People often find themselves doing tons of calf raises to bring up their lacking calf muscles, but overtime this can take a toll on the ankle joint/muscles. The ankle joint is underrated in my opinion, and it receives way less attention compared to other joints like your knee or shoulder. People often wear knee braces or massage/stretch their shoulders, but when is the last time you took time to care for your ankle?
The ankle joint is SUPER IMPORTANT, imagine how much we use the ankle joint when doing movements like walking, running, jumping, etc. So it is important that you take care of your ankle, and avoid exercises that cause pain in the ankle. I am going to discuss reasons why your ankle hurts from calf raises, and other ways to build your calf muscles without pain.
The main causes of ankle pain during calf raises
- Achilles tendinosis
- Ankle impingement
- Muscle strain
- Ligament sprain
- Plantar fasciitis
The most common cause of your ankle hurting from calf raises is due to achilles tendinitis or ligamentous sprain. People often perform calf raises with tons of weight because their calves won’t grow. This can be dangerous if your ankles and muscles are not accustomed to this type of workload. Using a lot of weight during calf raises can put excess stress on your achilles tendon. This can cause achilles tendinitis especially if you are performing calf raises very often.
Use this quick guide to determine what may be causing your ankle pain:
- Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, and muscle strains would hurt A LOT DURING the calf raise exercises. Achilles tendinitis would hurt primarily in the back of your ankle or anywhere up the tendon. The pain would be more sharp and may be described more as “twinges” of pain.
- Ankle impingement would feel like an achy pain. The ankle may feel stuck or locked up with this condition. Ankle impingement would hurt worse after doing the calf raises and would most likely ache the rest of the day.
- Plantar fasciitis would primarily hurt at the bottom of your foot and usually hurts worse when you first wake up.
- Ligamentous sprain would be painful with certain movements, and you may be able to press on the ligament and cause the pain to occur.
How do I prevent my ankle from hurting during calf raises?
1. PROPER FORM
It is important to use proper form when completing the calf raise to avoid injury/pain. The motion you are performing during calf raises is called “plantar flexion”. So while completing calf raises it is important not to perform excess plantar flexion. This would be similar to locking out your elbows during a bench presses which is not good. You always should not “lock out” your ankle during the calf raise. You want to keep constant tension on the calf muscle during the movement and avoid locking out your ankle joint.
For example, look at this image of this ballet dancer. That is an example of excess ankle plantar flexion. Ballet dancers always have ankle problems and pain from repetitively performing this ankle flexion. Most likely you do not have as much ankle motion as a ballet dancer, but you still want to avoid maximal plantar flexion while performing calf raises.
You need to be stretching your calves. Most people have tight calves and restricted ankle motion because they never stretch the muscles around their foot/ankle, but it is super important to stretch these muscles often. Performing calf raises with tight calves/restricted ankle motion puts you at risk for injury and may be the cause of your ankle pain during calf raises.
I recommend stretching your calves everyday. An easy stretch to perform daily is a calf stretch against the wall. Keep both feet on the ground and lean forward until you feel the stretch in your calf. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds and then switch sides. Complete this stretch on both sides.
I like to use a strap to stretch my calves. The strap allows me to easily adjust how much stretch I want, and I can control the force I put through the stress.
Another great way to really target the calves is to use a foam roller or myofascial release ball. Put the foam roller or ball underneath your calf and slowly roll it up/down your calf. You may find a tender spot which is good, stay on the spot for 45-60 seconds until it relieves.
These stretches and myofascial releases will reduce the tightness in your calf muscles and allow for more ankle motion during calf raises. You may find that the pain gets better when you start to incorporate foam rolling and stretches into your routine.
3. ANKLE SUPPORT
If you think that you have one of the conditions listed above such as tendonitis, ankle impingement, or muscle/ligament sprain then you need to let your ankle rest and heal to get the inflammation down. An ankle brace or compress sock is a great way to reduce inflammation/pain while still working out.
I recommend wearing an ankle brace or compression sock while lifting especially if you are going to be doing any workouts involving your ankle such as calf raises. Most people find that their ankles don’t hurt during calf raises when they wear a brace or compression sock.
Visit my other article for a list of the best ankle braces/compression socks to use while weightlifting.
Other ways to build big calves without doing calf raises
I want to share a few other ways to build big calves instead of doing tons of calf raises. One of the most effective ways to build big/defined calves is to walk on an incline.
If you put the treadmill at a very steep incline (10-15%) and walk for a few minutes your calves will be on fire! Most hikers and mountain climbers have HUGE calves, and it is because they are constantly walking at steep inclines which has developed their calves without them doing calf raises in the gym.
Another way to build big/defined calves is sled pushes. This is great way to target the calves without doing calf raises. Most gyms have a sled that you can load with weight and push across the turf. Give it a try.
I am not saying to quit doing calf raises completely, but be conscious of your form during the exercise, and remember to stretch and take care of your calves/ankles. If you are currently suffering from a lot of pain during calf raises, I recommend purchasing an ankle brace or compression sock until the pain/inflammation goes down. Also switch up your calf exercises by incorporating other calf workouts like incline treadmill walking or sled pushes. You can also lower the weight and perform single-leg calf raises to reduce the amount of weight you are loading onto your foot/ankle.