Everyone wants shapely calves, but not many of us regularly train our lower legs. (With the glutes, hamstrings and quads monopolizing so much of our focus, who has time?) But consciously working the ankles and calf muscles should be part of every smart woman’s training plan, and in fact, neglecting your lower legs could take you out of the training game completely.
“Probably the most common [ailment] will be tightness or injury to the Achilles,” says Brenna Casey, founder of FLIP Physiotherapy Centre in Ottawa, Ontario. “Let’s say you come into a hard landing with your knees bent. If your calves can’t handle the load, that may lead to bigger problems.”
Then, of course, there is the issue of footwear, and while those Manolos might look and feel fabulous, they’re not giving much love to your ankles and calves. “Prolonged wear of this type of shoe combined with daily exercising, sitting and not enough stretching can lead to pain in the calf, heel and foot,” Casey says.
Consciously training and stretching your lower leg will improve strength and stability of your ankle in all directions, which translates into doing more reps, lifting more weight and working harder. “The ankle joint is involved in every squatting and stepping movement, and it is a key part of just about every athletic endeavor,” says Marc Megna, CSCS, and a sports performance coach in Miami. “I’ve seen basketball and volleyball players significantly increase their vertical jump and 40-yard dash times simply by improving their calf strength and power.”
So tear your focus away from your bum for a while and give your lower legs some love. The rewards will be sweet.
Do this calf and ankle workout as part of your warm-up on leg-training day or before any lower-body-dominant sports. Afterward, spend some more time foam rolling and stretch your ankles and calves thoroughly.
|Calf Foam Rolling||1||90 seconds each leg|
|Wall Ankle Rock||2||5 each side|
|Jump and Stick||2||5 each side|
|Squatting Toe Rocker||2||5|
|Dumbbell Single-Leg Calf Raise||3||8 each leg|
Calf Foam Rolling
Setup: Sit on the floor with the roller under one calf and cross your other leg overtop the first. Place your palms on the floor on either side of your hips and lift your hips up off the floor.
Move: Roll up and down along your calf while supporting your weight on your hands. Find the knots and hot spots in your calf and hold, breathing deeply.
Tip: Go slowly and take your time. Calves are usually very tight from daily activity.
Wall Ankle Rock
Setup: Stand facing a wall with your feet staggered and your front foot about an inch away from the wall. Place your hands on the wall for balance and lean forward.
Move: Press both heels into the ground, then bend your forward knee over your toes as far as you can without letting your heel rise. Pause briefly, then return to the start. Complete all reps before switching sides.
Tip: To increase the intensity of the stretch, slide your rear foot back a few inches and repeat.
Setup: Stand with your feet together and your knees slightly bent, arms at your sides.
Move: Spring up and down as quickly as you can, staying light on your toes and jumping only 1 to 2 inches off the ground.
Tip: Flex your toes toward your shins when you’re in the air to warm up the front of the tibialis, as well.
Jump and Stick
Setup: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides.
Move: Jump off the floor with both feet, but land on one, bending your knee to cushion the impact. Hold briefly and balance before placing your other foot back down. Repeat, alternating sides.
Tip: When you land, sink into a shallow squat and maintain a strong core to stabilize yourself.
Squatting Toe Rocker
Setup: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, chest up and head neutral.
Move: Kick your hips back, then drop your glutes down until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Hold here and lift your heels, shifting your weight onto your toes. Then sit back onto your heels and lift your toes. Flatten your feet and stand back up to complete one rep.
Tip: Keep your chest lifted and avoid the temptation to lean forward.
Dumbbell Single-Leg Calf Raise
Setup: Hold a dumbbell in one hand and stand on top of a plyo box or step with the ball of one foot on the edge, heel hanging off. Use your free hand to grab something stable, and cross your free foot behind at the ankle.
Move: Let your heel drop down as much as possible, getting a good stretch, then push up onto your tiptoes, pausing for one second at the top. Drop back down into your heel to complete one rep. Do all reps on one side before switching.
Tip: If you’re training for explosive speed, such as sprinting, do a quick positive contraction up onto your toes, then a slow negative back down into the heel.