Ankle & Foot Flexibility Exercises

Welcome to the ankle and foot flexibility library!

This page is a step by step guide to flexibility and foam rolling for the calf muscles, lower legs, and feet.

To learn more about these muscle groups and how they work together during movement, read Anatomy for Exercise: Lower Body Muscles.

For additional tips of stretching and injury prevention, check out What’s Really Going On When You Stretch?

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Disclaimer: Always seek proper instruction before initiating an exercise program. Not everything is great for everyone! Consult with your qualified health care practitioners for an exercise program tailored to your needs. Stay healthy and injury-free! Read the full disclaimer.

Calf (Gastroc) Stretch

Two major muscles make up the calf muscle group: the gastrocnemius, and the soleus. The gastroc crosses the knee joint and requires the knee to be extended for a full stretch.

The soleus does not cross the knee joint and can be felt more intensely with a bent knee. 

woman demonstrating a standing gastroc calf stretch
Copyright Maura Blackstone

How To Perform:

  • Stand near a doorway or wall and take a long step backward with the leg you wish to stretch.
  • Place your hands on the wall and press deeply into the back heel, keeping the knee extended. 
  • Adjust your stance to a comfortable length that works for you. 
  • Hold 20-30 seconds
  • Repeat 2-3 times.

Soleus Stretch

standing soleus calf stretch
Copyright Maura Blackstone

How to perform:

  • Stand near a doorway or wall and take a step backward with the leg you wish to stretch.
  • Place your hands on the wall and press the heel down with a slight bend in the knee. 
  • You may notice the stretch feels lower down the leg as opposed to the gastroc stretch. 
  • Adjust your stance to a comfortable length that works for you. 
  • Hold 20-30 seconds
  • Repeat 2-3 times.

Downward Facing Dog

Downward facing dog is a great yoga pose that offers benefits to many areas. 

To get a stretch in the calves, just be aware that range of motion may be limited if there is also tightness in the hamstrings and overall posterior chain. 

To focus on stretching the gastrocs in downward dog, keep the knees extended and press the heels toward the floor. To focus on the soleus, bend the knees and press the heels toward the floor. 

downward facing dog yoga pose
Copyright Maura Blackstone

How to perform:

  • Start in a tabletop position with hands under shoulders and knees stacked under hips.
  • Walk your hands 1-2 palm prints forward, lift the knees and press the hips up and back.
  • Reach the heels toward the floor, they don’t have to touch the floor and may not if there is calf and hamstring tightness.
  • Spread the weight through the fingers, broaden the chest, and relax the head.
  • Stay here for 5 deep breaths. Pedal the feet if the calves feel tight.

Calf stretch off a step

Some people find they get a better stretch by dropping the heel off the back of a step. The same rules apply for targeting the gastroc and soleus. 

How to perform:

  • Drop the heel down on the edge of a step
  • Keep the knee straight for the gastroc, bend for the soleus. 
  • Hold for 20-30 seconds.
  • Repeat 2-3 times.

Calf stretch with a strap

Maybe you’re looking for a more gentle way to stretch the calf. Using a strap can be a great option. 

seated gastroc calf stretch with strap
Copyright Maura Blackstone

How to perform:

  • Place a strap around the top of the foot below the toes.
  • Pull back on the strap to draw the toes and foot toward you.
  • Keep the knee straight to target the gastroc, bend to target the soleus.
  • Hold 20-30 seconds
  • Repeat 3 times.

Foam rolling for calves

To give yourself a little extra soft tissue work, you can roll your calves on a foam roller or use a myofascial release ball to find trigger points. 

Myofascial release balls can offer a more targeted approach, use caution with pressure to this area, especially in the center of the calf.

foam rolling calf muscle for ankle and foot flexibility
Copyright Maura Blackstone

How to perform: 

  • Place your calf on the roller.
  • Apply gentle pressure and slowly roll over the muscle tissue, stopping before you reach the back of the knee. 
  • Perform for up to 3 min
  • Follow up with stretching for maximal results. 

More Flexibility Resources

Spine Flexibility Exercises

Knee Flexibility Exercises

Hip Flexibility Exercises

Equipment & Accessories

Striped leggings by K-DEER

Shop foam rollers at Dick’s Sporting Goods and ProSource Fit

Shop yoga blocks and straps at Gaiam and Clever Yoga

Shop therapy products at Yoga Outlet

Best yoga mats:

Jade Harmony Mat

Manduka Pro Mat

Clever Yoga Liquid Balance Non-Slip Mat

Alo Warrior Mat

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