If you are a runner, proper and routine stretching of the lower extremities is essential, especially before a workout or a run. From ensuring healthy tendons to reducing the risk of a sprain, regular stretching of the Achilles tendon can have quite an impact. Tendon stretching exercises can help reduce the risk of ankle and foot injury and decreases muscle fatigue. The exercises also give you a greater range of motion and help to lubricate the connective tissue and joints.
However, which are the best Achilles tendon stretches you can try as a runner? Remember that if you don’t stretch properly, you can find yourself with tendonitis. In some extreme cases, the tendon could tear.
Stretch #1: Calf Stretches
This stretching is effective in strengthening the Achilles tendon. It focuses on the heel and calf muscles, two of the main muscles attached to your Achilles tendon. Keeping these muscles strong reduces stress on your Achilles tendon and prevents future problems. More significantly, it will help keep your Achilles tendon stronger.
Seated Heel Raises
When performing seated heel raises, you use the muscles in your calves to lift your heel. This stretching exercise provides support and improves strength for the Achilles tendon. Here are three steps for doing seated heel raises:
- Sit at the edge of a bed or on a chair. Stretch your feet and place them shoulder-width apart.
- While sitting in this position, lift your heels as high as you can, take a pause, and then slowly lower them.
- You can do the stretches for up to 25 times without taking a break. If possible, repeat the exercises five times each day.
Remember that the calf muscles are responsible for forward and upward propulsion during running. Keeping these muscles healthy and engaged will help maximize performance, especially if you are a runner.
Standing Heel Raises
It is also possible to do heel raises while you are standing. Apart from strengthening calf muscles, this variation significantly engages all the other muscles attached to your Achilles tendon. If you want to safely do standing heel raises, you can follow these three steps:
- While standing, stretch your feet shoulder-width apart. You can hold on to a wall, countertop, or chair for support.
- You can then lift your heels such that your toes are the ones touching the floor. Hold on to this position for up to three seconds, and then slowly lower your heels.
- You can do the heel raises 25 times. If possible, repeat the stretches five times each day.
The purpose of this Achilles stretch exercise is to strengthen the calf muscles that support your ankle.
Resistance Band Calf Exercise
Calf stretches can also take the form of resistance band calf exercise. This exercise is highly recommended for runners who want to tone their heel and calf muscles. If you want to do it, you can follow these four steps:
- Sit on a bed or the floor and extend your legs straight out.
- Put a resistance band on the ball of the foot you wish to stretch.
- Pull the band in such a way that the foot flexes toward you.
- Hold this position for a few seconds, and then release your foot away from you.
- You can repeat the process 15 times.
As the Achilles tendon and surrounding muscles work against resistance, they become stronger. You can begin with a light resistance band if you are a starter. However, as your tendons get stronger, you can use a thicker band.
Stretch #2: Runners Stretch
If you are a runner, the Achilles tendon sometimes gets inflamed, causing discomfort. In such a case, the runner’s stretch can significantly help. To do this exercise effectively and safely, you need a chair or other support, such as a wall.
Then, you follow these five steps:
- Put your hands on the chair or wall. If using a wall, ensure the hands are at eye level.
- Lift the leg you wish to stretch behind you.
- Bend the other knee forward toward the wall.
- Keep stretching until you feel some resistance on the calf.
- Hold on to this position for about 30 seconds and then release. You can repeat the exercise three times.
However, ensure you do this exercise right to prevent further inflammation and pain. If straightening your leg hurts, take a pause and then continue.
Stretch #3: Toe-to-Wall Stretch
Toe-to-wall is another Achilles stretch that every runner should try, especially if the runner’s stretch causes discomfort on your shoulders. Like other Achilles stretches, this exercise can enhance mobility by significantly reducing stress on the Achilles tendon.
You can do the toe-to-wall stretch by following these steps:
- Stand facing the wall.
- Place the toes of both feet up and against the wall. Remember that the higher you can place the toes, the deeper the stretch.
- While the heel is still on the floor, lean forward.
- Stay in this position for about 30 seconds and then release. Repeat the process three times.
This Achilles stretch focuses more on the lower body. Thus, it can be a great option if you have problems doing a runner’s stretch.
The Bottom line
As a runner, it is important to stretch your Achilles tendon routinely. If you overuse it without regularly stretching it, you could suffer from inflammation or Achilles tendonitis. In such a case, you will experience discomfort, tightness, and a limited range of motion. If you have any questions or concerns about your foot health, you should contact Premier Podiatry & Orthopedics today.