Foam rolling is one of the most popular myofascial release methods among strength athletes to help reduce muscle soreness and promote mobility. But when it comes to the best foam roller exercises for the calf muscle, finding a starting point can be difficult. That’s partially because the calf is a much more complex muscle group than many people realize, and also because foam rolling doesn’t always provide instantly recognizable benefits; much like anything in strength, it takes time.
So we caught up with Matt Moskowitz, Head of Training at Hell’s Kitchen Wellness, to learn about how he likes to approach foam rolling the calf as part of a training routine. Check out the video below, along with more detailed movement descriptions below in the article.
Note: All motions shown are for informational purposes only. The information in this article and video is not meant to prevent or cure any disease or injury. It’s always a good idea to consult with a medical professional or trainer before attempting any new training methodology. If you experience any sharp pain while foam rolling or exercising, discontinue movements immediately.
[Have a foam rolling question? We probably have the answer. Check out our in-depth foam rolling guide to learn the ins and outs of myofascial release.]
Understanding the Calf Muscle
Some athletes and trainers tend to oversimplify the calf muscle, but it’s actually comprised of three main, interconnected parts. Moskowitz likes to take all three pieces into account when doing myofascial release on the lower body:
- Achilles tendon
- The soleus (a smaller supporting muscle)
- The gastrocnemius (a larger muscle that makes up the bulk of the calf; its two “heads” form the muscle’s diamond-like shape)
[Want to learn more about foam rolling? Check out our ultimate guide to foam rolling here!]
Moskowitz recommends foam rolling post-workout and for tightness only, and he sees rolling as a supplement to — not a total replacement for — a balanced movement and mobility practice for strength athletes. Below is a five-movement sequence Moskowitz performs for the calf after a workout.
5 Best Foam Roller Exercises for Calves
1. Restricted Heel Achilles Release
With the roller facing long-ways with the body, the athlete places their heel on the edge of the roller and applies gradual pressure. From there, they flex and release at the ankle to help release the achilles tendon going up the calf
2. Achilles Lateral Release
Beginning in the same position as the Restricted Heel Achilles Release, the athlete pushes the heel into the roller, move the foot laterally left to right. Restricting or “cupping” the knee with the hands can help keep the motion under control and prevent the heel from slipping off the roller.
3. Long Calf Massage
The athlete turns the roller the long way, rolling back and forth over the gastrocnemius (large calf muscle) and keeping the toe pointed toward the sky. Applying light to moderate pressure, the athlete rolls 30 seconds to a minute on each side.
4. Calf Short Head Release
This is a similar motion to the Long Calf Massage, but with the athlete’s leg is rotated internally (toward the other leg). The movement requires a smaller range of motion, around three inches right over the thickest part of the calf.
5. Roller Restricted Shin Release
The athlete begins on their your hands and knees. They bring one knee up partway toward their chest and place the roller under their shin. Applying light pressure, the athlete flexes the toe toward and away from their body about 20 times.
Moskowitz recommends doing this in five different “sections” up and down the front of the leg to target the whole shin. He also recommends this be done on a softer roller if any discomfort occurs with a firmer or standard foam roller, as the front of the shin can be more sensitive.
[Which foam roller is right for you? We go over the most popular foam rollers for athletes here!]
Other Foam Rolling Considerations
Foam rolling can be an important tool in an athlete’s arsenal of recovery and mobility tactics, but it doesn’t always work immediately — especially when it comes to rolling the calves and other parts of the lower body. Results may take weeks of gradual work in order to release tight muscles.