Last week I was ascending the magnificat winding staircase at the Ritz Carleton in Cancun Mexico, surrounded by company that frankly, I was humbled to be surrounded by, when I was acutely reminded of the importance of the weighted “Calf Raise” – yup – good ol’ Calf Raises…The women I was climbing the staircase with were certainly no strangers to this small, albeit important exercise, that had obviously attributed to their creation of long and lean summertime calves.
At the top of the stairs I was left without question that they “engaged” – it seemed to me that every single one of these amazing women had invested time, effort and energy in creating what are commonly called – “heart shaped” calves.
After reading the above, one might be left to think that I praise only the aesthetics of the said heart shaped calf, however, I must also adequately note the physiological advantages of having strong capable calves. Calves support our every step and although they indeed get “exercise” as we move through our day, often they are neglected in our strength and stretch training routines.
The calves are a muscle group, not a muscle. Primarily they serve to return force rather than generate it. When you land, your ankle goes into dorsiflexion until your calves contract to stabilize the joint. When this occurs, the energy of impact is stored in the muscle and tendon and subsequently released via elastic recoil, resulting in propulsive force.
In order to increase the mass of your calf and ultimately the “appearance” of a heart shaped calf muscle group, a routine of “negatives” ie. holding weights by the side of your body and lowering your body weight on the edge of a step or stair case is required.
Although the rate of muscle growth is often determined by genetics, if you are consistently eating a “clean”, nutrient dense diet, rich in protein and dark leafy greens you will have a better chance at seeing the “heart shaped” definition in your calves.
Make sure you preform your calf exercises with both your toes pointed inward and then your toes pointed outward in a V. Three sets of 12 reps each, in each direction, should do the trick.
My personal favourite Calf Stretch for long lean summer Calves.
When the calf muscle (gastrocnemius) becomes tight, the risk of muscle and Achilles’ tendon tears and injury increase so it is very important to stretch. Stretching not only gives the appearance of longer, leaner, toned legs but it is imperative to a well rounded wellness routine.
Try the following Calf Stretches – (REMEMBER – Stretching should be gentle, however, not “Comfortable”….just like your workout – push just past comfortable. 🙂
A) Wall Press
1) Face a wall and stand 12 inches away from it.2) Extend one leg behind you, keeping both feet flat on the floor and your rear knee straight.3) Lean toward the wall until you feel tension in the calf muscle of the extended leg. (You can put your arms on the wall for support.)
4) Alternate legs and hold each position for 20seconds – 3X’s on each leg.
B) Seated Towel Stretch
1) Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you.
2) Use a lightweight towel twisted like a rope and loop it over your toes holding the ends in each of your hands – the towel is in a “U” shape around the tops of your feet.
3) Gently pull the towel back until you feel a stretch in your Calves. Hold this position gently for 20 seconds and release.
4) Repeat 3 X’s
C) Alternate Wall/Curb Stretch (This one is awesome for a deep Calf Stretch – Make sure you bring your pelvis as close as you can to the wall without bending your knee.
1) Find a wall and stand a few inches away. With one foot, put your toes on the wall, keeping your heel on the floor, and flex.
2)Hold for 20 seconds, then alternate with your other foot.
3)You can also do this stretch using a curb or step and hanging your heels off the ledge.
4) Repeat on each side 2x’s
Adding a calf routine to your workouts and stretching regime will certainly benefit your overall wellness AND your confidence as you climb any staircase – anywhere. 🙂