What’s a “soleus,” anyway?
Well, you’ll find out in a moment. This all comes about because after expounding last week on “Don’t let what you can’t do keep you from doing what you can do,” it seemed appropriate to come up with a pleasant exercise that you can, in fact, do quite easily, and surreptitiously at that . Oddly, your “soleus” muscle is part of the story. Read on.
Simple exercises to shape and tone your calf muscles
Today’s Newsletter is a “Do it Yourself” set of exercises – with the added attraction of “Do It Anywhere.” For instance, I do these whilst standing in line at the grocery store. They still give me my groceries, so it’s safe for you try it yourself.
Located on the back of your leg below the knee, your calf muscles are the most looked-at part of your legs. The fancy name for the muscle that gives your calf its curved shape is gastrocnemius (see ODD FACTS below). The soleus (also see ODD FACTS) is the flatter muscle in the calf that runs under the gastrocnemius. These two muscles are responsible for many simple movements you do each day that involve your lower leg.
They are also the muscles that show when you’re wearing shorts or skirts, so nicely shaped calves are a plus. Unfortunately, many people are self-conscious about the shape (or lack of shape) of their calves. Fewer people, perhaps, are self-conscious when they try to pronounce “gastrocnemius” out loud since few people attempt it to begin with. Here’s how you can fix this the shape part of this problem, I leave the pronunciation problem to you and some fancy iPhone app.
So. Add shape and definition to your calves with the following exercises. If your goal is to trim down your calves, perform high repetitions of less-intense calf exercises. For those who’d like their calves larger and more curved, spend your time on the more challenging calf exercises, adding weight or resistance if possible.
Be sure to start your workout with a short warm-up (jumping rope is a great way to warm up your leg, arm, and abdominal muscles). Then end your workout with a cool-down period and stretching to reduce your risk of sore muscles.
Exercise 1: Calf Raises
Toning your calves is simple and easy with calf raises. You can do this exercise just about anywhere—while washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, or, as mentioned, standing in line at the grocery store. Stand with your feet slightly apart and breathe deeply. When you inhale, raise up on the ball of your foot. Keep your body upright rather than leaning forward or backward. As you exhale, lower your heels back down to the floor. Repeat. If you need help balancing for this exercise, stand near a wall, chair, or buddy.
To add intensity to calf raises, stand on a book or stair with your heels hanging off the edge, hold free weights in your hands, or perform single leg calf raises.
If you seek to build strength, let your tempo be: Up, Hold, Down-two-three-four, Hold, Repeat.
Single calf raises require one calf to lift your entire body. To do this exercise, stand on your right foot, bend your left knee, and keep your left foot behind you. Rise up on the ball of your right foot, hold, and lower. Do several repetitions, and then switch sides. As with regular calf raises, add more intensity by standing on the edge of a book or stair or holding free weights.
Exercise 2: Seated Calf Raises
This exercise can be done at home, at work sitting at your desk, or at the gym using the calf-press machine. While sitting upright in a chair, place your feet flat on the floor, keeping your knees in line over your feet. Place a couple heavy books, weights, or even a small child on your thighs. Then press on the balls of your feet and lift your heels. Hold for a second, and then lower your heels back to the floor. Repeat.
If using the calf-press machine at the gym, configure the amount of weight on the machine then place the balls of your feet on the flat platform. Keep your knees straight and slowly lower and raise your heels.
Exercise 3: Sports
If you prefer cardio exercise to resistance training exercises to target your calves, there are several options. Walking is a gentle way to work your calves. Add hills and you’ve got a calf-tastic workout. Find the steepest hill in town and walk up and down until you feel the burn. No hills? Increase the incline on the treadmill.
For you locals who would like a pleasant place to try this, there’s a lovely hill at Heather Farms Park on the far side of the swimming pool. Great for hill sprints, too, but that’s an article for another day! There are also some great dirt hill runs close to the Warrior Within studio, come by and I’ll introduce you to them!
Other sports that tone and strengthen your calves are step aerobics, tennis, basketball, soccer, and dancing. The jumping, stepping, bending, and lunging required in these activities will work your calves in addition to your entire body.