Exercises such as squats, deadlifts and glute raises likely come to mind when you think of a legs workout. And for good reason–they target the major muscles groups of your lower half, not to mention your core and more. But one nether region area easy to overlook are your calves. This area consists of two muscles, which can take the appearance of a heart shape when toned and flexed. While these muscles are smaller in size compared to those that make up the rest of your leg, they are important–and thus need your attention.
On the more petty–or should we say pretty–side, strong calves give shape to your stems and look killer when paired with heels. Functionally speaking, your calf muscles are attached to the Achilles tendon and thus the heel bone. Walking, running, cycling, and stair climbing would be nearly impossible without the calf helping to lift your heel and put weight in the ball of your foot.
3 Calf Exercises with Dumbbells
The good news is whipping your calves into shape doesn’t require a ton of time or equipment. So when you’re already working on your legs–or say you come back from a long run, walk, or bike ride–it’s easy to add on these quick exercises without eating up all your free time.
- Standing Dumbbell Calf Raises: Holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, stand with your feet parallel beneath your hips. Raise up onto your toes and hold for a count of three before lowering your heels back to the ground. Complete three sets of as many reps as you can until failure–when your calves are basically screaming for mercy.
- Negative Single Leg Calf Raises: On a step or elevated box placed near a wall, stand on the edge so that only the ball of your foot is on the platform. Using the wall for support if needed, place your right toes on the back of your left heel. Holding a dumbbell in one hand, lower your heel toward the ground before engaging your calf to rise up onto your tiptoes. This is one rep. Complete three sets of 25 reps on each leg.
- Seated Inner and Outer Calf Raises: Sit on a bench or chair so that your feet are flat on the floor with your knees at a right angle at about hip-width distance apart. Place a dumbbell on your knees (use a towel or folded yoga mat for padding, if needed). Pigeon-toe your heels out and uses your calves to raise your heels off the floor and lower back down. This is one inner rep. For the outer, return your feet to the starting parallel position. Leaving your heels where they are, rotate your toes out so that your feet make a V shape or wider. With the dumbbell still on your knees, lift your heels off the floor high before lowering back to the floor for one rep. Complete three sets of 25 inner reps then 25 outer reps.
Don’t Forget to Stretch Your Calves
Those cute heels may show off your sculpted calves, but they can also shorten your calf muscle and Achilles tendon. This can be not only painful but also lead to poor posture and weakness across the front of your ankle where the muscles and tendons become overstretched. Try the following stretches each day to keep calves and the areas they support in good health.
- Stair Stretch: Similar to the start of the Negative Single Calf Raise exercise, stand on the edge of a step and let your heels drop toward the floor. This will help to elongate the muscles along the back of the leg.
- Broken Toe Pose: Kneel on the ground with your knees below your hips. Curl your toes under and sit back on your heels, allowing your body weight to stretch your feet, ankles and heels.
- Foam Roller: Roll your calves over a foam roller or other piece of mobility-focused equipment to help break up tight fascia and muscle tissue.
Have a favorite leg exercise? Share it with others in the comments!