The calf makes up the lower half of the leg below the knee and above the ankle. The calf is made up of two large muscles in the back of the leg called the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The front of the lower leg encompasses the tibialis anterior muscle. Without knowledge of the calf anatomy it can be difficult to exercise the lower leg and achieve your desired outcome. When the calf is weak it can cause difficulty with balancing which can lead to instability and increased risk of injury to the ankle. Additionally weakened calves lead to eventual immobility.
The calf is one of the most neglected muscle groups in the body. However, the calf is very important for balance and stability and is required for daily motions such as walking, running and jumping. The calf muscles are responsible for pointing the toes (plantar flexion) and standing on the toes. Therefore when exercising the calves it is necessary to push the calf muscles through their full range of motion. However, most people just don’t have enough variation of calf exercises, which limits the strength and flexibility that can be obtained.
Calves should be worked hard and then given time to rest, recover, and grow especially since the calf is used any time the body is in motion. Excessive exercise such as overloading the muscle until exhaustion or working the calves multiple days in a row can lead to injury or inability to move around. Calf exercises can be incorporated into a lower leg or body routine or can be done on their own. Calf exercises should be completed 2-3 times a week, with 10 repetitions per set and 3 sets. There are many machines at the gym that can be used for calf exercises. These machines allow you to build up your calf muscles by increasing weight each session. Additionally, machines allow people who have problems standing or back pain to work their calves in a seat position. However, if you don’t go to a gym or have a gym membership there are plenty of calf exercises that can be down without machines or equipment. A variety of calf exercises should be included in any exercise routine to ensure your calf muscles develop the firmness and look you want. Additional calf exercises include running, jogging, hiking, climbing stairs, running up hill and sports such as tennis, cycling, track and field and soccer. Here is a list of calf exercises that can be done at home or at the gym.
Home Calf Workout:
- Ankle Circles– Ankle circles can be done sitting or standing. Lift one foot 6 inches off the ground and rotate ankle clockwise, keeping the rest of the leg stationary. Circle 10 times. Then switch and circle counter clockwise for 10 times.
- Knee Circles– Stand with your legs and feet together. Slightly bend the knees. If you feel unbalanced you can place your hands on your knees to stabilize yourself, otherwise place your hands on your hips. Now slowly move your knees in a circular motion, keeping the knees together the whole time. Repeat 10 times then switch direction and repeat 10 times.
- Floor Board Straight Leg Calf Stretch– Face a wall. Place one foot up against wall while your heel stays on the ground. Keep fore leg straight, place hands on the wall, and lean into the wall. Hold for 15 seconds. Then switch to the opposite leg. Repeat on each leg 3 times.
- Calf Stretch Elbows against the Wall– Stand 2-3 feet away, facing a wall. Lean up against the wall, placing your forearms up against the wall. Keep your heels on the ground. Hold position for 10-20 seconds. Repeat for 3 sets.
- Calf Stretch Hands against the Wall– Stand 2-3 feet away, facing a wall. Place one foot forward, staggering your stance. Bend your front knee while leaning forward and placing your hands up against the wall. Keep your heels on the ground. Hold for 10-20 seconds. Then switch legs. Do 3 sets on each leg.
- Lunging-Stand straight with your legs shoulder width apart. Move one foot, one step out in front of you. Move the back foot so it is almost exactly in line with the front foot. Make sure the back foot is facing straight forward. With your hands on your hips, bend the front knee while keep the back leg completely straight. Keep your heels on the ground. Hold this position for 10-20 seconds. Then switch. Repeat on each leg for 3 sets.
- Pike– Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend at the hips placing your hands on the ground in front of you about 2-3 feet (should create an upside down V). Keep legs straight with heels on the floor. Hold for 20 seconds. Then relax.
- Step Calf Raises– Find a step (box or elevated surface), and stand on it with the front part of your feet, so your heels are hanging off the edge. Lower heel slowly towards the ground. Rise up on to your toes, and then back to starting position. Make sure movement is slow and fluid. Try not to use momentum when going from down to up. Do 3 sets with 10 repetitions each.
- Balance Board-Stand on a balance board and try to balance yourself. If you have poor balance make sure there is a wall, chair or another person within reach so you don’t fall down. Try to hold your balance as long as you can. Start with 30 seconds and build up from there.
- Stand on your Toes– Stand with feet together. If you have poor balance stand within hands reach of a wall, table or chair. Go up on your toes; hold for one second then return to starting position. Repeat for 10 repetitions. Do 3 sets.
Gym Calf Exercises:
- Calf Raise on a Dumbbell
- Barbell Seated Calf Raise
- Calf Press on the Leg Press Machine
- Seated Calf Raise
- Standing Barbell Calf Raise
- Standing Calf Raise
- Standing Dumbbell Calf Raise
Sarah Labdar, “The Best Calf Exercises For Strength & Balance”, Everyday Health