Stretching: Calves and Gluteal Muscles
What is the posterior chain?
The gluteal musculature and calves are the two muscle groups that makeup part the posterior chain. While many athletes exercise to sculpt their legs at length, they fail to sufficiently stretch the muscles that they train. Length deficits in the posterior chain can lead to chronic pain in the lower back and legs.
Believe it or not, your butt musculature is comprised of not one, but three muscles all belonging to the gluteal group. Gluteus maximus is the largest and most active when performing a squat or lunge. This muscle provides for powerful movements of the leg such as walking up steps. The gluteus medius is smaller in size and functions when your leg extends, internally rotates, and externally rotates. Lastly, but just as important, the gluteus minimus moves the leg away from the midline of the body and internally rotates it.
The gluteal group, in conjunction with the hamstrings, counteracts the pull of the quadriceps in order to maintain a neutral position of the pelvis.
Your calves may not be quite as large as the musculature in your thighs, but the gastrocnemius/soleus complex has a vital role. The gastrocnemius runs from the back of your knee to the heel of your foot. The soleus lies under the gastrocnemius and runs from the upper tibia to the heel as well. These muscles allow you to move the foot downward. The gastrocnemius bends your knee as well.
Tightness in this muscle complex may lead to decreased function and an altered gait. An altered normal gait increases your risk for acquiring knee, hip, low back, and ankle problems. Furthermore, tight calf musculature can lead to walking with a greater degree of force shifted toward your toes. This increases your chances of developing shortened muscles, plantar fasciitis, and or Achilles tendonitis.
Practice makes habit and that isn’t always a good thing. You should ask your trainer to show you how to perform some of these exercise.
Gluteal Stretching Protocol
Sit & Twist:
Seated Figure 4
Forward Leg Swing (Dynamic)
Gastroc/Soleus Stretching Protocol
Wall Calf Stretch
Manual Calf Stretch with Strap
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Borg-Stein J, Yunus MB. Myofascial Pain, Fibromyalgia, and Soft Tissue Causes of Low Back Pain. Low Back Pain Handbook. 2003:453-467. doi:10.1016/b978-1-56053-493-8.50033-7.
Radford JA, Landorf KB, Buchbinder R, Cook C. Effectiveness of calf muscle stretching for the short-term treatment of plantar heel pain: a randomised trial. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2007;8(1). doi:10.1186/1471-2474-8-36.