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Strong calves help you propel forward.
When you head to the gym for a leg workout, you may focus on the large muscles of the thighs and hips - neglecting your lower legs. Taking time to work the calf muscles offers aesthetic and biomechanical benefits. Skipping training for the muscles of the calf can make you prone to injury, so make an effort to target them in your next lower body strength-training session.
Help Prevent Injury
According to Runner's World, a survey of 14,000 injured runners conducted by sports podiatrist Stephen M. Pribut, revealed that calf pulls were the second most common injury. If you neglect strengthening and stretching the lower leg, you are at risk of injuring the calf, Pribut explains. The calf muscles are made up of the large gastrocnemius and the smaller soleus. When one of these muscles stretches too far and separates from its insertion at the Achilles tendon, a pull occurs. The severity of a pull can range from minor microtears that heal in a few weeks to complete tears that may take months to heal.
Become More Stable
The calf muscles act to stabilize your ankles and feet. When your calves are strong, they are better able to provide this service and can help prevent rolling or excessive pronation or supination - in which your foot turns inward or outward, respectively. Runners, walkers and those who play team sports benefit from strong lower leg muscles that keep the mechanics of the lower leg in line.
Boost Your Power
Your calves work to lift the heel when you run, walk and jump. The gastrocnemius muscle, in particular, is involved in generating power during these activities. Basketball and volleyball players, for example, can increase their vertical jump by targeting the muscles of the calf.
Tone it Up
Shapely calves create a desirous aesthetic look. Toned calves compliment a pair of heels and are also essential if you are hitting the stage for a figure or bodybuilding competition. Strengthening the thighs and glutes while ignoring the calves can compromise your muscular symmetry and negatively affect your scoring.
Try These Exercises
Simple calf raises, in which you stand on the edge of a step with your heels hanging off and lift and lower the heels, strengthen the entire calf region. You can do calf raises on one leg or with the toe turned in or out to emphasize the muscles from different angles.
Seated calf raises, usually done on a machine, are intrinsic to strengthening the smaller soleus muscle. Train your calves a couple times per week on nonconsecutive days with one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise.
To stretch your calves, sit with your legs extended and loop a strap around the ball of one of your feet. Draw your toes toward your shin in a flexed position and hold for two seconds. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times on each leg. Calf stretches can be done every day and are especially valuable right after your workout.