In addition to playing pickleball, are you someone who regularly walks? Perhaps you’re a runner, or maybe you play another court sport? Those activities contribute to your overall health and wellness but did you know they make you more vulnerable to leg and foot injuries?
Most pickleball players love to stay active, so we’re busy with other sports. You’ve told me that your favorite activities off the court are walking, running, and playing other court sports. Unfortunately, those are the very things that make us more susceptible to lower leg injuries because they make our calves muscles tighter.
What can you do to reduce the risk of a lower leg injury?
A stretching program to increase the flexibility in the calf muscles is essential for avoiding injury. There are two main muscles in the calf, the gastrocnemius, and the soleus, and a good stretching program needs to target both muscles.
There are two types of stretching, dynamic and static.
Dynamic is an active form of stretching. It’s typically done before an activity to get the body prepared for movement.
Static stretching is holding a muscle in a place where it can be extended for a specific time. It’s typically done after the activity and can enhance muscle recovery, overall flexibility, and performance.
Today, we’ll focus on static stretching.
Before we begin, it’s vital to know the basics of safe stretching.
Stretching cold muscles could create the lower leg injury you’re attempting to avoid. The perfect time to do this series of stretches is after you play pickleball. In the event you weren’t playing, spend a couple of minutes warming up your body. You can walk up and down the stairs in your house, jog in place, high knees, anything that makes you start to huff and puff.
Stretching Should Never Be Painful
That old saying “no pain, no gain” does not apply to a stretch. Take the muscle to the point where you feel the stretch, perhaps some discomfort but never pain.
Hold The Stretch.
Back in the day, most of us were taught to bounce while stretching, and that’s a recipe for injury. You should hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, no bouncing. Repeat the stretch on each limb 2-4 times
Proper breathing helps the muscles to relax and increases the blood flow. Focus on taking slow, relaxed breaths. As you exhale gently, try to see if you can deepen the stretch.
If you are new to stretching, you may need a little support. You can use the fences at the pickleball court, a wall, or a piece of furniture, something sturdy.
These six calf stretches will help decrease your risk of a lower leg injury.
Single-Leg Calf Stretch
Keeping your feet about shoulder-width apart, assume a split stance position, one leg forward and the other back. We’ll be stretching the back leg, so keep the knee of the back leg straight with the heel on the ground.
Begin by bending the front leg forward when you feel enough stretch in the back leg stop and hold. The further you bend the front knee, the greater the stretch.
Single-Leg Calf Stretch Toe In and Toe Out
As I mentioned in the beginning, there are two calf muscles, and we want to make sure that we stretch them both.
Get back into the split step position, but this time turn the toe of the back leg toward the midline of your body. Again, the heel is flat on the ground, and the knee remains straight. Use the flex of the forward knee to control the amount of stretch. Remember, take it to the point where you feel a stretch, no pain.
Repeat this stretch by angling the toe of the back foot out slightly or away from the midline of the body.
Single Leg-Bent Knee Stretch
Get back in the split position with both toes facing forward. Continue to focus on keeping the back heel on the ground, but this time allow the back knee to bend. Once again, control the stretch using the bend of the forward leg; the more it bends, the more the back leg stretches.
Stand close to your chair, wall, or fence and place the toe of the foot you’re stretching on the wall while the heel remains on the ground. Some of you may find this to be enough stretch. You can increase the stretch by standing tall and walking the other leg in toward the wall.
Another way to enhance the stretch is with a little device I picked up on Amazon. It’s about $20, and it really intensifies the stretch. The first time you use it, make sure to have something to assist with balance. Put your foot in the device and slowly eliminate the bend from the knee. Focus on standing tall to increase the stretch.
This stretch is easily done on a stair. If you don’t have stairs, find a way to elevate your foot, perhaps stand on a chair. Stand with both feet on the stair. Move the leg you are stretching back slightly but keep the ball of the foot on the stair. Slowly start to lower the heel down until you feel a stretch.
Tight calves make us susceptible to hip, knee, and foot injuries, but by stretching for 15-20 minutes daily, you can reduce your risk of a lower leg injury. Here are a few more resources to help you keep your lower body muscles loose.
Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)