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Forward Bend Stretch – Popliteus, Gastrocnemius & Soleus (Part 3 of 3)

This post series has been all about deepening our understanding of the 13+ muscles involved in the Standing Forward Bend Stretch.

In our first post we examined the erector spinae and hamstrings.  In our second post we discussed the rhomboids and lattissimus dorsi.  Now in our final post we are moving down to your legs!

Let’s start with the popliteus.  From the graphic, you can see it’s located just below the back of the knee.  As you stand, your two leg bones, the femur in the upper leg and tibia in the lower leg, are stacked in a position that distributes your weight evenly on the bones.  When you bend your leg the popliteus muscle contracts causing the two bones to shift slightly so your knee will bend.

Your popliteus shortens with every step and every time you sit down.  In fact, if you sleep with your knees bent the muscle is held contracted for the entire time you are sleeping.  You can easily see how this muscle could end up shortening due to muscle memory.

We touched upon muscle memory in our first post.  As a reminder, it is very common for the muscles to shorten because of a phenomenon called muscle memory.  Muscle memory says, if a muscle is held in the shortened position for an extended period of time then it should be shorter, so the body simply changes the length of the muscle fibers.

When the popliteus is knotted (has trigger points) it can be impossible to straighten your leg without pain.  As you straighten your leg the popliteus needs to lengthen so the two bones, the femur and tibia, can sit properly on top of each other.  If the popliteus won’t lengthen with ease and you force your leg to straighten two things can happen: first, the muscle is being strained and second, the two bones are not sitting properly on top of each other.

If you experience what feels like knee pain it may be that your popliteus muscle simply needs to be released of its trigger points.

The next two muscles we’ll cover are located on top of one another.  This means when you are self-treating (releasing) one you are also self-treating the other.  The muscles are gastrocnemius and soleus, your calf muscles. 


These muscles insert into your Achilles tendon that attaches to your heel bone.  When these muscles contract normally you can easily lift up your heel to point your toe or stand on your toes.

However, when the muscles are shortened with trigger points as you try to either flex your foot or even stand flat-footted in a forward bend you are pulling on the Achilles tendon.  If your gastrocnemius or soleus is tight this can cause pain at the back of your knee, at the top of your Achilles tendon or you may even feel pain in your heel bone.

This completes our look into some of the core muscles involved in the Forward Bend Stretch.

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