel Drop

Single leg heel drop.

How to do it:

  1. Find a secure surface, such as a step or curb, where you can safely perform this stretch.
  2. Position yourself with your right foot for the stretch. Place the ball of your right foot on the edge of the step, ensuring your right heel extends off the back of the surface. Your left foot can remain resting on the step.
  3. Gently allow your right heel to drop towards the ground. You should feel an effective stretch in your calf muscle.
  4. Maintain this stretched position for 45 to 60 seconds. As you hold the stretch, focus on breathing deeply and relaxing into the stretch.
  5. Repeat on both sides 2-3 times.


  1. Lean Forward: Gently lean forward while keeping your back straight. This will intensify the stretch.

what other Recovery Protocols are there?

Already doing all of those strengthening and stretching exercises? Are you hungry for more ways to optimize your recovery?

Well, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

A workout plan on a clipboard.

#1: Training Plan

Without a doubt, the best recovery protocol is a well-designed training plan. It doesn’t matter how many stretches you do; if you go and run 50 km, having only run 10 km before, your calves will be in bits.

A program that incrementally increases volume and intensity is essential for injury prevention, tissue adaptation, and long-term sustainability in running.

By respecting your body’s need for gradual change and recovery, you can enjoy the many physical and mental benefits of running while minimizing the risk of injuries that could sideline your progress.

#2: Soft Tissue Massage

Massage can play a valuable role in a runner’s recovery regimen, aiding in the reduction of muscle soreness, enhancing flexibility, and pinpointing areas of concern.

Beyond its physical benefits, it contributes positively to mental health by reducing stress and promoting feelings of well-being.

It’s important to recognize that while massage is beneficial, it should not be relied upon exclusively. Runners should complement it with a comprehensive injury prevention strategy that includes other essential measures.

A calf massage.

#3: Sleep

As an effective recovery protocol, nothing beats a good night’s sleep.

Getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep supports performance, minimizes injury risk, and enhances overall health.

During sleep, your body releases growth hormones, aiding tissue repair post-exercise. Sleep deprivation can impair athletic performance, affecting reaction time, accuracy, and recovery speed. Even minor sleep reductions impact performance significantly.

Final Thoughts

To ensure your running longevity, prioritizing calf care is crucial. Previous calf strains may increase future injury risks, so a well-designed strength and conditioning plan is essential.

We’ve covered the best calf exercises and stretches tailored for runners, so start implementing them; you won’t regret it!

Strong calves.

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Photo of author
Ben is a qualified Personal Trainer and Sports Massage Therapist with a particular interest in running performance and injury. He has spent the last 9 years working with runners at his clinic in Brighton. Ben is a keen runner and avid cyclist. Evenly splitting his time between trail running, road biking, and MTB.

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