Tight Calves

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Tight Calves

Postby sim-o » Wed Sep 22, 2010 10:54 am

Hi all,

I realise that the best solution is to go see a physio/doctor, but before I do that I'll raise the question to see if there's anything plain and silly I am overlooking...

I get very tight calf muscles most notably when running, but it's now also noticeable as I'm increasing my cycling km's. When running it builds up slowly and after about 3-4km I need to stop. By then my calves have gone to rock hard levels of tightness and each step is painful. Also, last night on my 26km commute home on the bike, I noticed that my calves became tighter as the ride went on. By the end of the ride they felt like they were going to cramp/seize up. So, I took it easy and ended up averaging a mere 22km/h :/.

Over the last 3-4 weeks I've been trying to increase my stretching after every run and every ride, however there seems to be no change in the muscle tightness.

My cleat position is actually fairly mid-footed, which I thought may be causing the issue. However, after reading around on this forum and other sites, it seems mid-foot positing is better for calf muscles?!?

My seat height could be a slight bit too low; I never reach 100% full extension, there's still a small angle (10-20 degrees) between upper/lower leg at the bottom of the stroke.

Also, with the running I'm a mid foot/slightly forefoot lander, which I find to be easiest on the lower legs in general. I never had any problems with running until after I began cycling.

Any ideas to the cause and potential solutions? I should just go and book the physio shouldn't I...
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by BNA » Wed Sep 22, 2010 11:20 am

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Re: Tight Calves

Postby casual_cyclist » Wed Sep 22, 2010 11:20 am

I get tight calves too.

I do massage and yoga for my calves. I massage mine with a closed fist. It hurts but seems to help.

I also find that a couple of yoga poses are great for stretching calves... try downward facing dog:

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Standing forward bend (I do the one on the left and watch your lower back):

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Seated forward bend. Again, keep your lower back flat and don't bend forward with your lower back:

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And my most hated pose - Extended Triangle Pose:

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Re: Tight Calves

Postby Chops » Wed Sep 22, 2010 12:12 pm

Possible you're heel striking when you're running.

What is your pedalling action like? I have quite a pronounced toe down technique which can give me the shits at time when it comes to calf pain.
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby sim-o » Wed Sep 22, 2010 12:35 pm

Thanks casual_cyclist for the stretches; I'll add them to my daily routine and see if it helps.

I'm definitely not heel striking, I'm landing on the forefoot/midfoot as I find that much more comfortable and less harsh.

My pedalling action is absolutely toe down (probably about 45 degrees or more toe down), which is pretty much enforced by the mid-foot cleat position I have. I'm thinking that if I move the cleat forward on the shoe under the ball of my foot, then I'd be able to reduce that angle a bit to a more flatter foot? What do you think?
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby lethoso » Wed Sep 22, 2010 6:20 pm

sim-o wrote:I'm thinking that if I move the cleat forward on the shoe under the ball of my foot, then I'd be able to reduce that angle a bit to a more flatter foot? What do you think?


I think if you move the cleat forward you'll use your calves more not less.

I get stupid tight calves when I run (as in I can barely walk), thing that I find helps the most is getting something round like a wine bottle (though if you have something a bit squishy like a foam roller, pool noodle or half a camping mat rolled up that might be better) and sticking it between my calf and thigh and kneeling down gradually letting my weight sit settle on it. Shift up/down to cover the whole length of your calf. Hurts a bit while you do it, but great relief :)
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby flammer » Wed Sep 22, 2010 9:10 pm

At first I thought it was a wanted add. :lol: You know, young fellow has moved away from the farm and misses the action.

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Re: Tight Calves

Postby Apple » Wed Sep 22, 2010 9:18 pm

flammer wrote:At first I thought it was a wanted add. :lol: You know, young fellow has moved away from the farm and misses the action.

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Re: Tight Calves

Postby mikesbytes » Wed Sep 22, 2010 9:34 pm

sim-o wrote:My pedalling action is absolutely toe down (probably about 45 degrees or more toe down), which is pretty much enforced by the mid-foot cleat position I have. I'm thinking that if I move the cleat forward on the shoe under the ball of my foot, then I'd be able to reduce that angle a bit to a more flatter foot? What do you think?


Difficult to analyse over the internet, but I say that your toe down action could be part of the problem.
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby Chops » Wed Sep 22, 2010 11:12 pm

lethoso wrote:
sim-o wrote:I'm thinking that if I move the cleat forward on the shoe under the ball of my foot, then I'd be able to reduce that angle a bit to a more flatter foot? What do you think?


I think if you move the cleat forward you'll use your calves more not less.


Depends. I prefer to move the cleat forward because my ankle flexibility is so poor that the extra length gives me much more leverage for a toe up (or in my case, closer to neutral) position.

But I'm no expert on this. Just something that has worked for me personally.
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby scotto » Thu Sep 23, 2010 8:47 am

i endorse burlesque pilates for all your strectching, strengthing and optic nerve needs
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby sim-o » Thu Sep 23, 2010 10:25 am

Apple wrote:
flammer wrote:At first I thought it was a wanted add. :lol: You know, young fellow has moved away from the farm and misses the action.
...


I would have thought that sheep would be more appropriate, since I was born in NZ after all :lol:.


As for the bike, my new pedals and cleats arrived last night from chainreaction, so while I was installing those I went and re-checked my entire bike setup. It turns out that my seat was too far back and too low. So, I've made some corrections and I did some initial testing on the trainer + a quick road test. I also moved the cleats forward on the shoe a teeny bit, so my ball is over the pedal axle. It definitely feels like I can fully extend my legs now, whereas before they felt restricted.

I'm riding home today, so I'll see if the tightness/cramping persists.
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby hannos » Thu Sep 23, 2010 11:01 am

Remedial massage :)


That's fix you up.
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby casual_cyclist » Thu Sep 23, 2010 12:00 pm

hannos wrote:Remedial massage :)

That's fix you up.

I found mine extremely painful though. But yeah, it did help.
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby Dahondude » Thu Sep 23, 2010 12:34 pm

scotto wrote:As for the bike, my new pedals and cleats arrived last night from chainreaction, so while I was installing those I went and re-checked my entire bike setup. It turns out that my seat was too far back and too low. So, I've made some corrections and I did some initial testing on the trainer + a quick road test. I also moved the cleats forward on the shoe a teeny bit, so my ball is over the pedal axle. It definitely feels like I can fully extend my legs now, whereas before they felt restricted.


Yep you should look up Steve Hogg's bike fit advice. My understanding is that the further back your saddle is, the more you engage your hammies and calves leading to muscle issues in those two areas. Steve recommends setting up seat fore/aft such that you can take your hands off your bars (when in the hoods or drops) and still keep your body in the same position (ie you dont fall forward onto your hands) - basically your bum is far enough back that it acts as a cantilever for your upper body. If you have your seat too far forward you over engage your quads and thus get sore quads after a ride.

Ive followed Steve's advice (ball of foot forward of pedal axis, seat far enough back to pass the "balance test") and it made a real difference to how my legs feel after a long hard ride.
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby sim-o » Thu Sep 23, 2010 3:02 pm

Dahondude wrote:... Steve recommends setting up seat fore/aft such that you can take your hands off your bars (when in the hoods or drops) and still keep your body in the same position (ie you dont fall forward onto your hands) - basically your bum is far enough back that it acts as a cantilever for your upper body...


That's good advice, and it makes sense because it would eliminate/reduce any strain on your arms/wrists/hands aswell, and therefore more comfortable.
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby flammer » Thu Sep 23, 2010 7:32 pm

sim-o wrote:
I would have thought that sheep would be more appropriate, since I was born in NZ after all :lol:.


Ozzie farm boys think that it's degrading to get down on your knees for an animal. :lol:
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby ash5584 » Sun Sep 26, 2010 10:20 pm

Just a quick thought... from the medical side of things... if your pain is persisting...
Could be a chronic compartment syndrome (google it for details). Check with a sports medicine clinic (if one is available near you), they can do an exercise based test to check if the muscle compartments in your lower leg are tight due to anatomical reasons. If no sports med clinic, your GP can review you and maybe refer you to see an orthopaedic surgeon for the same test.
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby casual_cyclist » Mon Sep 27, 2010 1:04 pm

ash5584 wrote:Just a quick thought... from the medical side of things... if your pain is persisting...
Could be a chronic compartment syndrome (google it for details). Check with a sports medicine clinic (if one is available near you), they can do an exercise based test to check if the muscle compartments in your lower leg are tight due to anatomical reasons. If no sports med clinic, your GP can review you and maybe refer you to see an orthopaedic surgeon for the same test.
Cheers
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I have had MRI scans on my shins. I don't have compartment syndrome. I was worried about it when I had the scans though. But all clear thankfully.
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby uncle arthur » Mon Sep 27, 2010 1:22 pm

I find the best relief for tight calves is chinese cupping combined with deep tissue massage. being in preparation for Noosa (tri) my calves are almost always tight these days.....
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby trailgumby » Mon Sep 27, 2010 1:31 pm

uncle arthur wrote:I find the best relief for tight calves is chinese cupping combined with deep tissue massage. being in preparation for Noosa (tri) my calves are almost always tight these days.....

Aarghh! The thought of calves cramping while on the swim leg :x :x :x :shock:
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby sim-o » Tue Sep 28, 2010 3:21 pm

The stretching isn't helping so far, but I'm going to take a break from cycling+running until I can resolve the problem or at-least improve it. I'm visiting a physio tomorrow, I should probably visit a GP as well and I'll continue to stretch at least once or twice a day.

The calf pain was even worse last Thursday on my ride home after making the setup adjustments. As I was riding it felt with each pedal that the muscle just wanted to seize up and cramp. Then on Saturday I went for a gentle walk for an hour or so, and by the end of it my left calf was cramping and sore, so I think it's pretty obvious that there's an injury of some sort going on.
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby Tim » Tue Sep 28, 2010 3:57 pm

[quote="uncle arthur"]I find the best relief for tight calves is chinese cupping combined with deep tissue massage. [quote]

Too complicated. Vaseline.
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby Downhill » Sun Oct 10, 2010 10:15 pm

Running and cycling ... over use perhaps? If the muscles are chronically sore & tight, I'd tone down the exercise and give the muscles a chance to heal.

Are you warming up prior to stretching, and warming down again after exercising?

Which stretching exercises are you using?

You also mentioned cramping. Are you keeping the fluids up during exercise?

Any muscle burn while you're cycling, and are any muscles other than your calves also affected?
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby sim-o » Mon Oct 11, 2010 10:45 am

I went and saw the physio and it turns out my right calf has noticeably less muscle bulk than my left calf. It makes total sense because the tightness is definitely much worse in the right side, so obviously that muscle is getting tired quicker when running/cycling. She's got me doing strength exercises (i.e. calf raises) on the right side and lots of stretching (2x a day), to try and boost the right side up a bit.

It pretty much comes down to a crappy setup on the bike, so it's my own stupid fault :roll:, I should have had a proper setup instead of doing it myself. Although the cleats looked identical to me, even if they were off a little bit it could disrupt the symmetry whilst pedaling.

I've switched to toeclip pedals temporarily until the issue is resolved and until I can get a proper setup.
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Re: Tight Calves

Postby BarryTas » Fri Oct 15, 2010 10:50 am

i had it when you are at the pub and its the calfs turn for a round and he's out the back eating some grass
when do we stop for coffee???

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