Calf Catastrophe

During Tim’s visit a few weeks ago I had another episode with my calves. We played indoor pickup on Saturday morning.  I felt great until Sunday morning when I woke up and my calves were so sore I couldn’t walk normally.

Was it because of the strange surface of the church gym’s floor?  Was it because I didn’t sleep much the night before?  Was it just my level of dehydration?  Maybe doing a 90 minute Bikram Yoga session after playing for several hours wasn’t the best idea.

There is no one right answer here.  Major problems often have more than one cause.  Regardless of what I could have done differently, my calves are a weak link in my body’s performance.  My issues with my calves are one of the reasons I took up jump rope trainingI am surprised and frustrated that my calves can still be thoroughly destroyed.

But if it had to happen, it was good timing.

Coincidentally, I had signed up to be a volunteer for a sports massage class that Friday.  I had also scheduled an appointment with the instructor of the class on Tuesday.  The appointment Tuesday was not only to get some work done, but also to discuss soft tissue work in general.  I’ve always believed in massage as a useful recovery tool.  However, I hadn’t come to any conclusions about the effectiveness of foam rolling, the stick, etc.  In my mind, those modalities seem so far from actual massage that I have not been completely convinced that they could do much good.  I decided to ask an expert.

tissue work tools of various densities, shapes, and sizes

I was hoping the expert would tell me that foam rolling is useless.  Then I wouldn’t have to add yet another thing to my training regimen.  Of course, the expert said no such thing.  In fact, my masseuse was adamant that athletes benefit from doing some sort of soft tissue work every day and that a little bit is much better than nothing at all. He said he spends a lot of time trying to convince his clients to do maintenance work outside of his office instead of calling him when their muscles are already crampy, tight, knotted, or hurting.  So much for my rationalizations.  It’s time to get on a soft tissue maintenance plan.

Tim says my foam roller is garbage (too soft) so I’ve been using my medicine ball, an old field hockey ball, and other random objects instead.  Once I commit to getting on the floor and working on things, I don’t mind it.  I don’t know why I have such a strong resistance to doing it.  My current philosophy seems to be if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Which will work only as long as I stay unbroken.  So far maybe I’ve just been lucky.  I am hoping that I learn the value in soft tissue work before a pulled muscle or other injury forces me to.  Following two days of incomplete calf contraction, walking properly after a sports massage was a convincing argument.

I don’t think soft tissue work will magically fix my calves. Nevertheless, having this calf episode and talking with a sports massage specialist made me realize that there is still more that I can do to prepare myself for the upcoming season.  Better to learn it now rather than later.

11 comments to Calf Catastrophe

  • Tanner

    You might be surprised how it will help. I had a bout of shin splints about eight months ago (which were caused by poor running form). I started using a foam roller on my calves, and it seemed a great deal more effective than any ice treatments I’d ever used.

    I use a foam roller after any workout I do, and it really seems to cut down on next-day soreness.

    • hmm, interesting. The foam roller on your calves helped with shin splints? I would not have thought of that so thank for sharing! What about your running form? Is that better now and what did you do to fix that?

      Even if I can get my calves to stop being sore with foam rolling I’m kind of worried that there is an underlying bio-mechanical or strength issue that needs to be addressed. And if I can get them to stop being sore, they will stop reminding me that I have to figure it out.

      • Tanner

        My running form improved by moving from a heel strike to a mid-foot or toe strike. I’d taken about three years off from playing and put on an extra fifty pounds (which I’ve since lost!), and really lost my running form. So I knew what to do, it was just a matter of re-training myself.

        However, even after I fixed my running form, my shin splints didn’t go away, they just stopped getting worse. I started using a foam roller and found a number of very tender spots on the insides of my shins. I’ve gotten rid of most of them with foam roller work and proper form.

        I definitely understand the worry, but I’d say it’s also possible that you have some damage or scar tissue built up that’s causing other issues, so it’s definitely worth trying. I’ve had great results with it.

  • richie

    Start running bare foot, you will find you need to be on your toes more because landing on your heel will hurt and so you will work your calves. If you build up gradually, you will build calf strength, but it will be sore fore a while.

    • Hey Richie,
      Thanks for the comment. I agree with you about avoiding heel striking in running. I’m certain that this isn’t the cause of my problems though. When I run, I do intervals at speeds that enable me to use good running form. Also since I’ve been indoors for the past two months all of my cardiovascular training has been either weighted circuits or jump rope training.

      I do think that running barefoot might help my overall foot strength so maybe I should give it a try anyway. Still, I would have thought jump rope training would have a similar effect. What do you think?

      • richie

        Jump rope would have a much smaller range of motion than running, particularly less ankle movement. I switched to barefoot training for everything possible after having problems with shin splints. I went from being in pain and wearing orthotics to being pain free and not wearing anything. The calf soreness you describe was what I experience when I went for my first barefoot run (2 km), but now I’ve built the strength and I can run without any after effects. If I could get enough traction in bare feet, I’d never wear cleats again.

  • Melissa Gibbs

    I’m really hoping the new circuit posts were inspired by me:) I’m doing them tonight! In regards to foam rolling…I got started in the myo-fascial release stuff about a year ago. Now I find I’m stealing all sorts of abandoned balls on playing fields! I use a lacross ball for my feet (or golfball). Two taped together tennis balls for my back (working up along the spine where I’m frequently experiencing tightness.) A softball for my legs at tournaments (when bringing a foam roller is silly) and a foam roller for all else. Foam rolling is a part of my strength training warm up and I find it helps. I actually, too, had a lot of players (I was coaching) get shin splints during indoors season and I prescribed they foam roll their calves before practices and their troubles gradually went away. I read most of what I know about self-massage at under an article titled “soft tissue work for tough guys.” Let you know how the circuit goes!

    • haha! well, you at definitely inspired it to get posted more quickly. I have about 2 more circuit posts in me I think. Those will probably be up next week.

      Thanks for the tips! I will definitely recommend your guys’ advice to players with shin splints.

  • Kyle Nystad

    Hey Melissa,

    This blog is updated daily with mobility/soft tissue activities. Lots of great ideas:

    • Melissa Gibbs

      Hey! Great recommendation on the mobility website! I went back to the start of the posts and have done the first two…i’ve been trying to address some of my mobility/flexibility issues and these go right along with the reading I’ve been doing on it lately…thanks!

  • Thanks Kyle! I think Tim Morrill recommended this site to me awhile ago but I had completely forgotten about it. Thanks for reminding me!

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