The calf muscle is one of the few body curves that women get to show off all year long. Shapely, strong calves complement all sorts of clothing, from skirts to capri pants to strappy summer sandals.
Strong calves are also important from a health perspective. The calf is made up of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus, both of which help push us forward and upward.
Building strength and endurance in these muscles improves your performance in activities such as walking, running, cycling, skiing and skating. The following exercise does just that and also incorporates a great stretch, which helps reduce your risk of injury and relieves the tightness you feel after standing for long hours or wearing high heels.
You can buy dumbbells in department or fitness equipment stores for less than $20 a pair.
The calf raise
1. Stand on the edge of an exercise step or facing up on the bottom step of a staircase; place the ball of your left foot on the edge of the step, keeping your right foot firmly on the step for balance (see photo). Bend your left knee slightly and allow your left heel to lower until you feel a gentle stretch anywhere from the back of your knee to your heel. If you are a beginner, keep one hand on a banister or other supportive surface; otherwise, keep your hands on your hips or hold light dumbbells (between one and 2.2 kilograms each) at your sides. The weights will provide more of a challenge and enhance your sense of balance.
2. Stand straight with your chest lifted, your shoulders back and your abdominals pulled in. Raise your left heel as high as you can. It's OK if you lift the heel on your right foot as well; doing so will give your left leg a greater range of movement and a better overall workout. Your right leg is only assisting in maintaining your balance; you should feel the effort in your left calf, since it is doing most of the work.
3. Pause at the highest point in the lift, then slowly lower your foot to the starting position. Exhale as you lift and inhale slowly as you lower your heel.
Repetitions and sets
Try to complete at least 10 repetitions on each side. Aim to eventually complete 30 repetitions, or three sets of I0 repetitions, on each side. Do calf raises every other day.
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