Your calves consist of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The heart-shaped gastrocnemius makes up the bulk of your calf. Beneath this muscle is the fan-shaped soleus. The fibers of these muscles attach to the Achilles tendon, which connects to the heel bone. When these muscles contract, they lift your heels and shift your weight to the balls of your feet. Because you use calf muscles in everyday activities, such as walking or climbing stairs, you need to exercise them to keep them strong and flexible.
The Role of Calf Muscles
Running or cycling requires propulsion to move the body forward. When you use your calf muscles to lift your heels, it's a key stage of propulsion. For this reason, athletes in aerobic sports aim to develop strong calf muscles. The calf muscles also play an important pumping role in venous circulation. When your calf muscles contract, they compress the veins within the muscles and force the blood to flow upward and toward the heart. When your calf muscles relax, the veins in the muscles refill with blood from surrounding veins. The calf muscle pump is often called the peripheral heart, according to Robert Weiss, author of вЂњVein Diagnosis & Treatment: A Comprehensive Approach.вЂќ
Risks of Weak or Tight Calf Muscles
Inflexible calf muscles can pose a danger to athletes. They can negatively impact their stride as well as lead to ruptures of the Achilles tendon. If you constantly wear shoes with heels, you risk shortening your calf muscles. Deprived of stretching, these muscles tighten, constricting the range of movement at the ankle. Use your calves regularly to activate your calf muscle pump for circulation. Long-term inactivity or leg paralysis will weaken the calf muscle pump and inhibit normal blood flow.
Maintain the flexibility of your calves by stretching regularly. Stand about 3 feet away from a wall. Keep one leg straight. Step forward with the other leg and bend the knee. Place your hands on the wall for support. Lean into the wall and slowly stretch the calf muscle in the straight leg. Hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. Switch legs and repeat the exercise.
The calf raise exercise involves the basic up-down movement for strengthening calves. The main types of calf raises include the standing and seated positions. Both types involve lifting your heels up and standing on the balls of your feet. For a standing position, use a standing calf raise machine or a barbell. Stand on a block and let your heels hang off the edge of the block. Raise your heels so your body weight shifts to the balls of your feet. Hold this position for a second or two before lowering your heels. Perform 12 to 15 repetitions. Seated calf raises enable you to isolate the movement to your ankles and reduce the stress on your back.
- The Best Calf Exercises You've Never Heard Of: Shape and Strengthen Your Calves; Nick Nilsson