Golf Digest recently published a Fitness Friday article called, “Train your ankles to swing like an athlete.” I’m glad to see the topic of calf tightness (and poor ankle dorsiflexion) come up.
Golfers are among the list of people who come to me with a variety of foot and heel problems directly and indirectly related to one common denominator, the tight calf.
Shear has it right when he discusses the calf being too tight; the calf is the source of this issue for golfers!
While I can’t claim that golf promotes equinus or calves that get too tight, I can assure you that equinus creates problems with playing the game to one’s full potential. And they would not have a clue that it is even present…
Ben Shear, in the Golf Digest article, had it right when he suggested that the problem here is calves that are too tight, saying, “[C]alf tightness is a clear warning sign of restricted ankle mobility: particularly when your knee juts out over your foot or when you raise your toes while keeping your heels on the ground.” He also goes on to talk about the impact shoes can have on a golfer’s performance.
I would like to add more context.
Fixing (or changing) shoes to have greater heel support is often provided as a solution for this, but it is not seeing the big picture.
Tight calves force the arch to depress deeper with standing and at mid stance with each step, no matter what shoe you are wearing. So, while raising the heels provides a temporary quick fix, it does nothing to address the true problem.
Golfers who are looking to:
- improve the health of their ankles and feet for greater performance by creating better balance, and/or
can work on stretching their calves to ensure their calves are not too tight.
The mechanics behind heel and ankle pain and the immobility the article brings up can be explained this way: the plantar fascia connects from the base of your heel bone to your toes. The calf muscle at the back of your leg becomes your Achilles tendon as it narrows down to the heel bone. It’s all connected like a chain, as we’ve discussed before. When your calf is too tight, so is your plantar fascia (and that is where people feel the pain—when they get out of bed in the morning, etc.) The problem is in the calf.
As an additional note, hamstring tightness is also a killer of our best golf swing, and where there is calf tightness there is also hamstring tightness. See this article to learn more.
My protocol for 30 years has been a static, passive, body weight, straight knee, calf stretch. Use the One Stretch, every day, away from golf. By doing so, you will return the calves to the length they were when you were younger and/or before you ran, or before you started walking more, or before you just got older, and then keep them there— by stretching every day.