If seeing the toned calves of runners and cyclists has you feeling a little insecure about your own gams, then it's time to get to work on those lower legs. The soleus and the double-headed gastrocnemius are the two main muscles in your calves. Every day you use these muscles to stand and walk, but to really target them and shape up your calves, add calf raises into your exercise routine.
Basic Calf Raise
The basic calf raise can be done anywhere without any equipment. An excellent way to work this exercise into your life is to do it while chatting on the phone. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Your toes should face forward and your legs should be straight without locking the knees. Slowly raise up on your toes so your heels come off the floor. Pause for a count of two and then slowly lower your heels. Repeat 10 to 12 times. If you have trouble balancing, rest your hands on a table top or wall for balance.
Add in Weights
If the basic raise begins to feel too easy, add in some extra weight to give your calves a challenge. Pick up a barbell or a take a hand weight in each hand. Rest the weights or the barbell on your shoulders and then do the basic calf raise. Use a 3- to 5-pound weight to start. As you get stronger, you can add more weight if you like. Only add extra weight if you are certain you can maintain your balance throughout the exercise.
Single Leg Raise
Single leg raises work your calves a bit harder than the basic raise because the work is done using one leg rather than two. You can do this on the floor just like a basic calf raise, but keep one leg tucked up while the other leg does the work. To add a challenge, stand on the edge of a stair with your heels hanging over the edge. Use the railing for balance, if needed. Tuck one leg up, and then use the working leg to raise up onto your toes. Pause and then lower. Repeat 10 to 12 times and then switch legs. By hanging your heels off the edge of the step, you add a greater range of motion to the exercise to really define your calves.
Working your calves will make them feel tight and maybe even bring on a bit of a burn. Stretching your calves will release that tension. Stand about 2 feet from a wall. Lean forward and rest your hands on the wall. Step one leg back about 2 feet behind you and lower the heel of that leg until you feel a gentle stretch in the calf. Your goal is to get the heel to the floor, but don't force the stretch. Hold for a count of 5 to 10, step the leg forward and then switch legs.
Based in Portland, Ore., Tammie Painter has been writing garden, fitness, science and travel articles since 2008. Her articles have appeared in magazines such as "Herb Companion" and "Northwest Travel" and she is the author of six books. Painter earned her Bachelor of Science in biology from Portland State University.