A Simple Way To Ease Sore Calves And Achilles’ Pain

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

When I was first learning to run in Vibrams, I, like nearly every other minimalist runner I’ve met, was plagued with sore calves and mild Achilles tendonitis. I knew I should have started slowly and not tried to do too much too soon, but I just couldn’t resist.  Though it was a painful endeavour, I did manage to learn about a great exercise at that time that really helped.

So, if you’ve found yourself in this situation or want to avoid going through the pain, I’ve got the workout for you, and it’s as simple as anything!

To start off, remove your shoes (of course) and find a step of some sort. You’ll want something a good few inches off the ground and sturdy enough to hold your weight. Stairs are ideal.

Place your feet on the step so that your forefeet are resting at the edge of the step and your heels are hanging off.

Now, keeping your knees locked and your body nice and straight, slowly dip your heels as low as they can go. You should feel a nice stretch in your Achilles tendons. Try not to bounce, and ensure that your descent is nice and controlled. It should take about 3 seconds for your heels to reach their lowest point.

Pause at the bottom for a couple of seconds, then lift your heels slowly up again, and keep lifting until your heels are as high as they’ll go. You should now feel your calves starting to kick in. Again, this should take about 3 seconds.

Pause again at the top and lower your heels back down. Repeat this 10 times for a pre-run stretch (this is the only stretch I recommend before a run).And another 10 times when you get back.

You can also use this exercise as a great lower leg strengthener, as it uses muscles from your toes up to your knees. Before you do your first barefoot run, I’d recommend doing 4-5 sets of 10 reps of these daily for a week or two. By doing this, you’ll have much stronger feet when you start running than you would if you didn’t do it, which could save you a lot of discomfort.

Remember, this exercise is no substitute for slow transition or learning proper form, but it will give you a little bit of an edge in preventing some serious discomfort.

Have you tried this before? How did you like it? Did it make any difference for you? Leave a comment!

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15 thoughts on “A Simple Way To Ease Sore Calves And Achilles’ Pain

  1. Pingback: 4 Epic Barefoot Running Mistakes & How to Avoid Them | Barefoot Runner's Life

  2. I run in VFF and 4mm shoes. I have achilles tendonitis and have been resting (no running) for about 2-3 weeks. I have some good days and some bad days as far as pain/aches go. My question is, should I be wearing my VFF’s and other 4mm drop shoes throughout the day, or should I wear regular traditional running shoes during my recovery?

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    • Well, I’m not a doctor, so you may want to check with yours before doing anything, but I’d suspect that daily use would be ok. Biomechanically, you’re putting a lot less strain on your Achilles when walking, so it shouldn’t worsen your situation.

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  3. “Achilles tendonitis” — bah, so my pain DOES have a name!!

    I’m going to integrate this exercise/stretch in with those that I will begin tomorrow morning before my run. (I’m doing the Nerd Fitness Rebel Running Guide stretches and all.)

    thanks, BFD! ❤

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  4. I’ve been doing some barefoot running in the gym the past few weeks to try and make the transition and the calfs and achiles are still getting quite sore still and I find I’m running one day and then off 3/4 days to recover. To be fair I haven’t been able to run for about 5 years because of really bad shin splints and compartmental syndrome and I ended up spending a fortune on biomechanical assessments, physio etc. and ended up no better off. After a few weeks barefoot I’m up to about 1.5K (not amazing but from being crippled after about 100mtrs a couple of months ago it’s impressive for me)!

    Anyway thank you so much for the advice on the stretching, hopefully it will help make the transition a bit easier!

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  5. I’m a barefoot newbie (well in Vibrams at least). In actual fact, I’m a running newbie, (I’m a swimmer really) and wanted something to cross train with. After reading about the benefits of barefoot running, I decided to give it a go. Stupidly, I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about the transition from heel strike to forefoot strike as I had never really run before anyway. Now I’m suffering from the dreaded sore tendons. I’ll try these stretch exercises and see if they help.
    I’m in no hurry, but my goal is to be able to run 5K almost every day. I know this is a way off yet, but I have to have a goal in mind right?!

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  6. I’m glad I found your site. Even if I pretend my calves don’t hurt and tell myself to man-up, my legs don’t feel like their mine anymore – like I’m walking on sawed-off 2X4s to serve as DIY prosthetic limbs. I’m applying sore-relief cream and doing your exercise. I want to run! But I’m afraid of overdoing it before my real competitive 20K run next weekend. I thought I had eased into it by running no more than 3K on my VFFs and Innov8 pair. I guess I should refrain from “barefoot” road running and go back to my regular padded shoes for the event? Just seeking a second opinion. Cheers:)

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    • Transitioning to barefoot running can take a long time, and trying to do too much too soon will often result in injury. You may be best to stick to your usual shoes and technique for your upcoming run, then look at slowly increasing your barefoot:shod ratio over the coming months.

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