If you want more power in your tennis forehand, soccer kick or run, strengthening your soleus can help. One of two main muscles in the calf, the soleus functions to lift your heel while the knee is bent. Its counterpart, the gastrocnemius, lifts your heel while the leg is straight. Seated calf raises, using your own body as resistance, can help isolate and strengthen the soleus. The result is more oomph on the playing field.
Sit on the end of an exercise bench with an exercise block placed approximately 1 foot in front of you. Put the balls of your feet and your toes on the block with your legs separated about hip-width. Adjust the block so that your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. The heels of your feet should be hanging over the edge of the block.
Hang your arms by your sides or rest your hands on the top of your thighs. Pull your abdominal muscles in toward your lower back and press your shoulder blades down your back.
Lower your heels to the floor as far as they will go. Your toes may slightly lift off of the block, but aim to keep the ball of your foot in place. You should feel the soleus muscle in the back of your lower leg stretch.
Lift your heels up as you push through the toes and balls of your feet. The more you push through the front of your foot, the higher you should be able to lift your heels. The motion provides natural resistance and you should feel the muscle in your calves contract.
Keep your heels lifted for one to three counts, depending on your fitness level. Beginners may want to start with a one-count hold, while experienced practitioners may choose the more challenging option.
Move immediately into the next repetition by allowing your heels to lower toward the floor. Complete three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.
- Focus on form rather than number of repetitions. Gradually increase the amount of sets as you become stronger.
- Accentuate the heel drops and lifts; a greater range of flexion can help increase the strengthening abilities of the exercise.
- Vary the exercise by adding resistance; place a barbell, dumbbell or weight plate on your thighs to make the calf raises more challenging.
- Avoid rushing through the repetitions or set; controlling your movements can help you to prevent an injury.
- Consult a physician before starting a new exercise program.
Beth Rifkin has been writing health- and fitness-related articles since 2005. Her bylines include "Tennis Life," "Ms. Fitness," "Triathlon Magazine," "Inside Tennis" and others. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Temple University.