Training Your Lower Legs

Strengthening and toning your lower leg muscles improves your endurance for daily activities and most importantly, prevents injuries. It also enhances your ability to survive long stints in high-heeled shoes. Toned calves give shapely definition to the lower leg.

If you're prone to building bigger muscles — a few women are — emphasize endurance training of your calves, rather than strength. Focus on higher reps and do not add additional weight. Shins are not particularly glamorous or sexy, but strong shins prevent aches, pains, and injuries. If you've ever had shin splints, then you're intimately acquainted with these muscles.

The muscles in the back of your lower leg make up your calves. The calf consists of two muscles, the soleus and the gastrocnemius. When you elevate onto the balls of your feet, you contract your calf muscles. Every time you lift your heels, you contract your calf muscles. That's why you may have felt muscle soreness in your lower legs after you went for long walk for the first time in awhile. Strengthening your calves will allow you to walk comfortably for longer periods of time.

Do not neglect your shin muscle, which is called the anterior tibialis. Your shins are in the front of your lower legs. If you've had shin splints or other lower leg problems in the past, it may be related to a muscle imbalance between your calves and shins.

Like your biceps and triceps, your calves and shins work in relationship to each other. If you strengthen your calves, you should also strengthen your shins. Each time you pick up the ball of your foot, you contract your shins. Most people have overly tight calves and weak shins, so shin training should have even greater emphasis.

You may think you exercise lower-body muscles enough in aerobic workouts, but you should also be training your lower body with weights. Although walking, running, hiking, biking, swimming, and other exercises put lower-body muscles to good use, it often takes more to really tone them. Some muscles in the lower body require targeted exercises to work them thoroughly and best shape them.

Stronger calves and shins increase mobility of your ankle joint. Flexible ankles play a crucial role in walking properly and maintaining your balance. Doing these exercises for the lower legs will improve your stability and reduce the risk of twisting your ankles or losing your balance. If you want to do more walking to improve your cardiovascular fitness and to lose weight, conditioning your calves and shins is essential so that you will have the endurance to survive long walks.

CALF RAISE

Figure 10-15 The calf raise strengthens and tones your calves. Defined calf muscles give shape to your lower leg.

  • GET SET Stand behind a chair or facing a wall. Use your hands for support. Balance on the ball of your foot of the working leg. Wrap the other foot around the ankle of your working leg so that all of your weight is on one leg. (SEE FIGURE 10-15.)

  • ACTION Slide your shoulders down and back. Pull your abdominals in to support your lower back. Slowly push up onto the ball of your foot as high as you can lift. Maintain good alignment. Keep your abdominals tightened. Slowly lower without fully touching the floor.

  • WEDDING WORKOUT POINTERS Inhale to prepare, exhale as you push up. Inhale, return to start. Keep good posture throughout the movement.

  • VARIATIONS

    Stand on a step so your foot is elevated from the floor. Place the ball of your foot on the step and let your heel hang off the edge. Slowly lower your heels before you begin, then push up as high as you can.

    (EASIER) Do both legs together.

    (HARDER) Do one leg at a time.

    (HARDER) Hold a dumbbell in your hand to add more resistance than your body weight.

    (HARDER) Use less and less hand support to challenge your balance. Progress to using only one fingertip or no support at all.

    (BANDS OR TUBING) Sit on the ground with your legs straight ahead. Hold one end of a band or tubing in each hand. Place the center of the band around the sole of one foot. Extend your leg in front of you. Point and flex your foot. Feel the resistance as you point your foot. Maintain good seated posture.

TOE TAP

Figure 10-16 The toe tap strengthens and tones your shins.

  • GET SET Stand comfortably.

  • ACTION Slide your shoulders down and back. Pull in your abdominals to support your lower back. Shift weight into your heels. Lift the ball of one foot as high as you can. (SEE FIGURE 10-16.)

  • WEDDING WORKOUT POINTERS Inhale to prepare, exhale to lift. Inhale, and return to start. Maintain good posture, with relaxed shoulders and a level head.

  • VARIATIONS

    (EASIER) Perform while seated.

    (HARDER) Lift balls of both feet at the same time.

    (BANDS) Sit on a chair or the ground. Tie a band in a circle. Cross your ankles. Place the band over the top of the foot on the top leg. Keep the band in place by stepping on it with the foot of your lower leg. Point and flex your foot, feeling the shin muscle contract when you flex your foot.

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