The Calf Stretch – Podcast Episode #88

In which Katy Bowman tells Stephanie Domet why Calf Stretch appears in just about every book she’s ever written.


01:16:00 – Let’s Talk About the Calf Stretch Jump to section

02:01 – Calf Stretching without stretching your calves? Jump to section

04:52 – Why is Calf Stretching important Jump to section

08:10 – It’s like whiplash Jump to section

11:47 – It’s not range of motion for its own sake Jump to section

16:10 – Movement Nutrients working together Jump to section

16:59 – Katy gets her brother to Calf Stretch Jump to section

19:31 – Calf Stretching pulls on Katy’s brain! Jump to section



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STEPHANIE: Hey there. Welcome to the Katy Says podcast. This is the eighth in a series of special episodes that we call Between the Lines: where Katy Bowman and Stephanie Domet explore the deeper messages in, and connections between Katy’s books.


KATY: I am Katy Bowman, biomechanist and I am the author of Move Your DNA.


STEPHANIE: And I am Stephanie Domet. I’m a chronically curious writer and radio journalist. So, Katy, you and I have had some pretty lengthly and definitely heavy discussions here over the last several months, and so it feels to me maybe it’s time for us to be a bit less “thinky” and a little more “movey” if we could.


KATY: (laughs)


STEPHANIE: So, cuz it’s what we do. So I want to talk about the Calf Stretch today.


KATY: Yeah.




KATY: So instead of heady you want to be calf-y?




KATY: Is it cav-y or caff-y … I don’t know. I’ve never used it in that way.  But yes, you are going to find the Calf Stretch in just about every single one of my books, so obviously it could warrant an entire podcast episode, I think.


STEPHANIE: Yeah. Well, let’s get into it.  What are we talking about when we talk about Calf Stretch? So you should know, I’m standing up at my recording station and I’ve got my half dome out.  So I’m ready. We could just do this.


KATY: I think it’s very funny. I’m actually doing the Calf Stretch right now.




KATY: And I have not seen your questions, so I was like, “Oh. Oh yeah. Ok, well I’m doing it right now. Yeah.”


STEPHANIE: Perfect. So we’re all doing it.  And if you don’t have a half dome you can use a rolled up towel right?


KATY: Yeah. So the Calf Stretch, I always say it’s capital C, capital S. It’s the name of a very particular exercise structure. It’s not just that you’re stretching your calf.  Some people can do the Calf Stretch exercise and not actually be stretching their calves. So it’s proper noun, proper name. I can be a Bob, but not feel like a Bob, you know. So you just need something, whether it is a half foam roller, which you will often see in the books. It can be a rolled towel. If you are out listening to this when you walk, you can find a rock. You just need something that you step the front of your foot up on while the heel of that same foot stays down on the ground. That’s the shape of one leg. And then the other leg steps forward to that other leg that’s up on the rock with the toes and down on the ground with the heels.



STEPHANIE: So can you walk back to something you just said which is you can do Calf Stretch, what did you say? You can do Calf Stretch without stretching your calves?


KATY: Yeah. Because not every exercise is gonna move people in the same exact way because an exercise, the effect of an exercise is a relationship between the move and the body you bring to the move. So I call this the Calf Stretch because most people doing it are going to have the range of motion of their ankles, which is heavily influenced by your calves, be challenged by it. But not everyone will. So, you know, as your pool of people that you are working from gets larger and larger than you realize that not everyone is experiencing the same movements because your test group gets larger and larger. Yeah. So for some people they might have, you know like my children who have quite a bit of dorsiflexion, they have a ton of joint ankle range of motion at the ankle where they could be in the exact same shape I was in and not be tensing that tissue at all because they have more of it.  They have more length in that particular area which allows that particular range of motion without a stretch.


STEPHANIE: Ok, so do they need to do Calf Stretch?






KATY: No. Because the Calf Stretch is just faking some element of movement that me in front of my computer isn’t getting. But they’re getting it. So yeah, they don’t. Their need to supplement that particular movement or shape is unnecessary just like, you know, you don’t need to take a particular vitamin if your diet is rich in it. So no. They would not need this particular move. Were they to continue to get that particular move out in their non-exercise time.


STEPHANIE: So in one of your books you write that we should probably stretch our calves for about eleventy hours.  And then maybe stretch them a little more.

Why is Calf Stretch so important?


KATY:  You mean get calfy for eleventy. Clearly I’m just making up words to fill books…


STEPHANIE: Just hither and yon.  


KATY:  Um, you know what? I don’t necessarily know if it’s more important than any other move but it is, it’s extremely impactful. And you know, I’ve given a gajilliony exercises out there, but the reality is, many people are trying to fit it within a very small period of time allotted to movement. We all have a ton of things that we know our body would really do well if we got them in every day but we’re trying to pick and choose of those which ones we’re gonna do so I will often say, and I have said, on film, you can see it; If you’re only gonna do one, the Calf Stretch, it’s so impactful because, you know we think “I’m gonna stretch my calves, that’s gonna improve my ankles or my foot, or my knee.” We’re thinking very local to that area of the calves.  But because of your particular human structure, the fact that our head is above our feet, you know being bi-pedal, when you have a lot of tension in the lower end, closest to the ground …  When you go to do regular things, just like walk from one side of your house to the other side of the house, that tension can accelerate the upper part of your spine. And so, even if people would come in for  “I’m not moving very much.” And we’ll look at which part of them aren’t moving really well and we’ll find really stiff immobile shoulders or an upper spine or the back of the neck or even the head. Their face is extremely tight, or they have headaches or headache tension in the back of my neck all of the time, the Calf Stretch will also be part of their must-dos because every step that they are taking because of this stiffness around the lower leg is actually because of the torque of the length of your body being so far off the ground. It’s moving your upper spine around. So it’s in every single book because if you were only going to do one it has the potential to influence the most of you in a way that most of us are moving every day. Which is, you know, taking a few steps here or there just to accomplish the non-exercise things in our life. So it’s just very impactful. It’s gonna impact everything from the tips of your toes to the top of your head and so I don’t know if there’s another single exercise that moves that much of you differently after you’re done doing the exercise.


STEPHANIE: It’s incredible to think that stretching my calves could alleviate a headache.


KATY:  I’ve had people come who had some …you know,  headaches was a very regular reality and they’re doing a ton of neck and shoulder stuff which makes sense. And if you’re doing those keep those, that’s great. But the thing is, it’s like the tensions that are in the back of your neck are kind of like a compensation for the accelerations that you’re doing to your head and neck because of the state of your lower legs.

If you look at the mechanics, I explain it like whiplash.

We’re very familiar with a whiplash injury where your head goes accelerating forward one way but is yanked back another way.  In the opposite direction. There’s like this (whip noise), I hope the sound effect should help you visually, you know that you’re creating, you’re moving very quickly between two directions. Now, most of our understanding of whiplash comes on the scale of being rear-ended or something that’s happening at 30 or 40 miles per hour …




KATY: …but the mechanics are the same even if you’re walking 3 miles an hour and the whiplash, that accelerating forward real quickly but then bracing it and pulling it back so it doesn’t go, I explain it like, you’re essentially having whiplash at a very slow rate, at 3 miles an hour, but you’re doing it hundreds, if not ten thousand times a day.




KATY; So I mean, it’ll often be active people, “I’m getting my 10,000 steps in but oh my upper back and my neck are killing me.”  And I’m like, yeah we’re gonna change the mechanics of your walk a little bit by doing this move here a little bit and you’ll find that now you can walk in a way that isn’t creating such extra motion at the neck and the need for you tense to withstand it. So you can keep stretching your neck or you can stop doing something that is creating the reason you are tensing your neck. So yeah.




KATY: Headache people listen up. Because it can be all the way down tucked into your shoes and you didn’t know it.


STEPHANIE: Should I switch feet now?


KATY: Oh yeah, sorry!


STEPHANIE:   It’s totally ok.


KATY: I forgot I was leading a Calf Stretch class while I was doing this podcast. See you can multi-task.


STEPHANIE: Multi-task the Katy Bowman style.


KATY: And I will stand here, I mean I can do this for a very long time. So I just tend to kind of switch back and forth between feet. I have at almost all of my workstations which are kind of all of the places I tend to stand frequently. So I’ve got my office, I also tend to work in the kitchen. And then I put doing dishes in my workstation a lot of the time.  It’s a very large amount of time now that I think about it.  So I have some sort of thing at my feet so that I can just step up on in the spaces that I already am. So rather than be washing dishes and be like, “I should go stretch my calves” I just put the thing where I’m standing around a lot. So my house looks littered with Calf Stretching devices. But it’s really just me trying to go, I know my habits of where I’m going to be standing to do other non-exercise things so it’s my way of kind of infusing a little exercise.


STEPHANIE: Hashtag #stackyourlife


KATY: (whispers) Yes. Bring the hashtag back.  I don’t know what happened to that hashtag.


STEPHANIE: And we lost it for a bit but you always whisper after I say a hashtag.


KATY: Oh I totally forgot. It’s a total natural response. I don’t know why.  


STEPHANIE: You’re so reverent.


KATY: It was a little Gollum-esque. It was like “Yes, the hashtag”.


STEPHANIE: The hashtag. Bring it back.


KATY: And one hashtag to rule them all.  So that’s what we have to figure out.


STEPHANIE: Well stack your life, clearly.


KATY: There you go.


STEPHANIE: And so you do not explicitly write about Calf Stretch in Movement Matters. It’s not that kind of a book. But you do write about ankle dorsiflexion. You mention that your kids exhibit that.  And it’s kind of the same thing, right? There’s a strong connection there, literally and figuratively. What I’m getting more of as I stretch my calves is an increased, hopefully, range of motion in my ankles. Is that right?



Well, we’re not after the end result of more range of motion. I mean if we go all the way to a movement, nutrition perspective you’re after more movement in your ankle, but the range of movement that you have is limited by the amount of tension that you have there which is kind of set by the current amount of movement that you have. So we’re really just after more movement.  We’re always after more movement. And I think there’s been kind of this understanding that we’re after greater ranges of motion, but we are after the movement that maintains or develops the ranges of motion, not the range of motion itself. Because, and the reason I think this distinction is important is because you could go, and say, “Hey, I have knee pain and foot pain because my ankle is so tight and I don’t have this range of motion.” If that’s the way you perceive it then a logical way out of it is to maybe have some surgery to lengthen the tendons.


STEPHANIE: Mm-hmm. Right.


KATY: Where at the end of the day the whole reason you were after … and so, and continue on with the same movement habits in which you developed that particular length. It’s kind of like not acknowledging where the tension comes from versus making the problem the lack of tension, the problem is the lack of movement.




KATY: And so that’s, I think, I didn’t always delineate that as specifically as I am now because I think that there’s this understanding with alignment where we’re just after the greater ranges of motions. There’s a lot of ways…well I don’t know if there’s a lot… but there are movement free ways of getting those. But it turns out the only payoff really of lots of ankle range of motion is that it affords to use more muscle of you when you’re moving. Like the when you’re moving is when the ranges of motion pay off. And then other people who will do the Calf Stretch and not feel a stretch, they can have, you know, not everyone is dealing with tension. Some people are dealing with the need for stability. So they’re like, “I’ve got tons of ranges of motion.” And they’re particular ranges of motion, when they go to move, kind of remove some of the natural or helpful breaking, like, um… to apply the brakes. To facilitate stabilized movement.


STEPHANIE: So they might have lots of range of motion but they’re getting a headache from their 10,000  little whiplashes all day every day.


KATY: Yes. So it’s kind of like we’re after move movement at the end of the day. And in some cases, maybe like right now I can feel on my left side, being so much tighter that more movement on this left side could get me a greater range of motion which then when as I continue to do that movement would get me, it would move more of me.


STEPHANIE: Uh-huh.  


KATY: For the same period of time. We are looking to still stack our lives and that’s why it kind of made it into Movement Matters because Movement Matters is a larger context for here’s why you’re doing the exercises.  You’re doing the exercise to facilitate a body that can negotiate spaces in a way that is capable. But also if there are these ailments that are related to the particular ranges of motion then potentially this motion is a way to not have these ailments expressed.


STEPHANIE: Right.  Ok. If you do Calf Stretch for eleventy hours a day, are you capable of achieving the dorsiflexion that your kids are?  Can you reverse your years of…


KATY: Well it’d be interesting if you were doing it eleventy hours.  


STEPHANIE:  I really would be. For a lot of reasons.


KATY: Yes. I think at the end of the day we’re gonna find that eleventy hours of Calf Stretch will not affect your joint range of motion as much as doing the Calf Stretch a little bit, and the pelvic list a little bit, some squat prep exercises and then actually going outside and taking a walk for a few miles and while you’re out there stepping up on some stones. Oh and adding some incline. And adding some decline. And then carrying something. And then squatting down when your feet are pointing downhill and uphill. That it really is going to be to facilitate this greater range of motion that you are consuming diverse ranges of motion.

That kind of like nutrients are gonna work in a particular… like nutrients behave differently when they’re consumed with other nutrients. It doesn’t diminish the fact that they themselves are nutrients but the more we learn about nutrients the more we recognize that you can take an abundance of a particular nutrient but in the absence of a second nutrient, it doesn’t perform the same way. I’m thinking of vitamin d and calcium…




KATY: That vitamin Calf Stretch is certainly, if you’re having some issues, a nice way to start supplementing. I don’t know if you want to go so far as taking my advice to do it eleventy hours.  I think that’s why I put a fake number. To stress it’s importance but without committing to a particular duration.


STEPHANIE: (laughs) it’s a lose prescription


KATY: Obviously it’s hyperbole. It’s hyperbole. But it’s hyperbole for a lot.  But then to recognize, the Calf Stretch, this is a good example.  

I was, I had my brother doing the Calf Stretch.

Now my brother is not a Alignment Matters, Movement Matters, Nutritious Movement consumer.  He can probably barely tolerate the sound of my voice because he’s been dealing with it so much of his life. However he’s experiencing a lot of issues and he’s a nature guy. He’s a backpacker, a hunter, you know, he has extensive survival training. And has, for decades, he’s sixty now. But he wears cowboy boots all the time. And I put a picture of this on Instagram. The way I explain it to him is like, he’s also an airline pilot now. So it’s a tremendous amount of sitting and when he is sitting he’s in boots, heeled boots – a couple inches. SO the way I explain a Calf Stretch to him is, you haven’t been getting very much uphill walking. Right? And uphill walking is part of a nutritious diet. And I don’t even have to put it in terms of nutrients for him. He knows he’s happier, his body feels better, when he’s hiking. He knows all those things.




KATY: They’re not related to a scientific context or a movement science context. That’s not part of his culture. So I don’t speak in a culture that doesn’t make sense to him. Nor do I feel like my culture has to make sense to him for him to benefit from the Calf Stretch. So I’ll just say, “you have spent so much time downhill in those boots that a lot of what you’re feeling is the same if you had just walked downhill…




KATY: … for seven.. for eleventy miles, because you have.”  Because he puts those shoes on as soon as he gets up and he takes them off at the end of the day. So I said, “Why don’t you supplement or balance with a little bit of vitamin uphill – to balance it out.” That’s how I give my brother the Calf Stretch. And he does it. Because it makes sense to him that he’s gone for long hikes and he knows he feels like crap after going downhill for 8 hours.




KATY: Because he’s had to.  So that context makes sense to him and he’ll throw in a little bit. He’ll do the Calf Stretch. He’s not thinking of range of motion or any of these like exercise-y things. He just knows that it’s a movement that makes him feel better but he doesn’t know how to get it in his current life situation which is drive to sit in a plane to fly, inside a sedentary context. But you know the Calf Stretch is a little bit of vitamin uphill.


STEPHANIE: I have to say my calves feel better already. And so does the rest of me.


KATY: What is this?  20 minutes. What’s eleventy minus 20?


STEPHANIE: 20 minutes. It wasn’t even eleventy anything.



No. And it feels so great. I feel like I used to say, I feel like, muscles are pretty easy to get their leverage which is why I start there but you’ve got connective tissue and nerves and bone. All those tissues are being moved when you move.

When I do the Calf Stretch I swear I am toggling something that is pulling on my brain.




KATY: And so I do it almost to reset. Because I’m still stepping around. I’m still doing things. But it just, I don’t know, it’s whole body for me. Like the Calf Stretch, yes, it’s dorsiflexion. But my whole body is participating in doing it. So it is very much my reset button.


STEPHANIE: It’s the source of all your power, Katy Bowman.


KATY: That’s how you know the answer?  Is Calf Stretch.  You wanna ask me a question?  It’s Calf Stretch.


STEPHANIE: You know that’s gonna make the rest of our podcast conversations real short.


KATY: Calf stretch. Did you ever watch Cutting Edge? The movie about the ice skater and the hockey player and their unconventional romance.




KATY: You know, whenever she said, “toe-pick” all the time, she’d be like sliding by every time he fell and she’d just be like, “toe-pick”. I’m just gonna be like, “Calf stretch.”


STEPHANIE: I love it.


KATY: Calf stretch.  Popping in there giving you expert advice.


STEPHANIE:  hashtag.


KATY: (whispers) Hashtag #calfstretch


STEPHANIE: #calfstretch.  Katy thanks for this.


KATY: Yes. You’re welcome. Thank you.


STEPHANIE: You can find much more about Calf Stretch in every one of Katy Bowman’s books


KATY: Pick one!


STEPHANIE: … plus check her Katy Says blog.  Any book!  You can also find more in her blog, Katy Says, at If you’re looking to buy a half dome for your Calf Stretch, you can do that there too or you can just wad up a towel at your house.  This has been Between the Lines on the Katy Says podcast. I’m Stephanie Domet.  Thank you for listening.



VOICE OVER:  Hopefully you find the general information in this podcast informative and helpful.  But it is not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such.


Music fade.


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