Two major muscles, called the gastrocnemius and the soleus, run down the back of the lower leg. The soleus is a long, wide muscle that sits below the smaller, more bulbous gastrocnemius. These two primary muscles, along with several smaller, secondary muscles, form your calves. Since your calf muscle contracts to extend your feet and toes, strong calf muscles are important in a variety of sports. Exercise your calves one to two times a week to keep them defined and muscular.
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Find a step 4 inches off the ground. Stand with the back half of your foot hanging off the step. Lower your heels 2 inches. Press up so that you are standing on the balls of your feet. Repeat 15 to 20 times to complete one set. Do two sets to complete the exercise. Personal trainer James “Flex” Lewis recommends pointing toes in to isolate the inner calf and pointing toes out to isolate the outer calf.
Stand with your feet together, arms by your sides. Step forward into a lunge with your right foot. Bend your right leg 90 degrees at the knee and extend your left leg behind you, knee bent. From this position, pulse up so that your left leg is straight. Bend to complete one pulse. Pulse up and down 15 times on each side. This develops your soleus muscle, which, according to personal trainer Lee Hayward, can only fully contract when your leg is bent to at least a 30-degree angle.
Start in pushup position. Bend your right knee and bring your right foot between your hands, foot planted firmly on the floor. Keep your hands in push-up position and jump to switch your legs, straightening your right leg out behind you and bringing your left leg up between your knees. Repeat as fast as you can for one minute. Mountain climbers are an all-over leg strengthener, and the explosive jumping movement strengthens your calves.
Jumping rope builds muscle while providing a cardiovascular workout. According to Muscle and Fitness magazine, the main muscle you work in a jump rope routine is your calf, but the exercise conditions most major muscle groups. Start by jumping rope with both feet for one minute. Work your way up to three minutes. Mix up your jump rope workout by trying crossovers and double passes.
Elongate your calves and protect against injury with regular stretching. Runner’s World reminds readers “elastic, flexible calf muscles can soften the shock on feet and ankles” when running. Also, since stretching keeps your muscle fibers elastic, it allows strength training moves to have maximum effect. Find a towel or flexibility band, sit on the ground with your legs out in front of you, loop the band over your flexed feet and pull back.