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Sore calves after tennis could sideline you with an injury.
You're competitive enough to go for it in every tennis match, and you cross-train to improve your speed, reaction time, strength and agility. But when sore calves are the legacy from hard play, it's time to pay close attention to your warmup to avoid serious injury that could take you out of the game.
Sore calf muscles might signal that you need more recovery time after a few tough games. But one of the warning signs of an impending tennis injury is soreness along the back of your lower leg. A quick contraction of the calf muscles as you scramble for a volley and you can suffer a partial rupture -- game over. So it makes sense to warm up specifically to flex and strengthen your calf muscles and prevent the calf injury known as tennis leg. The International Tennis Federation recommends 30 minutes of cycling or swimming daily to boost circulation to the calves. Climbing stairs, running and cycling are effective, dynamic calf warmups. The U.S. Tennis Association says to stretch calves on a slant board once they are warm, an exercise you can do as part of a warmup and again, after your workout, holding to increase the stretch.
Work It Out
Stretch your calves in several positions to mimic the moves you'll be making on the court. Jog or jump rope for a few minutes to increase circulation to your leg muscles. Then lie on your back on a mat, extend the left leg on the ground, pushing your heel away from your torso and squeezing your glutes to hold it there. Wrap a band or rope around the instep of your right leg, extend it toward the ceiling, perpendicular to your torso, and flex your toes strongly toward your shin, feeling the stretch along your calf. Deepen the flex with the band and hold for about two seconds. Release the band, point the right foot and then flex it again. Repeat six to eight times and switch legs.
Place palms against a wall at shoulder-height, feet parallel and pointing to the wall. The front foot is about 12 inches from the wall, back leg extended behind you with heel flat on the ground. Bend the front knee and push against the wall, keeping the back heel down to increase the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, release, repeat three to five times and switch sides. On the court, walk on your toes from sideline to sideline. Switch to walking on your heels as you return -- you'll feel it in your calves and lower legs. Begin with one toe and heel walk and work up to three or four.
Rapid Runs and Stepovers
Run rapidly for one or two minutes, picking your feet up sharply and moving forward only about 2 inches on each footfall. These are staccato moves to mimic explosive stops and starts in a game. Once the time is up, sprint forward with a normal stride for 10 yards. Increase the short step time as you become more proficient. The exercise works your entire leg, including ankle flexion, and improves coordination. Then do a basic step stretch. Place your entire right foot on a low platform next to a wall or support. Put just the ball of your left foot on the platform and use your fingertips against the wall or support to assist with balance. Bend your right knee slightly and lower your left heel toward the ground. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and do two to four reps on each side.
Play It Smart
The symptoms of a tight calf muscle and Achilles tendon include soreness after a tennis workout. That can be a warning to check with your physician. If it's difficult or impossible to flex your foot when your leg is extended and your calf muscles are stiff and painful -- not just sore -- and if your calf is bruised or you've felt or heard something give in the middle of a movement, consult your doctor. You may need to see an orthopedic specialist to rehabilitate an injury, not just work out a sore muscle pre-game.