Some time ago, I posted an "Ask me anything" post, soliciting questions. I'd like to continue doing this on occasion so, if you have any questions, keep an eye out (or ask any time if you don't want to wait). One question I received was about strains:
During the last year I have tweaked/strained my left calf twice. I couldn't tell you the muscle group but the long and short of it is I have had to ice and park myself for a few weeks and then start again. Any specific stretch or strengthening exercise you would recommend to stretch and strengthen that part of my leg?
First, great framing of the question. Muscle strains such as this are usually caused by a combination of inadequate strength/strength imbalances and inadequate flexibility/mobility.
As runners, we tend to let stretching and strength training fall to the wayside. We'd rather run another 2 miles than spend that time stretching and strength training. As a result, we get strength imbalances, don't ensure our muscles and connective tissue are strong enough to support the repeated stress we place on them and allow ourselves to get tight to the point that we can't pass through a normal range of motion without placing strain on our muscles and connective tissue.
This is a mistake. If we spend 10 minutes a day doing some form of stretching or range of motion work and 30-60 minutes a week doing strength training, we will be able to handle a higher volume and intensity of running.
Yes, it's time out of our day. It may even be time that cuts into what time we have available to run. However, it's time that keeps us healthy. I'd rather get in 50 minutes a day consistently than 60 minutes a day but miss a few weeks twice a year because I wasn't taking care of myself. However, I've found that many runners can do these things without cutting into their running time. All the strength and flexibility/mobility training I recommend can be done in your living room with little to no equipment other than some space to stretch out on. You can do these things at home while watching TV or, especially for the stretching, as a way to relax before going to bed.
So what happened with the runner who asked this question? I suggested heel raises to strengthen the calf muscles and a Jim and Phil Wharton stretching routine (which can be found here) to stretch the muscles.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with the individual who asked this question. He said the exercises I recommended did help him resolve the issues and he is actually recommending them to other runners who experience similar issues. I'm glad it worked out for him and, if you are experiencing similar strains, I hope this advice will also work for you.