Calf muscles are found along the back of your lower leg between your knee and ankle. These muscles aid in sports or activities with explosive movements including jumping and sprinting. Strengthening your calves can improve your athletic performance. Keeping calf muscles strong may help reduce the risk of muscle strain, according to the Langone Medical Center.
Standing Calf Raises
Standing calf raises are appropriate for beginners, and do not require any type of special equipment. Stand facing a wall and place your palms on the wall for balance. Keep your feet shoulder width apart, and then push up onto your toes and lift your heels off the floor. Hold this position for a moment and slowly lower your heels until your feet are flat on the floor again. This entire movement counts as one repetition. Standing calf raises may be performed outdoors using a tree in place of a wall.
Barbell Calf Raises
Barbell calf raises are an advanced form of standing calf raises. The only differences are that you add weight and cannot rely on a wall for balance. Perform this movement by holding a barbell on the back of your shoulders as if you were going to perform a squat. Start with an empty bar to avoid using too much weight and risking injury. Position the bar behind your head at the base of your neck until you can comfortably hold the bar in place without fear of dropping it. Suck in your abdominal muscles and keep your back straight to stabilize your core. When you feel steady, push your heels up off the floor and perform standing calf raises.
The downward-facing dog is a position that will strengthen not only your calves, but also your arms, back, butt and thighs. Lay an exercise mat or towel on the floor. Kneel on the mat with your toes on the mat and your heels up. Lean forward and place your palms flat on the floor as if you were about to do a push-up. Lift your knees off the floor while keeping your back straight. Now push your butt into the air while your hands and toes remain on the mat. Your body will look like an inverted-V. Avoid raising your head while in this position to avoid neck strain. Hold the position for a few seconds and then slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position. As the exercise becomes easier, you may want to extend the amount of time spent in the inverted-V position to increase difficulty.