Have you ever looked down and wished you had more defined calves? If you struggle to find boots that fit, then you might need to tone up your calves. Or, you may think your calves need a bit more bulk. The lower legs are an often-overlooked body area, but for some people getting defined calves is paramount. Read on for five calf focused exercises and my tips for achieving defined calves through day to day activity.
As a fitness expert, I hear people’s body woes on a daily basis. More and more I’m hearing that the lower legs are an area that many people wish had more definition. It’s easy to see why. So many people are guilty of ignoring their calf muscles, because—when it comes to fitness—many people forget whole body areas. Do you remember the last time you completed a lower leg workout routine?
It seems like whether your legs are too big or too small, there’s a nickname for them. From tree trunks to elephant legs and just plain “chunky,” or chicken legs and walking sticks, no one wants to hear about their toneless legs. I believe that a lack of activity is responsible for both overly large and overly thin legs. We’re often traveling, sitting behind a desk, or lazing on the sofa for hours. All this sitting can contribute to a lack of muscle tone, if we don’t work strength exercises into our workout routines.
If you’ve seen my previous posts or watched my workout videos, you know that I’m not a trainer who promises quick fixes or overnight results, But by following my five tips and exercises for perfectly defined calves, you’ll be well on your way to achieving great legs.
5 tips for defined calves
1. Get active! Preventing fluid from building up in your lower legs is key for defined calves. And the solution is simple: just get up and move throughout the day. Avoid prolonged periods of sitting if you can help it. If you work behind a desk, get up every so often to take a walk around the office (and get some water, while you’re at it). If you find yourself sitting for long periods of time, try to elevate your legs slightly in order to help with circulation.
2. Stretch your calf muscles throughout the day. If you look at someone with defined calves, you can see a distinct line between the two calf muscles. The long calf muscle is called the gastrocnemius, and the smaller one at the bottom the soleus. In order to create definition, you must stretch both of the calf muscles individually. Try foot-flexing exercises at your desk, and do standing stretches with a slight bend at your knee to feel the soleus stretching.
3. Perform calf raises whenever you have time or you’re standing around. They’re simple to perform—just shift your body weight up onto your toes by raising your heels and slowly lower yourself back down. Using just your body weight is enough to build strength. But if you want to increase the challenge and get really defined calves, try holding on to a weight as you perform the raises.
4. Run using a mid-foot strike position. This really activates the calf muscles and helps to build strength, which will give you defined calves. If you generally run with a heel strike, don’t switch your position all in one go or you’ll find yourself feeling a little sore the next day! Instead, during each run, focus on landing a few strides on the ball of your foot every few minutes.
5. Increase your gradient. Running or walking uphill is great for defined calves, as well as toned hamstrings and glutes—so try some hills or crank up the treadmill at least once a week.
Lower leg exercise mini-workout for defined calves
These exercises are a fun addition to your usual routine and will make you really focus on your lower legs. My challenge: try and add one of the below calf exercises to your next workout!
Lift one foot a few inches off the ground and rotate your foot in a circular motion. Try to complete five circles in one direction and then repeating the other way. If you need to, make sure you have something sturdy to hold on to like the back of a chair or a wall.
Okay, time for a slightly bigger move. Place your hands on your hips, put your feet together and now draw a circle with your knees—keeping your legs together at all times. (Think about how you would move your hips if you were hula-hooping, and just bring that movement down to your knees). Remember to breathe normally and complete five circles in each direction.
Standing Calf Stretch (with wall)
Position yourself in front of a wall and take a step or two backwards until you are two feet (approximately 1/2 a meter) away. Put one foot forward so it is closer to the wall and then lean forward to rest your hands on the wall. Keep your heel, hip and head in a straight line—you shouldn’t be bending at the waist. Aim to keep your back heel flat on the ground. (This will become easier as you stretch your calves more often.) Hold for 10-20 seconds and then switch sides.
Seated Calf Stretch
Sit down on an exercise mat with you legs out straight in front of you. Bend one knee and place the foot flat on the ground (by your other knee) to support your torso. Then, focus on the leg that is straight out in front of you and try and flex your ankle so that your toes are pointing up. Using a band, a towel, or your hand if you can reach, gently pull your toes towards you. Hold for 10-20 seconds and then switch sides.
Standing Gastrocnemius Calf Stretch
Stand by a low bench or step and place your right leg on the step in front of you. Balance on your left leg and lean down towards your right foot. Try and straighten your right leg to create a triangle between your legs and the step. Make sure you bend your left leg for stability but aim to keep the right leg reasonably straight. Now pull gently on your right foot, bringing the toes towards you and resting your heel on the step. When you feel a slight stretch in your calf, hold for 10-20 seconds and then switch sides.
A good thing about the lower legs is that, unlike the hips and tummy areas, the body doesn’t tend to store much fat in the lower legs. That means that if you focus on your nutrition plan and commit to being active, then toned legs and defined calves may be in your future.
By Samantha Clayton, AFAA, ISSA – Vice President, Worldwide Sports Performance and Fitness
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