The Two-Headed Gastrocnemius

A Simple Stretch to Keep Your Calf Muscles Happy

By Christy Cael

The gastrocnemius is the largest and most superficial muscle of the calf, extending from the posterior knee to the heel. It is one of the three triceps surae muscles (triceps = “three heads” and surae = “calf”). The plantaris and soleus are also part of this group. The bulk of the gastrocnemius is divided between two large, symmetrical segments or “heads.”
If the knee is extending or extended (as when rising from a squatting or seated position or jumping), the gastrocnemius is more active. If the knee is flexed (as with relaxed walking or static standing), the soleus is more active.

Gastrocnemius Homework: Downward-Facing Dog Pose

To give your gastrocnemius some attention, consider adding this popular yoga pose to your stretching routine.
1. Begin on all fours with knees hip-width apart, hands about a foot in front of your shoulders, and palms flat.
2. Tuck your toes and lift your hips as you drop your chest back toward your thighs.
3. Keep your knees slightly bent and your wrists and shoulders strong and stable.
4. Keeping your head relaxed, continue lifting your hips up and back as you straighten your knees and drop your heels toward the floor.

Christy Cael is a licensed massage therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist. Her private practice focuses on injury treatment, biomechanical analysis, craniosacral therapy, and massage for clients with neurological issues. She is the author of Functional Anatomy: Musculoskeletal Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Palpation for Manual Therapists (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009).