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Stretching (Posterior Chain): Calves and Gluteal Muscles

7/22/2017 | EnFuse Staff
support@EnFuseFitness.com

Category: Strength & Rehabilitation

Stretching (Posterior Chain): Calves and Gluteal Muscles

Posterior Chain

This article will cover the gluteal musculature and gastrocnemius/soleus (your calves) complex.  These two muscle groups makeup part of our 'posterior chain'.  While many gym enthusiasts perform ample exercises to sculpt their leg musculature, they fail to sufficiently stretch the muscles that they train.  Length deficits in the posterior chain can lead to chronic (long term) pain in the low back and legs.

Gluteal Group

Believe it or not, your buttock 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 abducts (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.  Tight glutes may pull down on the posterior pelvis and create decreased lordosis (curvature) of the lumbar spine.  This anatomical position change may leave you more susceptible to disk injury when bending forward.

Gastrocnemius/ Soleus Complex

Your calves may not be quite as large as the musculature in your thighs; however, 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 plantarflex (movement of the foot downward) your foot and the gastrocnemius, specifically, flexes (bends) your knee as well.   Tightness in this muscle complex may lead to decreased function and an altered gait pattern (walking method).  If your normal gait is thrown off, you may increase 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 contractures (shortened muscles), plantar fasciitis, and or Achilles tendonitis.

Gluteal Stretching Protocol

Sit & Twist:

  • Sitting on the ground, bend the leg which you desire to stretch, and cross it over the other.  
  • Next, gently twist your body toward the bent knee and maintain that position by grabbing your knee with the opposite arm.
  • Hold this stretch for 45-60 seconds and repeat 3-4 times.

Pigeon Stretch:

  • Get into a prone (face down) position. From here, bring one leg up in front of you, gently bend your knee, and bring the foot of that leg to your opposite hand.
  • Slowly lean foward / sink into your hips.
  • Hold this stretch for 45-60 seconds per side and repeat 3-4 times.

Note:  This stretch should be felt in the buttock of the bent leg. Strive to maintain a neutral spine (flat back)

Seated Figure 4

  • Sitting in a chair, cross one leg over the other.
  • Next, lean forward at the waist as if you were trying to touch the ground. 
  • Hold this stretch for 45-60 seconds and repeat 3-4 times.

Note:  It is important to maintain a neutral spine (flat back) as you lean forward. This will help to ensure that the gluteal group is being stretched, rather that the muscles of the low back.

Forward Leg Swing (Dynamic)

  • Stand straight
  • For stability / balance, hold onto a supporting structure with one hand.
  • Swing your leg from front to back. 
  • Do this for 20-30 seconds per side.
  • Repeat for a total of 3-4 times.

Note:  Be sure to start this exercise in a limited or restricted range of motion and progress to a larger range of motion once your muscles warm up.

Gastroc/Soleus Stretching Protocol

Wall Calf Stretch

  • Stand with the toes of one foot up against the wall.
  • Place your other foot around behind it at a distance that is 4 or more footsteps behind the first. 
  • Hold this stretch for 45-60 seconds and repeat 3-4 times.

Note:  Be sure to bend the front knee and keep the back knee straight. Maintain contact with your entire foot and the ground.

Manual Calf Stretch with Strap

  • Sit on the ground with one knee bent.
  • Keep one leg straight and wrap a towel, strap, or belt around the upper portion of your foot.
  • Pull back until you feel a solid stretch in your calf.
  • Hold this stretch for 45-60 seconds and repeat 3-4 times.

Tip:  You can increase the intensity of this stretch by leaning forward.  Be sure to maintain a neutral spine.

Downward Dog

  • Position your body so you are in a quadruped position (on all fours).
  • Keeping one foot completely flat on the ground, slowly lean forward until you can feel a comfortable stretch in your calf muscle.
  • Hold this stretch for 45-60 seconds and repeat 3-4 times.

Tip:  To make this stretch more dynamic, you can gently alternate the stretch between legs / calfs for a predetermined period of time. 

If you need any coaching or guidance on how best to incorporate stretching protocols into your fitness routines, please contact our team to set up a consult- support@EnFuseFitness.com

We hope that you find this article helpful!

In Health,
Team EnFuse

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Images:

http://bodybuilding-wizard.com/leg-and-glute-muscles/

http://drsunderman.com/soleus-muscle-stretch/

https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/Glute-Stretches-31076234

https://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/the-power-of-facilitated-stretching-how-to-get-the-most-out-of-your-stretches

http://wwwbestraleighmassage.blogspot.com/2011/01/

https://canadianbowler.wordpress.com/training/warm-up-cool-down/leg-stretches/

https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/photo-gallery/3102547/image/3102808/Wall-Calf-Stretch

 

References:

Ylinen J, Kankainen T, Kautiainen H, Rezasoltani A, Kuukkanen T, Häkkinen A. Effect of stretching on hamstring muscle compliance. Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine. 2009;41(1):80-84. doi:10.2340/16501977-0283.

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.

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