I’m sure you remember that song from your childhood! We tend to look at many issues in our body in isolation forgetting that everything is connected to everything else. It might be hard to see how the tension in your feet and lower leg muscles can impact the tension in your shoulders and head but it could.
One of the foundational movements I teach is a calf stretch. 99% of shoes have a heel whether you are male, female, adult or child. We have worn these shoes since we could walk and our bodies have adapted. As a result your calf muscles do not have the length or yield they could have. We also sit a lot so this further compounds the issue. This adaptation has far reaching consequences. Fortunately we can take simple steps to begin to undo the effects of shoe wearing and sitting.
This is not any old calf stretch. Think of it as a position as much as a stretch, a micro nutrient you are missing, which if practised frequently can improve ankle mobility and dorsiflexion (flexion of the foot in an upward direction). Our calf muscles attach within the foot so we are also “talking” to the muscles of our foot and improving circulation in our feet and lower legs at the same time.
The Calf Stretch
Place a thick folded or rolled towel (or a rolled yoga mat) on the floor in front of you.
Step onto the towel or mat with a preferably bare foot, placing the ball of the foot on the top of the prop.
Adjust the foot so that it points straight forward and slowly straighten your stretching leg. Bending your knee will miss the muscle we are targeting in this exercise.
Keep your body upright (try not to lean forward with your torso), step forward with the opposite foot.
If stepping forward brings your torso forward or you bend at the hip, bring the non-stretching leg back to the place that you can keep your torso upright.
For a more advanced version, use a half foam roller, pictured.
Have a prop close by to remind you to do the calf stretch either at work or at home. Do it once or twice a day to begin with, slowly increasing the number of times you do it during the day over weeks and months.
Hold for about 30 seconds to one minute.
Don't Just Sit There
Too much sitting, especially in shoes with a positive heel, is a calf shortening activity. I recently gave a talk titled Don't Just Sit There to a large company in London offering them some strategies to get more movement as opposed to exercise into their day. There is nothing wrong with sitting per se, it's that we tend to do it for hours and hours in the one position.
One of many resting positions is the squat and squatting is something we can benefit from hugely, the position itself and the getting in and out of it. However, it’s not something most of us do or can do anymore. Watch babies and small children squat beautifully. It’s not as straightforward as squatting more because many of us have lost the ranges of motion and the parts that make it possible for us. The good news is that it is possible to coax a new shape out of your body over time. Sitting differently and changing your sitting position frequently is a start. The length of our calves is one of the limiting factors in our ability to squat. Have a read of this piece The Forgotten Art of Squatting ... "If what we want is to be well, it might be time for us to get low."