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Though we’re always game for a fitness plan that involves our front side (abs) or backside (butt), there are other body parts we often overlook that deserve just as much attention. And in our very humble opinion, the calves rank high on that illustrious list. We’re not sure if it’s because they’re low to the ground or tucked behind the back of our leg. Whatever the reasons, it’s time to show a little love.
Understandably so, they don’t look “out of shape” even when they are, but given the fact that they make up a pretty large part of the legs that carry us from day to day, we’d say dedicating a consistent workout to their overall health is a good idea. And thankfully—unless you’re a bodybuilder or performer—whatever you choose shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes out of your schedule.
“Strong, sexy calves are actually attainable! All they need is a little work on your part, starting with understanding which muscles are involved and which exercises target them,” says Jeff Bell, cofounder and master trainer of Belleon Body NYC. “Luckily, calf exercises require little to no equipment, assuming you aren’t preparing to step onto the bodybuilding stage.”
We enlisted Bell’s help to create four moves that not only don’t require you stepping into a gym but target different areas of the calf muscle as well. There are your more traditional raises, which target the easy-to-train upper portion of the muscle, as well as a more high-energy move that covers the entire area.
The muscles of the upper calves, known as the gastrocnemius, are easy to train. Learning to isolate this muscle is key to getting it in shapely form, and it’s best to train it while barefoot. Stand leaning slightly forward against a wall or countertop, placing a light stretch on your calf muscles. Rise up on your toes, contracting the calf muscles located just underneath the back of the knee. Focus on squeezing lightly at the top of the movement for 12 to 15 repetitions, then lower and feel your calves stretch. Then repeat. As a variation, stand on one leg for single-leg calf raises.
To target both the upper and lower calf muscles, try jump squats. Stand with your feet slightly farther than hip-width apart, toes turned out slightly. Bend the knees, keeping feet flat on the floor. Next, spring from the squat position by extending the legs completely and pushing your feet off the ground a few inches in the air. Land back into the squat position with the heels down and feet flat on the floor. Do 12 to 15 repetitions.
One often-forgotten muscle crucial to calf function is located in the front of the shin. This muscle is known as the tibialis. One of the best ways to work the tibialis is through this highly functional move that balances out all the muscles of the lower leg. Simply balance on your heels, lifting the front of your feet and toes off the ground and walking around like this for about 30 to 40 steps.
The calf muscle is resilient and designed for endurance and power, so the calves can handle many repetitions. However, be prepared for some tightness if you are not used to these movements. You can manage any tightness through muscle-lengthening calf stretches by holding a wall stretch. Place your foot on the ground with your toes against a wall and elevated slightly higher than your heels. Press into the foot and calf until you feel a slight stretching pressure. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute, then repeat with the other foot. This is a quick sequence you can do in fewer than five minutes, at home or in the gym.