Story and photos by Luca Williams
It was in the middle of the snowboarding season when my calves, especially my back leg, decided to become so painful that snowboarding just didn’t seem fun anymore. Instead of sitting around watching everybody else have fun, I headed to the Olympic Peninsula in my rusty Toyota truck to visit a family friend. The starter didn’t work in the truck so I had to leave it running on the ferry or get help to push start it. For whatever reason, being 24 years old, I thought it was easier and cheaper for me to beg for assistance or park on a hill than to take the hour it takes to fix a starter.
When I told my friend about my calves, she suggested that I see her massage therapist who was an ex-marine. His forearms were bigger than my calves and full of tattoos. All I could concentrate on were his bulging Popeye-like forearms while I slipped onto the massage table. A little scared because this was to be my first massage, I had no idea what to expect. Although he had a kind demeanor, he was all business after I told him how much my calves hurt. He mashed and twisted them with his fingers, fists and elbows. Although I wanted to scream out in pain, my ego wouldn’t allow me. I so wanted to be tougher than I really was.
I should have told him to back off, but instead I acted like everything was fine and hobbled out of his office. And really it might have all been fine if I hadn’t had to walk two miles back to my friend’s place because I hadn’t wanted to push start the truck back and forth to my appointment.
At that time in my life, I had no problem putting my thumb out for a ride. But with no cars on the rural road, I limped back to my friend’s house wishing I had fixed the starter.
The next day when I awoke, my calves didn’t hurt anymore and I knew I could get back to snowboarding for the next storm cycle. Of course, it still took me months to finally fix that starter.
Riding all day with your knees bent can put a great deal of strain on your calves. What I have observed and felt is that the back leg’s calf, which is always twisted inward, has more strain on it than the front leg. Also, when riding powder for hours on end, there is a tendency to put more weight on your back leg. That back calf then works more than the front. I recommend stretching both calves, but it may be beneficial to stretch the back leg calf for an extra couple of minutes.
The simplest calf stretch I know is to put your toes on a curb or a wall and allow your heel to stretch down toward the street. Another one, a personal favorite, is to go biking and push the pedal through my heel because it gives me many mini calf stretches.
But the most effective calf stretch, I have found is described below. What makes it so effective is that you can take the time to move and twist your foot in different directions, turning toes inward and outward and allowing your foot to roll to the outside or the inside. Just by using these tiny micro-movements, the calves get stretched in a variety of areas, tackling different lines of muscle and fascia. As always, go slow and pay attention. If it hurts too much back off or just stop.
Lay down flat on a mat or your bed. Have a strap ready, a belt or long sock will do. With your whole body relaxed, bend one knee and loop the strap around the bottom of the foot. Raise it slowly into the air while straightening out the knee the best that you can. Everybody’s flexibility is different, honor yours. Check in; are your shoulders and arms relaxed? Bring your toes toward your face and reach out through your heel. Straighten and bend the knee slowly and gently. Now twist and turn your foot. Find those spots on your calves that often get ignored. Be playful and curious, but most importantly don’t be aggressive while you stretch. Put that leg down and compare your calves. Now stretch the other calf. If you are a snowboarder, stretch your back leg calf twice and the front leg calf once.
Then enjoy and be thankful that you don’t have to walk two miles home. x
Luca Williams is a certified rolfer in Glacier. She helps snowboarders, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts get aligned and out of pain. Website: lucasrolfing.com Blog: movingwithgravity.wordpress.com.