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How Do I Prevent Calf Soreness After Walking Hills?

My Calves Are Stiff

Dear K and A: I know you’ll probably faint, but having exercised for 1.5 hours TWO DAYS IN A ROW, I have a legitimate workout question. Yesterday and today a friend and I did a brisk, very hilly walk for an hour followed by 20 minute Pilates dvd workouts.  Okay, that’s really 1.33 hours, so I exaggerate. It is now very clear to me that I did not stretch enough afterwards. My calves are getting really stiff.  It was 2.5  hours ago that I stopped working out. Is there anything I can do now to help the lactic acid leave my calves?  Help please!  Liz, Goleta, CA

Dear Liz:
Alexandra in high weeds walking

Alexandra loves flat things – terrain, shoes, her chest

Alexandra: Why would I faint? I’m not the one who overdid it! I only go for walks on surfaces that are FLAT. Why would I want to sweat during my nice walk? If you want to get rid of stiffness, have your muscles practice public speaking. Or learn to become a better stretcher! Or ask to be carried down those hills on one! And what do you mean by “really hilly?” Is that a reference to a television reality show in which everyone must fend for themselves in a mountainous region (I define “mountainous” as anything rising above sea level)?

Kymberly: Well, as you probably noticed, we did not get the huge bribe gift for getting to your question via the super express rush deluxe insta-answer service. So let’s answer as if you were going to hike the hills again and wonder what to do next time. Hope you survived in the meantime.

Calf and Shin Action Uphill, Downhill, and on Flat Terrain

Alexandra: Miss Lizzie, when you walk downhill, your shin muscles (let’s call them Aunty Tibby – formal name is anterior tibialis) lengthen and your calves (let’s call them Bessie & Bossy – formal names are gastrocnemius & soleus) shorten. Shorten is nature’s way of saying “contract.” If you had gone for a flat, or even mildly hilly walk, your bleating calves wouldn’t be crying so much for Mama. But you have admitted, under no oath whatsoever, that your walk was “very hilly.” For the record, I too go for really long walks. I call it “going outside and getting lost, then accosting strangers to ask for a ride home.” Your brain said, “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day,” while your calves said, “shorten, lengthen, shorten, lengthen.” See how stiff your calves are in conversation?

Tip for Walking Uphill

Mountain and view at Ranch

Climb Every Mountain

Kymberly: Concerning stretching, Alexandra is onto something. Post walking, stretch your calves and imagination by holding a position whereby your toes are higher than your ankle. aka dorsiflexion. Hold it, hold it, hold it. Now switch legs. To make this successfully simple, Try the three calf stretches we show in our post, Prevent Shin Splints: 3 Calf Stretches.

Next, pay attention to your foot action as you go uphill. Did you bend at the ankle getting your heel to the ground with each stride? Good form going uphill means keeping your body vertical and accounting for the hill angle at the ankle joint by allowing your heel to make contact with the ground with each step. Pick that answer. Or did you basically head uphill on the balls of your feet, bending forward from the hip or spine, and having your heel hanging in space? If so, your calves were in contraction throughout the walk and transforming into steers of steel. No bull. And no wonder they are bellowing. (Check out “Proper Form for Uphill Walking” here).

Tip to Avoid Muscle Soreness Post Workout

And now for the big finish: next time — and there will be a next time doncha know — really break your record and do something cardio for a third day in a row. Yes, walk again within 24 hours even if only for 10 minutes so that you elevate your core temperature and minimize muscle soreness. Fancy names and accurate terms cost extra. But for you — free today. The term is DOMS – Delayed Onset of Muscles Soreness. Or – Darn Old Muscles–Stretch!.  When you suddenly up the ante on muscle use (different from “Aunty Tibby), those muscles are prone to soreness. But if you reheat them before DOMS sets in, you reduce that stiffness. And I am all about reheating unless Alexandra is cooking. Then I get it fresh.

To make this super simple: walk, walk, stretch, drink water, head home, sleep my pretty, sleep, wake, walk again until warm, stretch, call us in the morning. With that gift.

Rancho la Puerta oak grove and chimes

Chime in with what you think DOMS should stand for after a hike or walk.

Alexandra: Kymberly is right; I am fresh. And onto something. Known as my stretched butt. DOMS – Don’t Offer Money to Sis.

Dear Readers: Have you ever experienced muscle soreness? What did you do about it? What do you wish DOMS stood for?

Action: Please share this post on twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. Simply click on the icons in the left column. Thanks!

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA

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