6 of the Best Calf & Hamstring Stretches for Triathletes

Nov 23, 2023
calf & hamstring stretches

Tight hamstrings and calves is a common byproduct of triathlon training. These are muscles that get hammered in the movements and training associated with our sport, and it's no wonder that so many triathletes deal with tightness as a result. This article will teach you about why it happens, and show you how to address these issues from the comfort of your own home.

What Causes Tight Hamstrings & Calves?

These two muscle groups are closely linked, hence the reason why they both tend to get tight in concert with one another. Both are located on the back of the leg, and both cross the knee joint. The calves propel the body forward along with the hamstrings, and both help decelerate the body as it transitions from late-swing phase into stance phase (i.e. when you land) while running.

Cycling and running are the main culprits, as swimming greatly negates the effects of gravity and keeps the legs relatively straight. Most of your kicking power comes from the front of the hip and thigh. But not to worry, triathlon is unforgiving on the best of days, and leaves plenty of work for the hamstrings and calves as soon as you leave the water. 

The bike is an interesting beast, because it is (at its core) an unnatural position for our bodies to be in. We’re a bit scrunched up, we’re sitting down—and it’s all a bit odd. Our hamstrings and calves actually play a huge role in the pedal stroke, helping to extend the hip and push the crank through its 6 o’clock position. This happens thousands and thousands of times each ride.

Running at long-distance/triathlon paced speeds, especially for the mid-forefoot striker, places huge amounts of stress through the lower leg. This tightens the calves and consequently the hamstrings too. This is a result of their shared crossing at the knee joint, and the hamstrings’ dual function of flexing the knees and extending the hips.

What’s Wrong With Tight Muscles? 

Well in short, a lot of things. Tight muscles are not always bad. After all, a tight muscle is often a strong muscle, and we need a certain degree of strength and tension in the system to support our bodies, maintain position, and move effectively. It’s when things get too tight where we start to run into problems, some of which we have detailed below.

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Heightened Risk of Injury

Think of your muscle like a cold, stiff elastic band. If we stretch that band too fast, too frequently, or too far—it’s going to snap. Chronically tight muscles are more likely to tear in the event of a forceful contraction or just excessive fatigue. Tissue that can effectively stretch and contract is less likely to do so, and will have a working action that is more efficient, as well.

Buildup of Waste Products

When your muscles contract, a byproduct of that work is waste products that are acidic and need to be removed. When muscles are tight, the body has a hard time proliferating them with fresh nutrients via blood supply and circulation. When waste products can’t be removed, they can build up, and the acidity actually eats away at muscle fibers, making them more likely to tear.

Postural Alterations

Tight hamstrings and calves can have important effects on your core and posture. For example, tight calves can pull the knee into a hyperextended position, placing extra stress on the ligaments that support the knees. Tight hamstrings can also do this, while at the same time pulling the pelvis backwards into a posterior tilt. Positional changes while you train are sure to follow!

General Discomfort

There are few things more annoying to someone who does as much training as triathletes than having an aching, sore, tight group of muscles nagging you at every corner of your day. It can get exhausting, both physically and mentally, having to account for this constant tension. Sometimes all you need is some targeted treatment to help get things back in balance.

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Calf Stretches & Hamstring Stretches for Triathletes

Below you will find a selection of calf and hamstring stretches that have been hand-picked by our team here at Dynamic Triathlete. They have been selected from our comprehensive programming that is designed to help triathletes at all skill levels train and compete pain-free. Join our amazing community, and try it out for yourself by signing up for a 7-day free trial

Perform each of these stretches/releases for at least 30 seconds and up to 2 minutes on each side. You’ll want to do these post-training or on rest days where you don’t need to exert yourself, as holding static stretches can significantly decrease performance and increase the risk of injury if done prior to activity.

Calf Stretches

Calf Stretch w/Wall

Instructions:

  • Stand in a staggered stance with your hands pressed against a wall
  • Move forward on your front knee, bending it towards the wall while keeping the front heel flat on the floor
  • Go until you feel a deep stretch in the front calf
  • You can also flatten the back heel to get a different type of calf stretch on the back leg

Foot & Calf Stretch

Instructions:

  • Start in a downward dog position with your body in an upside down ‘V’ position
  • Press one heel down into the floor while straightening your leg
  • You can either hold here for a prolonged stretch, or, alternate back and forth to make the stretch more dynamic

Bodyweight Calf Release

Instructions:

  • Start on all fours
  • Take one knee and place it onto the calf of your other leg
  • Slowly apply pressure to the muscles by shifting your bodyweight
  • You can either hold on painful spots or drag the knee down across the calf, similar to a massage stroke
  • Try different spots to see what areas are holding the most tension

Hamstrings Stretches

Straddle Stretch

Instructions:

  • Start in a seated straddle position with your legs as wide as possible and back relatively straight
  • Walk your hands out to one foot and lean towards them, hold here
  • Then, walk your hands to the other side and repeat
  • You can either hold your hands and fold to one side, or, continually walk your hands back and forth to make the stretch more dynamic

Lifted Hamstring Stretch

Instructions:

  • Start in a seated position with both legs straight out in front of you
  • Wrap a strap or resistance band around one foot and pull the slack out of it
  • While staying upright, lift your strapped leg up off the ground while keeping it straight and until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings
  • Hold here, then repeat on the other side

Hamstring Release w/Lacrosse Ball

Instructions:

  • Start in a seated position with one leg bent and one leg straight
  • Place a tennis or lacrosse ball under the hamstrings of the straight leg
  • Prop yourself up onto the ball, placing as much of your bodyweight as is comfortable onto the ball
  • Roll up and down the hamstrings, searching for areas of tension that could use some love
  • If you find a painful spot, you can rest on it until it starts to release
  • Repeat on the other leg

Written by Eric Lister – Certified Personal Trainer & Corrective Exercise Specialist

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