If you're hoping to tone your calves, the standing calf raise is an ideal choice that requires no equipment and little skill. The exercise primarily targets the gastrocnemius muscle of the calf, which enables you to flex your foot. However, some people find that they have trouble balancing while doing a calf raise, and this exercise can be difficult if you have problems with your Achilles tendon. You don't have to give up on toned, strong calves, though. There are several other calf exercises that don't require additional equipment and that you can easily do at home.
Stretches improve the quality of your workout, making them an important part of any exercise routine -- they loosen up muscles, burn calories and reduce your risk of injury. Stretch your calves by sitting down with your legs extended straight in front of you. Bend down to touch your toes, or get as close to touching your toes as possible. Hold the position for 20 seconds and repeat five times. Next, sit with your legs extended and place a towel or exercise band underneath the balls of your feet. While sitting up straight, gently pull on either end of the towel until you feel a stretch in your calves. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat five times.
Squats target virtually every muscle in the legs, including your calves. To perform a basic squat, stand up straight and slowly lower your torso backward and toward the ground while bending your knees. Repeat 10 times. For a more challenging version of this exercise, position one foot about a foot in front of and to the side of the other foot. Slowly lower your body into a squat while lifting the rear foot off of the ground. Repeat on each side five to 10 times. You can also perform squats while holding hand weights to increase the muscle-toning power of this exercise.
The calf muscles -- the soleus and gastrocnemius -- work to flex your feet, and the slow flexion of your feet during jumping can help you improve calf strength. Box jumps can help you tone your calves and get an excellent cardiovascular workout. Simply position an exercise platform on the ground about 6 inches in front of your body. Bend your knees and lean forward slightly, then propel yourself into a jump onto the platform. Land with your knees bent and repeat this routine five to 10 times. Do more reps to get your daily dose of cardio. If you don't have a platform or are concerned about your ability to jump onto one, try a jump and reach instead. Simply jump straight into the air with your arms extended upward and feet flexed. Land with your knees bent and repeat five to 10 times.
Reverse Calf Raises
A reverse calf raise works both your soleus and gastrocnemius, but doesn't pose the challenge of balancing on the balls of your feet. Stand on the edge of a platform or stable exercise box with your heels on the platform and the remainder of your feet hanging off. While gripping a bar or other sturdy item for support, engage your calf muscles and slowly lower your toes to point toward the ground. Hold for one to two seconds and repeat five to 10 times.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.