Secrets and Staples: Calve Stretching Secret

When setting a client up on a slant board to stretch their calves, you might want to pay attention to what they have on their feet. In a backlash against overbuilt, pronation control, elevated heel running shoes I have seen many trainers and corrective exercise specialists remove clients footwear prior to beginning the stretch.
At a glance this might seem like a good idea. Remove the elevated heel that is placing the client in plantar flexion to allow for greater dorsiflexion, right? Maybe so. If an individual has a pure sagital plane restriction at the ankle joint (as evidenced by an excessive forward lean in an overhead squat assessment for example) then this could work if the individual can maintain the alignment of the longitudinal and transverse arch of the foot while weight bearing.
Barefoot training in the fitness arena has slowly gained momentum over the last 12 years or so, unless you have been practicing yoga or martial arts for the past few thousand years and you have been doing that barefoot for a very long time.   However, many people do not have the extensibility of the calve complex or stability of the muscles and joints in the plantar surface of the foot to maintain a neutral alignment of their arches during a weight bearing stretch for the calve complex.
If a client pronates excessively during transitional (squatting) or dynamic (walking) movements or static posture (standing calve stretch) when they are barefoot then you might want to let them wear their sneakers. Especially if they wear a custom fit orthotic.
They might need the artificial support to hold the arch in place with all that load coming down into the lower extremity during the stretch. This will allow proper joint alignment and lengthening of the appropriate aspects of the calve complex. If compensations are allowed, then dysfunction will perpetuate itself. clients will spend day after day lengthening the WRONG tissues, making them more prone to injury.
If you don’t have adequate arch support (ie. wearing a minimalist shoe or are barefoot) then you can fold up a small towel or wedge something else under the arch to help hold it into place.
I hope this little “secret” is helpful.
Thank you for reading.
Eric Beard
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