Strengthening the muscles on the back of your legs -- the hamstrings and calf muscles -- will not only tone your gams, but will help you move and feel better. You need strong hamstrings and calves for walking, running, jumping and even tasks such as lifting your groceries or picking up your child.
Hamstrings and Calves
Three hamstring muscles run along the back of each thigh, from your sitting bone on the bottom of your pelvis to your lower leg bones. All three extend your hip and bend your knee. You have two main calf muscles -- the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Both attach through your Achilles tendon to your heel bone. You use your calf muscles to point your foot and lift your heels when standing.
Strengthening the Hamstrings
Leg exercises such as squats and lunges work the hamstrings, along with the quads and glutes. Deadlifts and good mornings target the hamstrings, although they can also stress your lower back if done incorrectly. Work with a trainer to learn good form before adding them to your program. Leg curls, whether lying, standing or seated, strengthen the hamstrings. If you don't have access to a leg curl machine, practice leg curls on all fours. Supporting yourself on your knees and forearms, lift one leg into the air. Keeping your thigh parallel with the floor, bend and straighten your knee.
The same leg curls that strengthen your hamstrings also work the gastrocnemius muscles of your calves. Jumping exercises, such as box jumps and vertical jumps, strengthen the calves, along with the quads and glutes. To target your calf muscles specifically, try calf raises. Calf raise machines include standing and seated versions. To perform calf raises without a machine, stand with your hands on the back of a chair for balance and raise and lower your heels.
Planning Your Workout
To strengthen your muscles, the American College of Sports Medicine, or ACSM, recommends two to four sets of each exercise, with eight to 12 repetitions per set. If you're a beginner, even one set can be effective. Rest for two to three minutes between sets. The ACSM suggests two to three strength-training workouts per week, with at least 48 hours rest between each session. Always begin with a warm-up incorporating light, dynamic movements.
- Strength Training Anatomy for Women; Frederic Delavier
- Anatomy of Movement; Blandine Calais-Germain
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Quantity and Quality of exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise; American College of Sports Medicine
Joe Miller started writing professionally in 1991. He specializes in writing about health and fitness and has written for "Fit Yoga" magazine and the New York Times City Room blog. He holds a master's degree in applied physiology from Columbia University, Teacher's College.