A high vertical jump impresses your friends and gives you an advantage over the competition when playing sports such as basketball or soccer. The last things to leave the ground when you leap into the air are your toes. The downward or flexion movement of your feet relies on your calf muscles. Increasing the strength of your calf muscles with calf raises will increase your vertical jump, but they are only one part of the puzzle.
Basics of a Vertical Jump
Vertical jumping requires power -- a lot of power. This power builds in the muscles of your arms, shoulders, core and legs. As the power builds through your body, you swing your arms and push away from the ground. As your body leaves the ground, you contract your calf muscles to transfer that power to your toes. This makes your calf muscles an important group to strengthen when working on increasing the height of the vertical jump.
The Anatomy of Calf Muscles
The muscle you feel when you grab your calf is the gastrocnemius muscle. Sitting below the gastrocnemius is the soleus muscle. Both of these muscles work together when flexing your foot. Since your foot is the last thing to leave the ground when you jump, both muscles require strength to give you the most power transfer to the ground. This is where calf raises come into play. Calf raises focus mainly on the gastrocnemius, but they work the soleus muscle as a secondary muscle.
You can perform calf raises either with a barbell, dumbbells or your body weight. It's important to remember that both calf muscles require a lot of work to wear them out; after all, you use them every time you walk. This means you need to work them hard to increase their size and strength. Working your calf muscle hard does not require a lot of weight, just a lot of repetitions. To perform calf raises, you need to stand on a ledge; it doesn't have to be high. Hang your heels over the ledge. Rise up on your toes and hold for five to 10 seconds. Lower your heels below the level of the ledge and hold. How many repetitions you perform will vary depending on the strength of your calves. You will feel the muscles burn when they have had enough.
After your calf muscles reach the point of failure, you need to release the tension. This requires stretching. Calf stretches lengthen and cool down the muscles after your strenuous exercise. Simple toe raises or seated toe grabs will sufficiently stretch both calf muscles and will work the tibialis anterior of your shin.
Lynda Schwartz is a fitness professional who began writing in 2004. She has contributed to "Women's Day" and "Good Housekeeping" magazines, as well as covered fitness and well-being for online publications. Schwartz holds a bachelor's degree in exercise science and health promotion.