Every time you take a step, your calf muscles -- the soleus and gastrocnemius -- help move your body forward, and while you stand, your soleus contracts to keep you from falling forward. Both of these important muscles attach to the heel via the Achilles tendon. By strengthening these muscles, you not only make your sports and everyday movements more efficient, you protect your Achilles tendon from injury. The good news is that you don’t need exercise machines to work your calves.
Calf raises are a basic, no-machine exercise for the calf muscles. In this exercise, you stand with a slight space between your feet, and you lift your heels as high as possible before returning them slowly to the floor. You can also do this exercise with the balls of your feet on a step, working the eccentric portion of the exercise when your calf muscles lengthen to lower your heels. You can add resistance by placing a resistance band under the balls of your feet and holding the ends of the band in your hands, or by holding onto dumbbells. For an additional challenge, you can do one-legged calf raises.
If you have a clear space on your floor and a resistance band, you can easily strengthen your calf muscles. Sit on the floor with both legs straight. Wrap your band around the ball of your left foot and hold onto the ends of the band in your hands. Pull the band toward your body until your toes point toward the ceiling and there is no slack in the back. Then, working against the resistance of the band, point your ankle to bring your toes closer to the floor. Return to the starting position with control. After you’ve done your desired number of repetitions, switch legs.
The standing calf raise and the floor exercise primarily work the gastrocnemius. Doing exercises while seated in a chair allows you to strengthen your soleus. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Lift both of your heels as high as possible and then lower them to the floor. You can add resistance by placing a resistance band under the ball of your left foot. Wrap the left side of the band over your thigh and hold the band in place with your right hand. Then, lift and lower your heels. Alternatively, you can add weight by placing a barbell over both thighs or a dumbbell on one thigh.
Incorporate calf exercises into at least two or three workouts each week. Include both a straight-leg exercise -- such as a calf raise or the floor exercise -- and a bent-knee chair exercise in each of these workouts. When you first start, aim for one to eight reps. Gradually increase the reps until you can do two sets of eight to 15 reps. When you can do that comfortably, you can add resistance to your exercises to make them more difficult, or you can add an extra set to work on your muscular endurance.
- Thera-Band Academy: Thera-Band Ankle Raise in Standing
- Thera-Band Academy: Thera-Band Ankle Plantarflexion (Soleus)
- ExRx.net: Dumbbell Standing Calf Raise
- ShapeFit.com: Calf Exercises -- Seated Single Leg Calf Raises
- MayoClinic.com: Achilles Tendon Rupture: Prevention
- The Concise Book of Muscles, Revised Edition; Chris Jarmey
- Thera-Band Academy: Thera-Band Ankle Plantarflexion
- American Council on Exercise: When Strength Training, Is it Better to Do More Reps with Lighter Weights or Fewer Reps with Heavier Weights?