Calf Release with the R8 Roller

Hello again! In this post we’re going to be continuing what we started talking about yesterday– the R8 roller. In particular, we’re going to be diving into how to best use the R8 to unlock common problem areas. Up first? The calf.

Before we dive right into the techniques, let’s talk anatomy for a moment. One of the most common complaints I hear from athletes starts like this: “my calves are so tight! They just won’t release!” The athlete goes on to say that they are on top of their self treatment in terms of massage and stretching, but they just aren’t getting anywhere despite daily work. Sound familiar?

The thing to remember about your muscles is that they don’t work in isolation. Instead of one big superficial muscle, you actually have layers of muscles. The lower leg is a prime example of this. Buried under the larger gastroc and soleus muscles are smaller muscles like the posterior tibialis and toe flexors. In endurance activities where the big muscles are prone to fatigue, these smaller muscles get called in to work as well. The problem with that is that they are smaller and less capable of handling the workload so they are prone to stiffening up as well. Since these smaller muscles cross the ankle joint as tendons, they can lock up the joint pretty dramatically. Here’s a visual:

Make a little more sense? If you’re working strictly on the back of the calf, you’re really only getting the gastroc and if you work deep enough maybe the soleus. To truly get to those deeper muscles, you need to work off the bone where they actually sit. Use the red 1/2 point line to help visualize it by breaking up the shin bone in two pieces. On the top half you have soleus and bottom half you have the toe flexors.

Here’s a quick test to see how tight the different layers of the muscles are in the back of the calf:

1) Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Using your ankle, pull your foot up as far as you can towards you.

The picture above is normal. You should be able to get that foot back 10-20 degrees past vertical.

2) Next, we’re going to do the same thing but we’re going to pull the last four toes back first. Grab the toes at the base and then try to bring the ankle back again.

Does it move as far??

3) How about when you do it with just the big toe pulled back first like this:

If those smaller muscles have any kind of restrictions or tightness, chances are when you pull those toes back first it’s going to keep you from moving your ankle as far. If the ankle doesn’t move it’s impossible to truly stretch out the larger gastroc/soleus muscles.

Another thing to think about is this: if the back of your leg is tight and that ankle is at all limited in it’s movement, the shin is getting jammed up as well trying to help shock absorb. That means you need to release the front of the lower leg as well so that it’s moving well and not blocking your ankle from the front side.

Just like the back of the calf- if you break the tibia bone up in half, on the top half you have the anterior tib and then on the bottom half you have the toe extensors. Use that outer ankle bone as your measure from there to your knee. You can even do the same kind of self assessment we did for the back of the leg.

1) Start with just moving the ankle by itself and see how far you can point your foot down.

2) Then try by moving the toes first (note- use the base of the toe versus the furthest bendy joint).

3) Lastly, trying moving just the big toe first.

Did moving the toes first (whether it was the little ones or the big one alone) change how that ankle moved??

So what do you need to know from all of that?

  1. The lower leg has two sides- front and back.
  2. Each of those sides has layers of muscles (the bigger superficial ones and the deeper ones).
  3. To truly release the lower leg and restore mobility and function, you need to address both sides and both layers.

Now… onto the good stuff. Actually releasing all of these areas! In the video demo below, you’re going to see three techniques using the R8. An easy way to visualize this is to think about how many wheels you’re using.

Technique one: warm up to increase blood flow and flush the area out.

Number of wheels used: all of them.

How: This is your most basic technique. Simply position the roller and then roll away. You can use your hands to pull the spring apart to start lightly and add more compression as you go.

Technique Two: Deeper massage/friction

Number of wheels used: Two (and only on one side)

How: After using all four wheels to warm up, you’ll have a good idea of where you want/need to work deeper. For this, I lock one side down and then focus on using just the two middle wheels of the other side. This will give you a much smaller area to work with and the ability to do a little friction as well. To friction, I apply compression using my hands and work the area without actually rolling. Think of it this way- you’re pinning that spot down. The movement is very small and deep. Sink in first, compress and then small movement over that spot (maybe an inch of actual rolling).

Technique Three: Deepest/Most specific work.

Number of wheels used: 1

How: Think of this as specific work. Narrow down what you’re working on to the width of one wheel. From there you can roll or you can use the friction technique above. Simply lock one side down and work with the other side.

Key areas/Protocol

  • Break the shin bone in half. You then have a top half and a bottom half like the pictures above. (The video will also show this).
  • Start using all four wheels and work both halves for a minute each.
  • Think of that warm up as your chance to loosen things up and start looking for specific sore spots. After the warm up, go down to the two wheel/one side approach on those spots. 15-30 seconds per spot.
  • Lastly, go down to the one wheel approach.

Video Demo

R8 Roller Review

Hi everyone! In this post we’re going to be kicking off a new blog series about a self treatment tool put out by Colorado based company Roll Recovery. It’s called the R8 and it is the hand held self massage device pictured above.

As you all know, I am a foam roller loyalist. I think it’s hands down the best thing an athlete can own to promote recovery and maintain mobility/prevent injuries. That being said, let’s be honest. Using a traditional roller is a workout all it’s own. It requires good upper body and core strength, as well as, the mobility to get into a variety of challenging positions. You are also limited in terms of how much pressure you can apply. Sure, there are ways to modify this, but at the end of the day it still requires you to use body weight force on sore areas which can make truly working on tender areas impossible.

That’s where the R8 comes in. It gives you all of the benefits of a foam roller without having to contort yourself or cook your arms and abs. More importantly, it gives you the ability to self select the amount of tension you are using so that you can gradually work you’re way up, etc. Just like a foam roller, the goals of the R8 are simple:

  • increase blood flow to flush out hard working muscles and promote recovery
  • break up soft tissue restrictions and adhesions to maintain/improve mobility and function

So how does it work?

The R8 features two handles and eight roller blade wheels. These are combined with a spring mechanism that auto adjusts to fit any leg size. Once in place, that mechanism then allows you to apply uniform pressure between all of the wheels. Simply position the R8 and let it do the work for you. Since you are the one holding the handles, you can decide how much pressure/compression the wheels generate. Have tender areas that you can barely touch with your roller? With the R8 you can start lightly and then gradually build up as you go.

Just like a traditional roller, the key when using the R8 is keep the muscles you are working on relaxed. Working on flexed/contracted muscle will never give you the results you’re looking for. For the lower leg, work while sitting down with the foot propped up and the ankle relaxed. For the upper leg, you can do the same or work while standing up with the leg propped up and relaxed.

A word of warning- you don’t want to use this over bony areas (i.e.  the shin, foot, knee cap, elbow, etc). The R8 can generate a lot of force if you let it and these areas won’t respond well to that. Likewise, if trying to work on smaller areas like the forearm or lower leg, be careful about nerves. Numbness and tingling are not normal. If you get ANY of this, get off that spot and work else where. There are lots of nerves that run close to the surface and hitting them is easier than you think.

What can you work on with the R8?

The R8 is primarily a tool for the legs. It’s possible to work a few areas in the upper body, but I find a traditional roller better equipped for this. It is not intended for the back and definitely not for the neck.

So let’s talk legs. When you go to the website, the pictures all show the common hot spots. Quads. ITB. Calf. Hamstrings. Hip flexors. Adductors. Yes, the R8 works well on all of these. Where does it shine? Below the hip. The R8 really allows you to work muscle belly’s and junctions for every group below the knee. It’s super effective in targeting deeper/hard to get to muscles.

Above the knee, the R8 is fantastic for quickly letting you work all of the major muscle groups. The compression range is perfect for those sensitive ITB’s and adductors. Where I start to get off the boat and go back to my roller is up at the hip. Can you use it on the glutes and hip flexors? Yes, and you may even love it for that. For me? I go back to my trusty roller for these areas. This is particularly true for the back of the hip and glutes where I find hip position to be important in trying to release things like the piriformis and hip rotators. You can use the R8 to target the TFL (front of the hip), but my advise here is to make sure the leg is non weightbearing and RELAXED. Standing with the knee bent and trying to balance as their website shows usually means some level of muscle contraction. If looking to work on the TFL, I’d recommend trying to use the R8 in side lying instead. You’ll get much better results. You’ll also be able to stretch out the muscle by pushing the hip into extension as well.


I love the R8! One of the perks to running this website is the ability to demo the new self treatment tools out there and continually experiment with techniques. This means I’ve tried just about every stick, roller and massage ball out there. It also means I have a closet full of things that while fun, haven’t wowed me enough to join the permanent line up. The R8 has and is one of my go to’s while sitting on the couch at night.


    • In my opinion, one of the best things about the R8 is that it’s very set up reminds you to work opposing muscle groups. In fact, it’s impossible not to. This is HUGE! I think we’re all guilty of focusing just on what’s tight/sore instead of stepping back to look at the leg chain as a whole. Sure, we may follow a quick routine we saw in a magazine or video, but more often than not
    • The R8 makes it super easy to work on the common compensation areas. By that I’m talking posterior tibialis, inner hamstrings, hamstring/adductor junction, etc. These are areas that are hard to get to with a roller. That inner hamstring/adductor area in particular is hard to get and such a common problem area for endurance athletes. With the R8? No problem at all.

While there are four wheels on each side, what I love is that you have anywhere from 1-4 to used based on how you position and set up the roller. That means you can warm up the area using all four wheels and then fine tune what you’re trying to release certain spots by using just one wheel on each side. For some areas (the shin/lower calf for example), that one wheel approach is key.


    There are two handles on the R8, but that doesn’t mean you are restricted to one generic rolling motion. You actually have several ways you can use them that makes it easy to start off with a warm up and work your way up to more aggressive muscle release.

What about the downsides?

Unfortunately, there are a few.

  • The R8 has minimal upper body applications. If you’re a runner, no sweat here. If you’re a swimmer, cyclist or triathlete though, you already know that the upper body needs attention as well. On their website they demonstrate the forearm and it is possible to use it here. It’s tricky though with one hand and the result is A LOT of compression on your forearm. It’s very easy to hit nerves and make it unpleasant. That being said, there is a solution to this- you need someone else to hold the R8 for you so that they can modulate the compression. If you do it this way, then you can work not only the forearm but also up into the biceps/triceps as well. Watch out for nerves though! Remember, numbness/tingling is not normal. Get off that spot asap and work on the thicker muscle portions.
  • The R8 has no back applications. When it comes to releasing the lats/shoulder blade/mid back, stick to your roller as that remains your best bet. The same can be said for the low back and neck.
  • Cost. While the R8 is less than a pair of shoes and certainly less than any other tri gear, I do need to put this up here because I’m sure people will say something if I don’t. The R8 goes for $119. Shipping is quick and you get a fun little travel bag for it as well.

So… will the R8 replace all of your other self treatment gear? No. But… it’s a contender for sure.

Not convinced yet? Stay tuned this week for a new series of videos to demo the R8 out and to show you how I’ve been using it. This is what we’ll be covering.

    • ant tib + post tib/toe flexor routine (aka how to really release your calf instead of just beating up your gastroc/soleus with no results)
    • medial hamstring/adductor junction (this is for you pes anserine people!)
    • quads + hamstrings


In the mean time, you can learn more at their website: