The soleus stretch is often overlooked although it is easy enough to do by slightly modifying your traditional calf stretch. The soleus muscle is the small muscle that performs plantar flexion when the knee is bent, and is found behind the meatier gastrocnemius calf muscle. There are three main ways to perform a soleus stretch: a lunge stretch, a wall push-up, and a step stretch.
First of all, start with a basic soleus calf exercise so that you know which muscle you are stretching. Stand with your knees shoulder width apart, close enough to a wall or a piece of furniture so that if you lose your balance you have something to grab. Now, with a straight back sit as if you were about to sit into a chair. Keeping your knees bent at a 90 degree angle, raise yourself onto your toes. This awkward position isolates the soleus muscle, which is intensely exercised when you run up hills or stairs but is also important for walking, dancing and standing.
In order to stretch your soleus, stand with your feet shoulder width apart about three feet from a wall, and deeply lunge one foot forward until your palms press into the wall. Make sure that your back is straight, your feet are pointing forward and your weight is on your front leg. Slowly bend your back leg, keeping your heel on the ground, until you feel a slight stretch. Keep this position for about thirty seconds and repeat with the other leg.
An alternative soleus stretch is a modified wall push-up. Stand with arms stretched forward, palms flat against a wall with your feet shoulder width apart. Take one step back while leaning forward, sliding your hands down the wall until they are waist high and your ears are at your elbows. Your upper body should be horizontal, your weight on your straight back leg. Now bend your front knee slightly. Lift your front toes, keeping your heel on the ground, until you feel a soleus stretch.
If you are already pretty limber you might want a deeper soleus stretch. Standing on a step with something to hold onto, put all your weight on one foot with your heel hanging off the back of the step. Bend the knee that you are standing on slightly and then lower your heel. You should feel a deep stretch in your calf, so remember to go slowly and never bounce; you do not want to damage your muscle by over stretching. Hold this position for about thirty seconds and then stretch your other leg.
Performing soleus stretches at the beginning and end of your calf workout is very important. It increases blood flow and flexibility in the muscle, which helps prevent injuries, reduce soreness after overuse, increase performance, and speed recovery after an injury. It is best to stretch your soleus more often and more gently than you think you should.