Whether your goal is to define or strengthen your calf muscles or to train for running, jumping, or landing, these calf exercises and principles will help you achieve your goals. Often times coaches tell their athletes to just do calf raises or jump rope to exercise the calf area. While there are strength and endurance benefits from these exercises, they are limiting and can lead to more injury than training.
Jumping rope requires the ability to jump and land, but also requires balance and stability from the muscles of the lower leg. These muscles may not be ready for jump roping, depending on preexisting strength levels. It is essential to make sure the calf muscles are ready for jump roping in order to get the benefits without the potential for developing shin splints, sprained ankles or strained muscles.
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The calf is comprised of two larger muscles called the ‘gastroc’ or gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastroc is the larger of the two muscles and gives the calf its rounded shape. The gastroc has two heads of the muscle, on the medial (inner) and lateral(outer).
As the gastroc contour narrows at the base of the muscle, the Achilles Tendon begins from the muscle and attaches to the heel. The soleus muscle runs from the just below the knee down to the ankle, but is most palpable in the lower leg in the area above the heel and under the Achilles tendon.
The gastroc muscle plantar flexes the foot towards the ground and assists with knee flexion. Standing raises the body upward and creates push-off in walking, running and jumping.The soleus also plantar flexes the foot towards the ground, but more so when the knee is in greater flexion.
There are other smaller muscles of the calf. These muscles must not be left out to ensure proper muscle balance which will improve perform, prevent and minimize injuries. The exercises to follow will also include these muscles.
Exercises for the Calf Muscles
While calf raises are good exercises, they must be used with other calf exercises, otherwise primarily only one muscle is being worked and in only one direction. This limits the potential strength, endurance, balance and stability in the calf muscles.
Toe Raise or Calf Raises
As mentioned above these are probably the most common and very simple to perform. Standing with feet facing forward with knees straight or slightly bent, weight on the front half of the foot raise yourself upward onto tippy-toes.
Lower yourself downward so heels just barely touch the floor and repeat. Do not rock back onto the heels or completely relax between calf raises. Doing so takes the activation off of the muscle, as if you are doing 15 sets of 1 versus 1 set of 15. Calf Raises can be done on the edge of a step or using the edge of a 2 x 4 piece of wood.
Sets and Reps: Because of the number of push off and landing done in running or jumping, I use 4 x 20 -25 to develop the endurance aspect. Higher resistance for increased strengthening. Lower to – moderate resistance for endurance, tone and definition. The emphasis of this exercise it the gastroc muscle. For added variety, try the seated calf raises, one of these top 5 leg strengthening exercises.
3 Position Toe Raise
These are performed as the Toe Raise described above, except these focus on activating the two heads of the gastroc as discussed earlier. The “3 Positions” are:
1. Toes Slightly Outward
2. Toes Slightly Inward (pigeon toe position)
3. Toes Neutral or Pointing Forward.
When performing positions with toes outward and inward be sure that toes are only slightly pointing in those directions in order to activate the heads of the gastroc. Excessive toe position in either direction will strain the ankle, knees and hips by causing excessive rotation in those joints. If you like the toe raise, check out the other workouts in WatchFit’s sexy legs workout.
Sets and Reps: Follow as above in Toe Raises; however, I use only 1 -2 x 20-25 for each position do to have the accumulative effect of 3 positions in one workout. The emphasis of this exercise are the gastroc, medial and lateral head muscles.
Seated Toe Raises
Perform in sitting with feet flat, hip and knees at 90 degrees. Hold weight plate on both thighs or dumbbell on top of each thigh just above the knee. Pressing through the front half of the foot raise lower legs up onto tippy-toes.
Follow same technique as Toe Raise, just in sitting position. Follow sets and reps as above. The emphasis of this exercise is the soleus muscle.
Functional Peroneal Strengthening
As noted earlier, other smaller muscles of the calf need to be addressed for balance, strength, endurance and stability.
In standing, place small therband loop around the balls of the feet or just at the base of the shoe laces in athletic shoes. Be sure therband is tight enough to allow for constant resistance so that feet are no wider than hip width apart. With toes and knees facing forward, slightly bend knees and step to your right, keeping toes facing forward.
As you step allow the inside edge of your foot to touch the ground first. As you step you should feel the muscles working along the outside of the calf. If you feel the muscles more in your hips recheck your technique. Sets and Reps: 3 – 5 sets of 20 steps to the right and 20 to the left. The emphasis of this exercise is the peroneal muscles.
Just as we make sure to work the front and back of the body, quads and hams, biceps and triceps, the same hold true for the calf. Shin Splints, ankle sprains, even patellar tendonitis can be brought on by weak shin muscles.
Sit on a bench with one leg outstretched to the front with slight knee bend. Hold a 10# dumbbell in top of toes, move foot up and down in a ‘tapping’ motion. This will activate the shin muscle. Sets and Reps: 4 x 20-25. The emphasis of this exercise is the tibialis anterior muscle.
With these exercises, you’ll be sure to have an extra kick and bounce in your step and easier running and jumping. Pair them with these slimming calf stretches for a balanced routine. Any question or more information please feel free to contact me.