I pulled my calf muscle during a half marathon several years ago and after I finally got back to running six weeks later, I vowed to pay more attention to strengthening my calves. Not only will stronger calf muscles help prevent running injuries such as muscle strains and shin splints, but they’ll also help you run faster and longer without fatigue. You’ll tackle long runs and hills with confidence.
Here are four basic exercises (no weights or special equipment required!) that target your calf muscles:
All you need to do this simple calf exercise is a step or a curb that you can stand on.
1. Stand upright on the ledge of a step, with your toes hanging over the ledge. Hold onto a wall or railing for balance.
2. Extend your toes far enough out so that only your heels are on the edge.
3. Pull your toes on your right foot upward toward your shins as far as you can and hold for a second.
4. Release and slowly lower your toes to the starting position.
5. Do the same thing with your left foot. Do 2 to 3 sets of 12 repetitions on each side.
This calf-strengthening exercise should be done in three positions, so you work different parts of your calf muscles.
1. Stand with your feet parallel to each other, about shoulder-width apart. Slowly lift your heels up, stand on your toes, hold for 5 seconds, and lower yourself back down. Make sure that your abdominal muscles are engaged so that your back stays straight and you’re not leaning forward or backward. Do 15 repetitions in that position.
2. Now, put your heels together and toes pointed out and do the same movement 15 times.
3. Finally, stand with your big toes together and heels far apart, and do 15 repetitions in that position.
For a more challenging calf exercise:
- If this exercise starts to feel too easy, you can always add weight to strengthen your calves further, such as holding dumbbells, jugs of water, cans, a heavy backpack or something else while you go through the exercise.
- You can also increase the intensity of the exercise by doing it one leg at a time. Stand near a wall in case you need to balance yourself, and put your left leg behind you. Ensure that your right ankle, knee and hip are all aligned vertically. Then, slowly lift your right heel up, stand on your toe for 5 seconds, and lower yourself back down. Do 15 repetitions on each side.
Box jumps are a fun exercise that help you develop stronger, more powerful calves. You’ll also improve your muscle reaction time and jumping ability.
1. Find a box that’s high enough for you to jump up to without straining yourself. Make sure your hands are free – it’s not safe to do this exercise while holding weights.
2. Stand in front of the box. Jump up onto the box while swinging your arms in an upward motion. You should land on the balls and toes of your feet.
3. Jump back down to the floor, and repeat.
4. Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps. Once that becomes too easy, add more reps to each set.
Here’s another simple exercise you can do while you’re watching TV or waiting for your food to heat up in the microwave.
1. Step forward with your right foot into a lunge position. Both legs should be at a 90 degree angle.
2. From this position, push up off your left foot so that your left leg is straight, without locking your knee.
3. Then push back down into the lunge position. Keep your front knee behind your toes and be sure to lower straight down rather than forward.
4. Do 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps on each side.