When it comes to strengthening your legs, there’s a good chance you’re forgetting about an important leg muscle—the calves. However, we’ve got some compelling reasons why your next leg day should feature some calf strengthening exercises. We’ve also hand picked our best exercises to get the job done.
The Importance of Your Calves
The calves are one of the most under-trained muscles, which is crazy once you realize their importance; they allow you to point your toe (plantar flexion), to absorb action (like jumping jacks) and they play a critical role in running, walking and maintaining your balance. Your calves are divided into two main parts:
Gastrocnemius or Gastroc: This bigger of the two muscles that’s double-headed and hinged between your femur and Achilles tendon. The gastroc is composed of fast-twitch fibres that help you achieve things like explosive jumps.
Soleus: The soleus rests below the gastroc and begins at your shin bones (tibia and fibula) then merges with the gastroc at the Achilles. Where the gastroc are made of fast-twitch fibres, the soleus is the opposite (slow-twitch), which means they are built for endurance. Your soleus muscle is what helps you balance, absorbs motion (think of it as cushioning your steps), is slow to fatigue (thanks to absorption), propels you forward (walking, running), and pumps deoxygenated blood to the heart from your legs.
If you want more muscular legs, it’s time to think about strength-training the whole package — calves included. Toned calves will make leg days more tolerable, but that’s not the only advantage to having nice calves.
Having strong calves will:
Reduce Injury: The second most common leg injury is spraining your calves, so head off unnecessary injury by strengthening your calf complex.
Faster & Stronger: Want to jump higher, sprint longer or exercise for longer periods without getting fatigued; then, stronger calves are a must.
Good Blood Flow: Having strong soleus muscles makes for good blood flow between your legs and heart, especially if you frequently wear heels as they shorten the soleus (making you vulnerable to injury).
Strength Exercises for Your Calves
Now that you know why your calves need some love on leg day, here are some of the best calf-targeted exercises.
Calf Raises: You want to perform three sets of 10 of both straight-knee, and bent-knee calf Raises to start. Begin slowly and as you become better at these calf raises then make it more challenging by quickening the pace, doing it one-legged, increasing the reps or adding weights like our BodyRock Weighted Vest for resistance.
Straight-Knee: Plant your feet shoulder-width apart on the floor then slowly ease your back to floor, then up again.
Bent-Knee: With feet shoulder-width apart then using a wall for support (if needed) bend your knees, slowly ease to the floor and back up onto your toes.
Hopping: Mechanically speaking when you run, you’re actually performing a series of hops, so if you want to build strength in your calves stationary hopping will get you there.
Choose the style of hopping: stationary up-down, hop in a grid formation (square), hop diagonally or laterally (like ski-jumps). Depending on your fitness level, start by hopping for 15-30 seconds and as you progress, increase the time to 30-45 seconds, etc. Then add weight for extra resistance.
Reverse Calf Raise: This exercise works your tibialis anterior—the front of your lower leg.
- Start on a step with your feet hip-width apart.
- Place your heels on the forward edge of the step.
- Grab the back of a chair or a wall if you feel unbalanced.
- Balance on your heels and pull both feet up toward your body. Go as far as you can.
- Return your foot down until your toes point down. Pull them up again. Repeat.
Keep standing tall and maintain a straight leg throughout the movement.
Repeat for 20-30 reps, or as many as you can.
Want more exercises read: Killer Calves: Sculpting Sexy Soleus
It’s Time to Start Training Your Calves
Your calves are just as important as your thighs, so it’s time to start bullying them as you would your hamstrings or quads! At BodyRock we do a lot of Full-Body workouts, so we encourage you to remember those often forgotten calves so you can jump higher, sprint faster and perform at your peak everytime you workout.
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