You don't have to be a ballerina to experience the calf-strengthening benefits of the heel raise exercise. Also known as calf raises, heel raises can be performed with or without weights, in a variety of foot positions and anywhere you have enough room to stand. But before you start any exercise routine, always check with your physician to ensure you do not have any injuries that would keep you from safely exercising.
The heel raise exercise involves standing with your toes either turned outward, straight forward or inward. Contract your calf muscles and slowly raise up on the balls of your feet, lifting your heels in the air. Maintain your balance as you reach the highest point you can raise on your toes and balls of your feet. Slowly lower your heels as you return to your starting position. Wait one to two seconds to regain your balance, if necessary, before repeating the exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions total.
The heel raise exercise works your calf muscles, which are two separate muscles. The first is the gastrocnemius muscle, which is the outermost calf muscle on the back of your lower leg. Your soleus muscle is the second part of your calf muscle and rests underneath the gastrocnemius. However, the soleus is slightly wider than the gastrocnemius.
Your leg position at which you execute the heel raise determines which muscles are most utilized. For example, if your knees are slightly bent during the exercise, your soleus muscle works more than the gastrocnemius, according to KinesConnection, a physical therapy and fitness website. If your legs are kept straight, your gastrocnemius muscle will be more developed. You may wish to perform one to two sets of each leg position to develop your muscles evenly.
Strong calf muscles not only add definition to your lower legs, they also can improve your performance in a variety of athletic pursuits. Strong calf muscles help you extend the ankle joint, which occurs any time you run, jump or walk. Track athletes use strong calf muscles to complete the high jump or long jump. Volleyball and basketball players use calf muscles for jumping and ballerinas use the calf muscles to stay balanced on the balls of their feet or for the extra push to lift up onto their toes.
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.