This blog relates to two classes in which we will be focusing on the backs of the legs and how we might use pandiculation and somatic techniques for releasing tight muscles that make us prone to injury when running, dancing and walking etc. We will also be stabilising and strengthening the ankles in order to prevent injury when tripping or falling and increasing our balance ability with a challenge or two! Strength in the calves will support the knee and help to correct foot imbalances such as high arches or foot pronation. We often miss the opportunity to really properly release the tightness in our calves which is like a kite string wound up in little knots, particularly if we are carrying more weight, wear heels, exercise a lot using our legs or have feet that tilt inwards (pronation) or outwards (supination).
Before we lengthen calf muscles, it is important to warm them up or we risk injuring them. Here is a small routine you could use before a big walk or run or to rehabilitate the calves after an injury when strengthening is required:
CALF WARM UP
These warm up exercises are designed to place a gradually increasing load on the calf to build strength and flexibility in calves, feet and ankles. THEY SHOULD NOT BE PERFORMED BY ANYONE WITH AN ACUTE CALF INJURY as the muscle needs time to heal before it is built back up again. The exercises facilitate an increased range of motion in the calf joint in particular and flexibility in knees and hips.
This will help build strengths in the feet and ankles. You will also release and lengthen calves, feet and ankles and facilitate an increased range of motion in your calves, feet (invention and exertion) hips and knees and stability in your walking, running, cycling and dancing. This is great if you have sprained your ankle at the point of rehab where strength and stability is required.
STANDING FLUTTER WINGS
Your abductors and two of your gluteus muscles contract to stabilise the pelvis and are usually working overtime creating tight hips when you run, walk, and dance. If they are not working very well at all then the pelvis is unable to stay level when you take 1 foot off the floor. You need strength in the standing leg when the foot is off the floor.
There are three gluteus muscles and it is the deeper of these, the gluteus minimus and the gluteus media‘s that we are interested in previous weeks. They attach to the Illium similarly to the Gluteus Maximus But unlike that huge muscle they attach only to the greater trochanter of the femur (and not the IT Band). They act as powerful abductors (they take the leg outwards) and are responsible for medial rotation in the hip. As you know from recent classes, the gluteus medius medius can become weak Which has a knock-on effect on the torque on the knees. We have been previously strengthening this muscle in recent classes in “Side Lying Flutter Wings” and “Hippy Shakes”.
RELEASE THE CALVES WITH WALL SUPPORT
Instead of going straight in for the stretch, this somatic demonstration illustrates how contracting the calf first alerts to brain to tension so that it is able to let go more effectively when we release into the lengthening process.
We can change which of the calf muscles we lengthen in the following exercise using Yoga block and brick to create a slope for our foot but as above, pandiculating to gain the most from the calf lengthening process:
The exercises above will help build strengths in your feet, toes, fingers and calves. You will also release and lengthen both Soleus and Gastrocnemius muscles to facilitate an increased range of motion in your lower legs and flexibility in your ankles, knees and hips.
WAKE UP YOUR FEET!
The calves work as stabilisers for the feet and I’m sure you know that if they are dysfunctional in some way, such as a pronation in the arch of the foot, the whole leg and ankle and even further up into the hips and spine is affected. So before we begin other exercises, lets get present to the feet and how the calves work in tandem with them.
RELEASE THE MYOFACIA IN YOUR FEET
WARMING UP THE HAMSTRINGS
The hamstrings are responsible for leg extension (the action of kicking back behind you, like a Donkey kick or a Hamstring curl) as well as assisting in Medial (inwards) rotation so we will be using our Pandiculation techniques in order to increase the range of movement available to us by lengthening our hamstrings.
In this movement you can trick the hamstrings to lengthen. I say ‘trick’ because your muscles have simply forgotten the reset point and all you are doing is reminding them! If you’ve tried stretching, you’ll know that it is either entirely ineffective or it can make things worse because the stretch reflex kicks in once the brain feels the stretch sensation and protects the body by way of contracting the muscle to avoid a tear. All we have to do is re-pattern the brain to allow the muscle length to increase. Before you begin it’s important to test how long the hamstrings are in the first place. If your knuckles reach the tops of your toes in standing forward bend, you already have enough length there and the exercise is not necessary, though you may enjoy showing off!!! Before we challenge the hamstrings, they need to be warm. Any forcing of hamstrings whilst the muscles are cold is asking for a tear or strain. Lets have a look at Lawrence Gold demonstrating his warm up:
SOMATIC FORWARD BEND
This is a simple hamstring Somatic flow you could use once warmed up for a quick release in the back of your legs.
After a strong flow to release the back of the legs, it’s great to counterbalance the movement with lengthening the front of the legs – those huge muscles responsible for bring the knee in front of you.
Usually when we paniculate, we stay quite still for the resistance part of the flow. However, in this very effective Hamstring Release, we are moving the whole time, using the resistance of our flexed foot against our hand or strap. You’ll notice that in Janu Sirsasana (seated forward bend, with one knee out to the side, on straight) as this turns out to be at the end of the movement, the Hatha Yoga student would have a straight back and be “hinging” from the hips. However, in Somatics we work on what Peter Blackaby calls “Economy of Movement” and don’t require the upper body to be stiff and engaged. Instead, the relaxation of the body above the waist aids the work of gravity in bringing the weight of the body over the straight leg. Not only is this experienced as far more relaxing, in my opinion it is hugely more effective at lengthening the hamstrings.
During walking, running and dancing movements it is generally the hamstrings that do the donkey work. The gluteus maximus is recruited when we need extra power for instance when we perform a sit to stand without using our arms. This is a highly recommended activity as we age to ensure that our glutes and quads remain strong.
GETTING RID OF TIGHT KNOTS IN YOUR CALVES
Remaining chronically tight in the calves can lead to injury so I highly recommend getting familiar with your tennis ball or one like this nice chap is demonstrating with to release the tight bits that may come up to bite you next time you exercise!
his will also release and lengthen knotted muscles in your calves in order to facilitate an increased range of motion in your lower legs and flexibility for better walking and stabilisation on uneven surfaces and better functioning overall in the lower limb. This is better performed with fingers in the immediate aftermath of a calf injury but as healing takes place you can move on to tennis balls and other objects to release knots around the site of injury before later being able to perform more traditional stretches and pandiculations.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog and your lesson this week. If you have please like the video on YouTube and send me a comment on YouTube (for the world to see) about your experience of using the videos for your home practice. Likes and comments on the YouTube platform will cheer me on to make more videos for your use in home practice which are given to you with my love, entirely for free (but bribery helps ha ha ha).