3 Simple Yet Effective Stretches For Your Calf Muscles And Ankles

3 Simple Yet Effective Stretches For Your Calf Muscles And Ankles

It’s the height of summer and we’re running more miles, playing more sets, and getting in as many rounds of golf as we can. Are you preparing your body for the demands you’re placing on your muscles and joints?

Every activity involves demands on your lower leg. Below the knee, we have multiple muscles that allow us to push off, jump, change direction and make explosive movements. The calf muscles below the knee include the gastrocnemius, which is the large, two headed muscle that’s primary function is running, jumping and pushing off, while it also helps flex the knee joint, hence its size. The gastrocnemius is a type I muscle fiber, meaning it is responsible for explosive movements. The other muscle that comprises the calf is the soleus. It aids the gastrocnemius yet is utilized more in walking and less explosive movements as it is comprised of type II muscle fibers. Since it is a smaller muscle, it only acts at the ankle joint. The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles come together towards the ankle joint and create a band known as the Achilles tendon. It is crucial to understand that these muscles are very susceptible to injury if exposed to sudden movements and contractions.  

Since the lower leg is such a sensitive area, injuries due to quick and explosive movements can take a long time to recover from, depending on the severity. We have all heard of the dreaded Achilles tendon tear, one of the most painful and hardest injuries to fully recover from, however a calf strain or tear can also be very painful. When an injury like this occurs, people describe the feeling of a pop or even the sensation of being kicked or shot in the leg.  

One of the ways to help prevent this from happening is a to make time for a thorough warm up and cool down. The stretches laid out below show how to stretch each part of the calf with these gastrocnemius and soleus stretches, which will help protect the muscles and surrounding tendons. It will also greatly reduce the risk of ankle injuries. Note: when performing these stretches, each time do one set with the foot pointing straight forward, one with the foot turned in while keeping the knee tracking forward and one with the foot turned out and keeping the knee tracking forward. This will also stretch the medial and lateral aspects of the muscle.  

DISTAL GASTROCNEMIUS  

Distal gastrocnemius – With the band double wrapped around the top of your foot, start with your toes relaxed. Lie flat on the ground with your head supported by a pillow and your non-stretching leg bent next to you. From here, aim your toes towards your shin and use your arms to pull the band for an additional stretch. Gently keep moving through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. If you are doing the stretch before your activity, use a slightly quicker tempo and if you are stretching after, use a longer tempo. Tip: lying flat is imperative to the specificity of the stretch. If you are sitting upright, it will not target the correct area of the muscle. 

PROXIMAL GASTROCNEMIUS  

Proximal gastrocnemius – With the relaxed leg out straight, double wrap the band around your stretching foot, getting as close to your toes as possible without the band slipping. Lie flat on the ground with your head supported by a pillow and your non-stretching leg bent. With your leg out straight, point your toes towards your shin and pull the band to get an additional stretch. Gently keep moving through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. The more flexible you are, the higher your leg can remain straight. Do not concern yourself with how high your leg is, focus on keeping it straight. If you are doing the stretch before your activity, use a slightly quicker tempo and if you are stretching after, use a longer tempo.

SOLEUS 

Soleus – sitting on a chair with one foot up and one foot relaxed, take both hands and grab around the middle of your foot. Point you toes straight up and use your hands to help pull upward. Have your leg bent to a comfortable angle, not all the way and keep your heel on the chair. Gently keep moving through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. Again, If you are doing the stretch before your activity, use a slightly quicker tempo and if you are stretching after, use a longer tempo. 

The next time you plan your run, match or round, be sure to add time before and after to stretch so your body can see you through and perform at the level you expect.  

Written by Koby Jansen, Stretch Therapist at LYMBR Darien. Koby is a former D1 college tennis player at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Former #1 in the state of Queensland and #7 in Australia for his age group. 

5 Stretches To Help Prevent Tennis Elbow

5 Stretches To Help Prevent Tennis Elbow

There aren’t too many racquet sport athletes that don’t know about tennis elbow (particularly if you are reading this), but let’s take this opportunity to learn exactly what it is. Tennis elbow is simply an overuse injury that occurs when too many repetitive movements of the elbow and wrist are performed. Tennis players are not the only people that are susceptible to this injury, however it is most common in racquet sport athletes due to the strain that it puts on the lateral aspect of the elbow. The medical term for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis. When tennis elbow occurs, the inflammation causing pain is localized to the tendon on the outside of the elbow (the lateral epicondyle). Tendons are responsible for attaching muscle to bone and are susceptible to overuse injuries, one of the most common forms of inflammation found in tennis players is of the lateral epicondylitis in the elbow, otherwise known as tennis elbow. There are many ways to treat tennis elbow if you wind up with it, yet it is important to be proactive and take the proper steps to help prevent this from happening.  

If you are a racquet sport athlete, we can modify our sessions in order to keep you at your best based on what your individual goals are. If tennis elbow is something that you are conscious about preventing, let us know and we can add our wrist and forearm stretching protocols into our sessions. Below are some stretches that you can do on your own before and after you play. It is important to target as many aspects of the lower arm as possible. Since the muscles and tendons are all very close together, just doing one stretch will not give the desired result. The fingers play a big part in a tennis swing as they are the body part that actually grips the racquet. Since we grip the racquet so hard, they are constantly in a flexed position, therefore adding these simple finger extension movements will greatly aid your tennis game. 

WRIST EXTENSORS 

Wrist extensors pronated (left image) – While standing, extend one arm out in front of you at a 90-degree angle with your palm pointing down and your elbow crease angled toward your body. With your fingers out straight, gently point them down to the floor along with your wrist and use your opposite hand to assist. Make sure the pressure of your assisting hand is closer to your wrist than your fingers as it will be less sensitive and target the forearm muscles more specifically. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. Note: This stretch will target the belly of the forearm extensor muscles. 

Wrist extensors supinated (right image) – While standing, extend one arm out in front of you at a 90-degree angle with your palm pointing up and your elbow crease angled straight up. With your fingers out straight, gently point them up to the ceiling with your wrist and use your opposite hand to assist. Make sure the pressure of your assisting hand is closer to your wrist than your fingers as it will be less sensitive and target the forearm muscles more specifically. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. Note: This stretch will target the distal forearm extensor muscles. 

WRIST FLEXORS 

Wrist flexors pronated (left image) – While standing, extend one arm out in front of you at a 90-degree angle with your palm pointing down and your elbow crease angled toward your body. With your fingers out straight, gently point them up to the ceiling along with your wrist and use your opposite hand to assist. Make sure the pressure of your assisting hand is closer to your wrist than your fingers as it will be less sensitive and target the forearm muscles more specifically. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. Note: This stretch will target the belly of the wrist flexor muscles. 

Wrist flexors supinated (image right) – While standing, extend one arm out in front of you at a 90-degree angle with your palm pointing up and your elbow crease angled straight up. With your fingers out straight, gently point them down to the floor with your wrist and use your opposite hand to assist. Make sure the pressure of your assisting hand is closer to your wrist than your fingers as it will be less sensitive and target the forearm muscles more specifically. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. Note: This stretch will target the distal wrist flexor muscles. 

WRIST PRONATORS

Wrist pronators – Starting with your arm bent at 90 degrees by your side and wrist in a fully pronated position (palm down), turn your wrist away from you so that your palm is pointing directly up. Use your other hand to assist. Do not move your shoulder to help get further, isolating the forearm movement is critical to the effectiveness of the stretch. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. 

WRIST SUPINATORS 

Wrist supinators – Starting with your arm bent at 90 degrees by your side and wrist in a fully supinated position (palm up), turn your wrist toward you so that the back of your hand is pointing directly up. Use your other hand to assist. Do not move your shoulder to help get further, isolating the forearm movement is critical to the effectiveness of the stretch. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side.  

FINGER FLEXORS 

Finger flexors – this stretch is simple, but a few tips and tricks go a long way. Rest your hand on your thigh with your arm bent at 90 degrees. Gently starting with your index finger lift it up and use your other hand to assist very softly. The muscle fibers in the fingers are very sensitive so you do not need to feel this stretch to much in order to get results. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on each finger. Perform 1-3 sets on each hand. 

BEING PROACTIVE IS KEY

These stretches on your own will not be as effective without the help of a LYMBR therapist. But the more you do these on your own, the more progress we will be able to make in the studio. It is important to be proactive about the health of your body, particularly as a tennis player, since overuse injuries are so common. Always take control of your body and do everything you can to prevent injuries before they occur, rather than reacting to injuries that have already happened. 

Returning To Tennis And How It Impacts Your Hips And Back.

Returning To Tennis And How It Impacts Your Hips And Back.

In our last post, we talked about the importance of getting your mind ready for the imminent return to tennis. That, however, is only one piece of the puzzle. Once you start your tennis journey again, if you don’t take care of your body correctly, it can lead to nagging soft tissue or potential overuse injuries. Tennis is a sport that puts a lot of stress on your muscles and joints, particularly if you are playing on hard courts. When you take time off and you are not performing the very specific movements that tennis possesses, it is highly likely that your muscles, and even joints will be sore once you return. During this time, you are very susceptible to having certain areas of your body flare and become sore. This increases your chance of injury because you will tend to overcompensate for the affected areas. 

After my first year of college tennis, my body and mind needed a break. I didn’t touch a tennis racquet or do any tennis movements for a month, and when I came back, I was as motivated as ever. My mind was ready to play hard and play for long hours, but my body was not. The first day back, I played for three hours, ran sprints and did a strength workout. After a week of doing this every day, my hips and lower back were on fire, and by the second week of playing, I was unable to serve due the pain in my back.  

Tennis movements are very specific, and while tennis is one of the most fun and healthy sports to play, the proper precautions need to be taken. The hard surface of a tennis court puts a severe strain on our joints, with the hips taking the brunt of that strain. Our hips are the body’s foundation. Our lower body function is non-existent without fully working hips. Our hips support our spine (which holds our rib cage protecting the heart) and keep our body upright. The hips are one of the most important parts of our body, and as it pertains to tennis, it takes time for our hips to adjust to the rigors of a tennis court. Take it easy and progressively increase your tennis load over time is to protect your hips. 

The lower back is another area that is put under tremendous strain when playing tennis. The serve is the most important shot in tennis, by a wide margin. When we serve, our lumbar spine is put through extreme extension, and if not prepared for it, doing too much can be very detrimental. It also ties in with our hips during the serve. If you are right-handed, you will jump and land on your left leg requiring balance and very localized strength. Tennis unfortunately is a sport that is very one side dominant. This fact is tested most during the serve as it puts acute stress on your opposite side hip and lower back. It is something to be mindful of when you do return.  

When it comes to returning to the court, do not overdo the serving early, take your time and wait until your body has adjusted to the pounding of the harsh tennis court surface. Keep your eye out for my next post coming up as I will outline exactly what stretches you should be doing for specific injuries, warm up and cool down, injury prevention and much more. 

Written by Koby Jansen of LYMBR Darien. Koby is a former D1 college tennis player at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Former #1 in the state of Queensland and #7 in Australia for his age group. 

Preparing Your Mind To Get Back On The Tennis Court

Preparing Your Mind To Get Back On The Tennis Court

Written by Koby Jansen of LYMBR Darien. Koby is a former D1 college tennis player at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Former #1 in the state of Queensland and #7 in Australia for his age group. 


During these unprecedented times, we were all forced to limit our contact with others. For us tennis players, chances are that meant taking a break from being on the court (since it’s difficult to play tennis with yourself!). After taking an extended break from tennis, it is important to get your mind right before stepping back onto the court. Your body will likely be ready for the challenge as, hopefully, one of the silver linings from the break, was any ailments or injuries were given time to heal. However, it will take time before tennis comes naturally again, no matter how many years you have been playing. 

My experience with extended breaks came with many challenges. On four different occasions, I suffered injuries that forced me off the court for more than six months. The main lesson I learned was managing personal expectations. This is one of the biggest hurdles to get over after an extended break. When playing Division I college tennis, we only had one day per week where a tennis racquet was not touched, so it was easy to get into a great rhythm. Even the smallest break like an additional day off can break that rhythm. When I had shoulder surgery in college and couldn’t touch a tennis racquet for six months, you could say that my rhythm was broken. When I was able to come back, I really tried to focus on the enjoyment of tennis at first, rather than the quality of my play. As competitive as I am, it was hard not to focus on trying to win every single point I played. This mindset really aided me in the long run. 

Another great lesson from having multiple extended breaks was to keep the first few sessions short and sweet, keeping the mood light. Don’t concern yourself with how many matches you can play, or the level you play compared to before the break. Take is slow and have fun being back out there. Find the joy that made you want to play in the first place. If you play for hours on end the first day or week back, you risk injuring your body as it takes time for your joints and muscles to readjust to the rigors of a tennis court. If you come off the court feeling banged up, it can detract you from getting back out there.  

The first time you go back onto the court, make sure to understand within yourself that it is a process. Give yourself long-term goals, take it one session at a time and take the first week or so to get the connection with your mind and your body to become one. Your body will hopefully feel refreshed, and your mind will be itching to get back out there but take it slow.  

First day back? Go and hit a few balls, get that feeling again of having the racquet in your hand. Slowly remind your body what it feels like to move laterally again, and most importantly, have fun. 


Subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss Koby’s upcoming advice on getting the most out of your tennis season.