Achilles Tendon Stretching – The Key to a Limber Lower Leg

Achilles Stretch

Achilles tendon stretching is a simple stretching routine, but when performed consistently, will help to maintain the strength and health of your lower leg.

It is the largest tendon in the body measuring 6 inches in length, and connects the gastrocnemius and soleus (your two calf muscles) to the heel bone.

Table of Contents

Main Takeaways

  • Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body which connects your calf muscles to the heel bone.

  • Stretching your Achilles can lead to multiple benefits such as improved blood circulation, better lower leg mobility, and a stronger Achilles which reduces the risk of injuries.

  • Achilles tendon stretching can be done without equipment.

Benefits of Achilles Tendon Stretching

Achilles Tendon StretchThe benefits of stretching this tendon are important, as an Achilles injury is painful and very debilitating: (1)

  • Improve leg circulation
  • Improve your lower leg flexibility
  • Reduce the risk of injury
  • Improve the range of motion of the ankle (helpful in sports and physical activity)

Muscles Stretched

Primary Muscles Stretched 🙆‍♂️

  • Calves

Secondary Muscles Stretched 🙆‍♂️

  • Tibialis

Stretches for Your Achilles Tendon

Prior to performing these static stretches below, always start with the golden rule of stretching by always doing 1) light cardio and 2) dynamic stretching:

Light Cardio

Perform a few minutes of light cardio to warm-up and prepare your muscles, and get the blood flowing:

  • Jump rope
  • Jog in place
  • Jumping jacks

Dynamic Stretching

Perform some dynamic stretches focusing on the legs and lower body:

  •  Knee raises
  •  Leg raises
  • Leg swings

Now you are ready for stretches for your achilles tendon.

These stretches are in order from least strenuous/strain to most strenuous/strain.  If you have not stretched your Achilles tendon for a while, then you will want to start slow and be very gentle. (2)

Standing Achilles Heel Stretch

Standing Achilles Heel Stretch

  1. Stand upright with one leg forward, and one leg to the rear.
  2. Slightly bend your rear leg at the knee.
  3. Slowly push down on your bent, rear leg until you feel the stretch in your achilles heal. Your upper body will move slowly in a straight downward direction.
    KEY: The slight bend at the knee isolates your Achilles tendon.
  4. Stretch until you feel mild discomfort.
  5. Hold stretch for 20 seconds.
  6. Alternate legs.

Achilles Wall Stretch

Achilles Heel Wall Stretch

  1. Standing approximately arm’s length from a wall, place one foot near the wall and one foot extended behind you as shown. 
  2. Slightly bend your rear leg.
  3. Slowly lean into the wall with your rear leg slightly bent. 
    KEY: The slight bend at the knee isolates your Achilles tendon and lower calf, versus a straight leg which isolates the upper calf. You will feel the difference between the two stretches.
  4. Stretch until you feel mild discomfort.
  5. Hold stretch for 20 seconds.
  6. Alternate legs.

Achilles Stretch With Step

Achilles Stretch With Step
  1. Using a stair or step, place the toe of one foot on the step, and let your heel hang freely over the step.
  2. Make sure your knee is slightly bent to isolate your achilles heel.
  3. Making sure you are properly balanced, slowly push the heel down to stretch the calf muscle and Achilles tendon. Be careful not to put too much force on your stretch, as you will have your full unsupported weight pushing down on your ankle.
  4. Extend the heel to a point of slight discomfort, hold for 20 seconds, and recover.
  5. Alternate legs

Kneeling Achilles Heel Stretch

Kneeling Achilles Stretch

  1. Kneel as shown with your right leg to the rear, and keeling over your left leg.
  2. Slow move your body forward putting weight on your lead leg.
  3. Feel the stretch in your achilles and hold for 5-10 seconds.
  4. Reverse and stretch the other leg.

Kneeling Achilles Heel Stretch

Seated Achilles Heel Stretch

  1. From a seated position with your legs in front of you, bend your knees and grab your upper feet.
  2. Slowly pull your feet toward you until you feel mild discomfort in your achilles heel.
  3. Hold for 5-10 seconds and release.
  4. Repeat 3-5 more times.

Achilles Heel Foot Stretch

Achilles Foot Stretch

  1. Sitting on the floor or in a chair, place the heel of one foot on the ground with the toe pointing up.
  2. Grab your toes (or the end of your shoe) and pull towards you.
  3. Pull into you feel very slight discomfort in your Achilles tendon.
  4. Hold this position for 20 seconds.
  5. Alternate feet.

Calf-Plantar Fascia Stretch

  1. Sitting on the floor in an upright position with good posture, extend both legs in front of you.
  2. Take a towel and loop around the upper half of one foot.
  3. Slowly pull towel towards you to extend the Achilles tendon and calf.
  4. Stretch until you feel mild discomfort.
  5. Hold stretch for 20 seconds.
  6. Alternate and stretch the other leg.

Stretching on a Daily Basis

I was in the US Army Infantry for five years, and stretching was a huge part of our physical regimen. We did a lot of buddy stretching (working with a partner), because many times stretching was done in the field so we didn’t have equipment, or even poles / anchor points.

But stretching was nonetheless a very important part of our daily work. Before we did unit runs, we would spend a long time stretching our legs – all leg muscles, including our heels. So I learned the value of daily stretching, and it has stayed with me.

Daily Stretches – The Secret Sauce to Avoiding Injury

I have had quite a few injuries over the years, but I’ve never had an Achilles injury. I think the main reason is because I stretch my Achilles before each workout, and after each workout. Always very lightly and in control, but I keep them supple and active.

Keeping your lower legs flexible with frequent stretching is one of the best ways to prevent injury. Even today, if it is not a gym day but a cardio day, I still stretch my foot, ankle, heels, and Achilles tendon before and after jogging.

This includes an Achilles stretch, as well as ankle rolls with tow down to really engage the heel and ankle joint. Just making this part of your daily routine will ensure that your muscles and tendons stay supple and loose, and give you the very best chance of avoiding injury.

It’s also one of the best ways to avoid achilles tendonitis. Keeping an active and supple achilles is the best panacea for avoiding this painful condition. (3)

Stretching as You Get Older

And as you age into middle age and beyond, it becomes increasingly important. And if you do it frequently on a daily, or near daily basis, it puts you in the top 5% of adults.

Very few people, especially in Western cultures, take good care of their bodies. This includes weight control, stretching, resistance training, and exercise in general. We only have one body, so make it a priority to do daily stretching, and take good care of your body.

Achilles Stretching Summary

Always follow stretching basics as part of any workout routine:

  1. Never stretch cold muscles
  2. Always do light cardio to warm the muscles
  3. Dynamic stretching prior to static stretching

Return to stretching routines.

David Williams

David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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References

  1. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020). Achilles tendon rupture. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/achilles-tendon-rupture/symptoms-causes/syc-20353234.
  2. Nunez, K. (2019). 6 Achilles Tendon Stretches & Exercises: Recovery, Strength & Tips. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/achilles-tendon-stretch.
  3. Achilles tendinitis – Symptoms & causes – Mayo Clinic. (2021, September 30). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/achilles-tendinitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20369020

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