Sore Calves After Running? Here’s 6 Reasons Why + How To Resolve It

Exploring Common Culprits Behind Sore Calves And How To Ease The Pain

All our injury and recovery resources are rigorously vetted by our expert team and adhere to our Injury Guidelines.

If you’re new to running or have just completed a tough race, it’s fairly likely that you’ll have some muscle soreness, including sore calves. 

Sore calves after running can be uncomfortable and can make it feel like you have succumbed to one of the common running injuries, such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints, or runner’s knee.

But why are you experiencing sore calves after running? What causes tight or sore calves after running, and what can you do to resolve it?

Sore calves after running are quite common, particularly among beginners or after strenuous workouts. Several factors can contribute to this discomfort, such as adjusting to new exercise routines, running hills, and changing footwear.

To ease soreness, there are a number of steps you can take, from slowly ramping up training intensity to engaging in stretching and strengthening exercises and many more!

A person holding their calf.

What Are the Calves?

The calf muscles, or calves, are technically called the gastrocnemius muscles. These muscles are found behind the lower leg, running from the back of the knee down to where they taper and connect to the heel in the Achilles’ tendon.1Binstead, J. T., & Varacallo, M. (2019, April 5). Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Calf. Nih.gov; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459362/

There are two distinct muscles that form what we typically refer to as the calves: the two-headed gastrocnemius, which is the larger muscle, and the soleus.

The stronger of the two, the gastrocnemius, helps flex the knee and point the toe so that you can stand on tiptoes. It is involved in activities such as walking, running, and jumping.

The soleus is a smaller, thinner muscle that lies underneath the gastrocnemius. It helps plantarflex the foot, and is involved in standing, walking, and running. 

The calf muscles on the body, highlighted in red.

Why Are My Calves Sore After Running?

If you are experiencing tight or sore calves after running, it could be due to one of the following common causes:

#1: You Might Have Sore Calves After Running If You Are a Beginner

Beginners often feel muscle soreness in most of their leg muscles from running because it takes time for the muscles to adapt to the increased workload imposed by the new form of exercise. 

Doing too much too soon could absolutely cause calf pain, and overuse injuries2Spiker, A. M., Dixit, S., & Cosgarea, A. J. (2012). Triathlon. Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy Review20(4), 206–213. https://doi.org/10.1097/jsa.0b013e31825ca79f, and muscle cramps.

If your calves are sorer than your other muscles after your first few runs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s an issue with your form or stride.

The calves are heavily involved in the propulsive or push-off phase of the running stride as well as the impact of the ground contact phase.

In fact, if your calves have muscle pain after running and you’re new to the sport, it can indicate that you’re using an ideal foot strike pattern with your running form.

Heel striking, or landing in the rearfoot, is common amongst distance runners, but it puts excessive stresses up the lower limb and minimizes forward propulsion.

A person running uphill.

Most experts say that landing on the midfoot is ideal from an injury risk perspective as well to optimize running economy. The closer to your forefoot you land, the higher the workload on the calves or gastrocnemius muscles. 

Therefore, if your calves are sore after running your first few runs, it could be a sign that your calves are working hard because you’re landing on the midfoot or forefoot—and thus using the muscles—rather than your heel.

#2: You Might Have Sore Calves After Running Hills

The calves are involved in plantarflexing the foot (pointing the toes) and flexing the knees, so the workload on the calves increases when you run uphill.

If you’ve done a hilly run or a hard workout of hill repeats, there’s a decent chance you’ll have sore calves or a sore lower back after your workout.

Over time, as you develop strength in your calves, you should find that you get less sore after hill workouts because the stronger your muscles are, the less challenging the relative demand of the hill workout will be.

A person holding their calf muscle in pain.

#3: You Might Have Tight Calves After Running In Certain Running Shoes

Most traditional running shoes have a slightly elevated heel relative to the forefoot. Known as “heel drop,” this difference is often about 12 mm. The higher the heel drop, the shorter the range of motion permitted with dorsiflexion (lifting your toes up).

In other words, if your running shoes have a large heel drop, your calves never stretch as much, and the eccentric load on them will be less.

However, if you wear zero-drop shoes, racing flats, minimalist running shoes, or other running shoes that try to mimic natural foot biomechanics, the heel and forefoot height will be closer together.

This will increase the permissible range of motion in your calves and increase the eccentric workload the calves can take on.

Therefore, you can initially have sore calves after running when you switch to zero drop running shoes if you’ve been running in standard running shoes.

Make sure your shoes are comfortable!

A person running uphill.

#4: You Might Have Sore Calves After Running On Grass

Running on soft surfaces like grass and sand allows your feet to sink into the terrain more, and the range of motion at the ankle joint increases.

This can put more force through the calves, which have to stabilize the ankle and contract more forcefully at both impact and push-off, which can cause soreness.

#5: You Might Have Sore Calves After Running Fast

Generally speaking, when you run a race or hard workout, you’re running faster than your body is typically accustomed to in normal training runs. 

The faster you run, the higher the impact stresses and muscular forces imposed on your body.

To achieve a faster speed, your body increases your stride length (up to a certain point), and then speed increases beyond this point are primarily achieved by increasing your cadence, both of which require the calves to work harder.

Moreover, sprinting tends to shift your body weight more forward on your foot, promoting a forefoot landing pattern, which heavily recruits the calves

A person holding their calf muscle. The pain is evident because the calf is highlighted in red.

The faster you run, the harder you land with each step. Because the calves absorb the weight eccentrically when you land, faster running equates to stronger muscle contractions to support your body weight.

Finally, if you wore track spikes, there’s an even greater chance that you might have sore calves from running because spikes force you up onto the forefoot.

#6: You Might Have Calf Pain After Running If You Are Overstriding

Overstriding or improper pelvis positioning can cause calf injuries from running. The longer your stride, the further out in front of your body (center of mass) your foot will be when you land.

In accordance with principles of physics, the greater the distance or moment arm from the line of force going through the joint, the greater the torque or magnitude of the force. 

The muscles of the lower leg and foot, including the calves, are the muscles responsible for the last phase of accepting the body weight when you land on your foot.

Since the calves (gastrocnemius) are the strongest of these muscles, they bear the brunt of this responsibility.

A person doing a calf raise on a treadmill.

Moreover, the muscular demand when you land on your foot with each running stride is an eccentric muscle contraction with the calves.

There are three primary types of muscle contractions: concentric, eccentric, and isometric.

In concentric contractions, the muscle shortens, such as the biceps, when you lift a dumbbell during biceps curls. In terms of the calves, a concentric contraction would be standing up on tiptoes.

Eccentric contractions are lengthening contractions—the biceps resisting the force of gravity when you lower the weight back down from your curl. With the calves, an eccentric contraction would be standing on the edge of a step and dropping your heels down.

Finally, in isometric contractions, the muscle contracts, but the length doesn’t change. Imagine holding a plank.

Eccentric contractions have been shown to be the most challenging on a muscle and result in the most tissue damage. Studies show that eccentric muscular work is a more significant contributor to the micro tears associated with DOMS.

Therefore, the eccentric workload on the calves at impact landing is magnified by overstriding, which can result in sore calves after running.

Having a more upright posture with your feet closer under your body (not overstriding with your foot well in front of your center of gravity) will reduce the moment arm through the ankle and knee, and thus will reduce the workload on the calves.

How To Prevent Sore Calves After Running

So, what helps sore calves after running? In most cases, it’s possible to reduce the risk of experiencing sore calves after running, depending somewhat on the cause for the muscle soreness.

Here are some preventative strategies:

Preventative Strategies:

A person foam rolling their calf.

Is It Normal To Have Sore Calves After Running?

Many runners experience muscle soreness after running, which is referred to as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

The discomfort associated with DOMS is thought to be a result of micro tears in the muscles that occur during a workout, as well as potentially a residual effect of acidic metabolic byproducts left over in the muscles from intense exercise.

Dealing with sore calves after running a race or a hard workout is fairly common.

Beginners also tend to experience mild to moderate muscle soreness in the calves after running, especially in the first couple of weeks of starting a training program.

However, if your calves are frequently sore after running, there’s a good chance that you may need to do a little strengthening or examine and adjust your running form. 

Continuing to run when you have excessive soreness may lead to muscle strain, in particular, a calf strain.

A person with sore calves after running.

For a comprehensive look at running injuries, whether sharp pain in the shin bone to stress fractures to back pain, take a look at our running injury guide for runners:


Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.