Your calves and thighs power nearly all your movements throughout your day, but you don’t need a gym membership or pricey weight machines to tone your legs. MayoClinic.com recommends performing one set of up to 12 repetitions for optimal strength gains. When you can perform 12 repetitions easily while maintaining proper form, increase the resistance with weight or by holding the exercises for longer.
The downward dog, a yoga pose, works not only your calves, hamstrings and glutes, but your shoulders and back as well. Begin in the top of a push-up position with your palms flat on the floor directly below your shoulders and your legs extended behind you. Your legs, back and head should form a straight line. As you exhale, push your hips up and back as your drive your heels toward the floor. Hold your body in an inverted-V position while keeping your arms and legs straight. Slowly return to the starting position on an inhalation. (Ref. 2)
Body Weight Squats
Simple squats use your body weight for resistance to work your butt, thighs, quads and calves with no special equipment. As your fitness level improves, add dumbbells to bump up the intensity of the exercise. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides. Drop your hips down and back, bending your knees and lowering your torso until your thighs are parallel to the ground. As you lower, bring your hands up toward your face in front of you for balance. Hold the position briefly and return to a standing position.
Wall Calf Raises
You don’t even need stairs in your home to tone and tighten your calf muscles with single- or double-leg calf raises. Stand in front of a wall with your palms against the wall at chest height for balance. With your feet hip-width apart, lift your heels off the floor as you shift your body weight onto the balls of your feet. Hold the position before returning your heels to the floor. For a greater challenge, lift one leg behind you and perform the exercise on a single leg. Try pushing off explosively to get the most from the exercise.
Mountain climbers get your heart pumping as you tone your legs, thighs and abdominal muscles. Kneel on the floor with your hands just in front of your shoulders and your knees about hip-width apart. Carefully bring your right leg forward, placing your right foot on the floor beneath your chest. Lift your left knee off the ground and extend the leg behind you. With your abs contracted and your shoulders pulled down and back, quickly switch leg positions.