Calf Pain After Using an Elliptical Machine

Young man drinking water while working out in gym

Elliptical trainers offer the cardiovascular workout of running without the knee-jarring impact. While available with elaborate add-ons, a slimmer, budget conscious model may fit nicely in your home -- bringing the convenience of the gym to your living room. As with any exercise machine, there is a chance the elliptical could cause certain individuals pain. That includes discomfort involving your gastrocnemius, soleus and plantaris muscles -- or the calf.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, will cause soreness in your calves half a day to one day after your elliptical exercise and can intensify anytime within the next 24 to 72 hours. Pain from DOMS comes from your body repairing microscopic muscle tears. The sorer you are, the harder you worked the damaged muscle. While DOMS is generally not cause for concern, you may want to stay off the elliptical for a couple of days. Go for a light walk, if your calves will tolerate it, and then ease back into your elliptical workout.

Pacing Workouts

You really can get too much of a good thing, as the American College of Sports Medicine confirms. Pushing yourself by increasing the elliptical's resistance before you're ready or not giving yourself a proper rest between workouts causes overtraining, which increases the risk of injury. Overtraining, according to the ACMS, also reduces your performance, lengthens recovery time and can even affect your immune system. Avoid overtraining by slowly increasing your resistance as your ability level increases and adding time gradually in increments of about five minutes each week.


Peddling your elliptical backwards works your calves more than peddling forward, but done with too much resistance it can strain the gastrocnemius, soleus and plantaris muscles. The movement on the elliptical can strain all three; however, because the elliptical simulates running, a calf strain is more likely to affect the soleus muscle. Look for a stiff calf that gradually becomes more painful and tighter within a few days. This condition should be treated by a physician.

Reducing and Preventing Calf Pain

While muscle discomfort is common when starting on the elliptical, stretching before and after your workout can lessen calf pain. Begin with active stair calf stretches. Center the balls of your feet on the edge of a step. Then, tighten your glutes as you drop your heels off the step until you feel a stretch in your calves. Return to the starting position. Repeat the stretch until your calves feel loose. Follow your elliptical session with seated calf stretches of four on each leg. Sit on the floor with your legs out. Place an exercise band around the sole of your left foot and grab both ends. Straighten both legs and pull on the bands. Feel your calf stretch as your toes curl toward you. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then release. Do at least four on each leg.