Summer is a great time to shape up and strengthen your calves. Many of us, though, neglect them in favour of working that troublesome area, the thighs. But the often-neglected calves need just as much training as the other leg muscles to help them do their job moving you forward and supporting your body weight.
There are two muscles in the calf: the larger gastrocnemius, which starts behind your knee, and the underlying soleus muscle, which starts farther down; both run down the back of your calf into your Achilles tendon at your ankle. Together these muscles allow you to bend your knee and push off the heel and onto the ball of your foot when you walk. In combination with the other leg muscles, they propel you forward and help support the weight of your whole body.
Strengthening your calf muscles will make your lower legs sexier and more toned, while improving your performance when you walk, run, cycle or even swim. You'll be able to walk or run faster and farther and climb uphill or upstairs with less difficulty. Stronger calves also mean less leg fatigue and muscle stiffness, even when you walk for long periods of time in high heels or completely flat sandals, both of which can strain the calf muscles. You'll also lower your risk for injuries, such as tendinitis in your Achilles tendon and anterior or posterior compartment syndrome (formerly referred to generically as shin splints), or pain and weakness in your shins and calves.
The calf raise is an effective way to target these muscles, and there are a variety of ways you can do them. If you're just starting an exercise program or need to begin with the basics, this double-leg calf raise is your best choice. It will also improve your balance, which is an important component of fitness and great way to prevent falls.
For support, you can use a barbell, a weighted exercise bar, a broomstick, the back of a sturdy chair, a countertop or even a wall. If you're using a bar or a broomstick, stand it upright and hold it comfortably, with both hands at about waist level and one hand on top of the other. With a countertop, chair back or wall, touch it lightly with both hands. In any case, don't lean on your support.
Double-leg calf raise
1. Stand tall with your chest lifted, shoulders back and abdominals pulled in. Grip the bar gently without leaning on it. Bend your knees slightly and exhale as you rise up onto the balls of your feet. Pause for one or two seconds at the top.
2. Inhale as you lower your feet down until your heels touch the floor.
Repetitions and sets
Perform 12 to 15 repetitions per set. Do two sets at least three — preferably five — times per week. Once you can maintain good balance, increase the speed at which you rise up as high as you can onto the ball of your foot, (remember to pause at the top). Keep it interesting by mixing tempos, alternating fast and slow sets.