You'd probably give anything to get a more shapely set of calves, but more important than the look of your lower legs is how your calf muscles function. Rock-solid, beautifully chiseled calves are the power behind your stride and the ticket to greater speed and stability. For active Nesties, those are big benefits. Basic calf raises are the classic, go-to exercise for boosting strength in the calves, so include them in your overall conditioning program. If you need light support, want to involve other muscle groups or hope to add spice to an otherwise bland calf workout, do your calf raises against a wall.
Do a general warmup before you head over to the wall. Jog or march on the spot for five to 10 minutes to raise your core body temperature and increase circulation to your lower body. Do some light, dynamic stretching -- involving smooth, continuous movement -- to loosen up your calves and ankles. Standing with the wall to your left, place your left hand on the wall for light support. Raise your right foot several inches off the floor and slowly rotate the foot 12 to 15 times to the right, working through your full range of motion. Reverse the direction of your circles, rotating the foot to the left for another set of 12 to 15. Switch to your left foot.
Use the wall to help you maintain your balance and alignment. Stand facing the wall, feet hip-width apart, toes directed forward and shoulders and hips stacked. Place your hands lightly on the wall at chest height, shoulder-width apart. Slowly raise your heels off the floor as high as possible and hold the position for a count of two. Slowly lower your heels to the floor and repeat eight to 12 times for a total of one to three sets. Add intensity to the basic exercise by working one leg at a time. Ratchet up still more by holding a dumbbell in one hand while the other hand remains on the wall.
Bring a stability ball into the mix. Sandwich the ball between your torso and the wall and relax your arms at your sides. Pressing your chest into the ball, take several steps back so your body is angled slightly toward the floor. Relax your shoulders and let your arms hang at your sides. Raise your heels off the floor as high as possible and hold the position for two counts. Slowly lower your heels and then repeat eight to 12 times for a total of one to three sets. Crank up the intensity by doing single-leg raises or holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Face away from the wall for another variation. Stand with your heels several inches from the base of the wall with your spine against the wall or take several steps forward and wedge a stability ball between your middle back and the wall. Allow your back to glide gently up and down the wall or stability ball as you raise and lower your heels, completing one to three sets. Again, take it up a notch by working one leg at a time or holding dumbbells.
Bring your hips, glutes, quads and inner thighs into the picture. With your back against the wall and your hands on your hips, take a wide stance. Angle your toes outward and bend your knees into a plie squat, thighs parallel to the floor and knees over your ankles. Keeping your back pressed into the wall, raise your heels off the floor as high as you comfortably can and hold for a count of two. Lower your heels and repeat eight to 12 times for a total of one to three sets. Working from a bent-knee position targets the deep-lying soleus, the less prominent of the two main calf muscles.
Follow up with a calf stretch to prevent soreness and tightening. Facing the wall, stagger your feet in a lunge, left foot in front of your right. With your forearms on the wall and your toes facing forward, press your back heel into the floor to stretch your right calf muscle. Hold for up to 30 seconds, release and repeat up to four times. Switch to your left leg. To stretch the soleus, repeat the exercise on both legs with the back knee slightly bent.
- Contract your calves at the top of the movement.
- When you raise your heels, keep your insteps over your middle toes and press all your toes evenly into the floor.
- With straight-leg calf raises, alter the angle of your toes to target different parts of the gastrocnemius, the more prominent of the two main calf muscles. Angling the toes inward gets more action from the lateral -- or outer -- head of the gastrocnemius and angling the toes outward puts greater emphasis on the medial -- or inner -- head.
- If you've injured your calf muscle in the past, speak to your physical therapist or trainer about the advisability of specific exercises.
Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.