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The best calf-strengthening exercises

With the right exercises, calf muscles can be strengthened and toned, so if you want great looking calves, try these tips:

How calf-strengthening exercise works

Strength training works by using weight - your body weight, free weights or a weight machine - to "load" the muscle and make it work harder. Over time, the muscle adapts to the increased work with gains in both muscle mass and strength.

What makes calf muscles look toned?

Looking toned comes from a combination of regular exercise that's targeted to specific muscles and a healthy body weight so the muscle doesn't hide under fat. So, if you're overweight and want the look of toned calves, you may want to consider a safe weight loss programme. Aerobic exercise and good nutrition will help improve your overall body fat composition. That way, your calves will be stronger and look more defined.

Here's the really good news - you're never too old for great legs. Both men and women can gain strength and muscle mass at any age and strength training helps delay age-related loss of muscle mass and strength.

The anatomy of great calves

A good calf-toning workout targets the two muscles that make up the calf:

  • The gastrocnemius muscle gives the calf its rounded shape. It's emphasised in standing calf raises.
  • The soleus is the flatter, longer muscle running underneath the gastrocnemius and lower down your leg. It's emphasised in seated calf raises.

The best calf-strengthening exercises

Here are the four best exercises for strengthening your calves:

Double-leg calf raise

Calf raises are the classic "gold standard" calf-strengthening exercise. They use your body weight to strengthen and tone the gastrocnemius and soleus.

Starting position: Stand near a wall for balance. Place your feet hip-width apart and make sure your ankles, knees and hips are in vertical alignment to protect your joints.

Action: Press down into the balls of both feet to raise your body upward. Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in so that you move straight upward, rather than shifting your body forward or backward.

Variations: Try these variations for greater effect.

Start standing on a stair, phone book or solid wood block so you have to press up higher than when starting on flat feet. Keeping the balls of your feet on the stair, lower your heels as far as you can toward the floor. Then press your heels up as high as you can.

Add weight to add intensity. Repeat the exercise holding a dumbbell or other weight in one hand. Keep your hand on a wall for balance.

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