A fear of thunder thighs and a desire for a shapely backside can dominate your lower-body training. Don't neglect the space from your knees to your ankles, however. Strong calf muscles contribute to shapely, defined legs and help you stay safe from injury. You don't need dumbbells to whip the lower legs into shape. You can use a barbell, household items or no equipment at all to get a superb calf workout.
Calf Muscle Signficance
The calf muscles are intrinsic to walking, jumping and running, things you do in your daily life and in athletics. The calves are vulnerable to injury, especially if you don't keep them strong and healthy. A complete calf workout addresses both the gastrocnemius, the prominent bulge that shows when you wear heels, and the smaller soleus muscle, which is closely connected to the gastrocnemius.
If you are new to training your calves, you can work these muscles with the help of a wall. If you lean about 8 inches away from a wall and place your hands on the surface at shoulder height, you can do double or single leg raises by lifting your heels. Do one to three sets of 10 to 20 repetitions of each exercise, or until you feel fatigue in the muscles. You can also do sets of double-leg calf raises with your toes turned in slightly to put more emphasis on the inner portion of the calf muscles or turned out slightly to put more emphasis on the outer portion of the muscles.
As you become stronger, use a step or other elevated platform to do your calf workout. Using the bottom step of your staircase to avoid a nasty fall, stand on the edge and hang your heels off the edge. Raise your heels up and down to complete one repetition of a calf raise. You can do this move with the toes turned slightly inward and with your toes turned slightly outward as well. Do at least one set of 15 to 20 repetitions of each variation of the exercise for a complete workout. Amp up the challenge by adding weight to the workout. Hold a heavy object, such as a jug of laundry detergent, in one hand as you perform the lifts. Switch hands halfway through the reps or on your second set to provide a balanced workout.
If you have a barbell at home, you can set it across your shoulders as you stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes facing foward and raise and lower your heels to train your calves with more intensity than body weight alone. Power moves, such as squat jumps, in which you squat and explode upward to land back down in the squat, are effective calf strengtheners. Jumping over makeshift hurdles -- books or boxes, for example -- or hopping on one foot are other intense ways to strengthen your calves at home. You can do these moves for 30 seconds each and work your way up to 60 seconds.
Warmup and Cooldown
Before doing a calf workout, warm up with gentle cardio movement activity, such as marching in place, stepping up onto a low aerobic bench, or walking briskly, for five to 10 minutes. After you strengthen, perform a few short stretches to loosen up the worked calves. For example, sit on the floor and extend both legs in front of you. Loop a strap or old necktie around the ball of your right foot and hold an end in each of your hands. Dorsiflex your foot toward your ankle and hold for two counts. Repeat 10 times on your right and then move to your left. You can also do a standing stretch by placing your hands against a wall, with your feet arm’s distance from the surface. Bring one foot forward to the wall as you stretch the back foot’s heel toward the ground. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and then repeat with the other foot.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.