Getty Images

Calf Stretching 101: The Do's and Don'ts for an Effective Cooldown

This story originally appeared in the August/September 2015 issue of Pointe.

From the first plié at barre to the last grand jeté of class, your calves are extremely active. But do you devote the same attention to those muscles during your cooldown? According to Michelle Rodriguez, founder and director of Manhattan Physio Group, sitting in a lazy lunge or hanging your heels off a step doesn't cut it. Rodriguez, who has worked with dancers from New York City Ballet to Dance Theatre of Harlem, says a proper calf stretch isn't complicated, but there are several important details to keep in mind. Here are her do's and don'ts for an effective stretch:

Do pay attention to form. To target the gastrocnemius (the round muscle at the top of the calf), stand in a lunge with your hands on the wall, hips square, front leg bent and back leg fully straight with the heel firmly rooted into the ground. Keep the back leg in a slightly toed-in position. “This allows for support of the mid-foot," says Rodriguez, “and keeps it from rolling in so the stretch occurs in the calf."

Don't forget about the soleus. If you trace a line from your Achilles tendon up toward your knee, this is the first muscle you'll encounter. Rodriguez says, “It is important to stretch the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles separately despite them coming together to form your Achilles." To stretch the soleus, start in the same lunge, but move the back foot closer to the wall and bend the back knee. Keep the heel down and back toes angled slightly inward.

Don't rush it. Stay in each position for 30 seconds before switching legs. This is the minimum amount of time it takes for muscle fibers to establish a new length.

Do wait until after dancing. That's when stretching is most beneficial, since the muscles will be warm. “Dancers should stretch their calves three times per day," says Rodriguez. Do so once class, rehearsal or a performance has ended.

Don't use a stair to stretch. Though it may be tempting, don't rely on hanging your heel off a ledge or step. This puts excessive force on the Achilles tendon and causes the tendons and muscles in the toes to work too hard.

Do stretch in a weight-bearing position. As long as you're not injured, Rodriguez says calf stretches are much more effective when done standing as opposed to lying on your back and using a belt or strap.

Don't rely on props
, such as a half-wheel rocking device, says Rodriguez. Though it's designed to stretch the calves, it lacks support in the arch and may encourage dancers to hyperextend their knees while stretching.

Latest Posts

Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancers Share Their Key Takeaways After a Year of Dancing on Film

Creating dances specifically for film has become one of the most effective ways that ballet companies have connected with audiences and kept dancers employed during the pandemic. Around the world, dance organizations are finding opportunities through digital seasons, whether conceiving cinematic, site-specific pieces or filming works within a traditional theater. And while there is a consistent sentiment that nothing will ever substitute the thrill of a live show, dancers are embracing this new way of performing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Alexandra McMaster

Start Your Dance Day With This Delicious Berry Breakfast Crisp Recipe

When it comes to breakfast, I want it to be easy and convenient but still taste delicious. My Berry Breakfast Crisp is just that. You can bake the crisp on the weekend as meal prep, then enjoy it throughout the week cold or warmed in the microwave. It freezes well, too!

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Liam Scarlett with Marianela Nuñez and Ryoichi Hirano during a rehearsal of his Swan Lake at The Royal Ballet. Andrej Uspenski, Courtesy ROH

Choreographer Liam Scarlett Has Died

Over the weekend, news broke that 35-year-old choreographer Liam Scarlett, a former artist in residence at The Royal Ballet, died suddenly at his home in England. "It is with great sadness that we announce the tragic, untimely death of our beloved Liam," Scarlett's family said in a brief statement. "At this difficult time for all of our family, we would ask that you respect our privacy to enable us to grieve our loss."

The cause of death was not disclosed.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks