The gastrocnemius muscle is one of two major muscles in your calf that works with the ankle joint and tibialis muscles in your shins to flex the foot up and down. It also assists the ankle in moving side to side and rotating to the left and right. The gastrocnemius also works with other leg muscles as well as the hip and torso to generate force when you jump and run and to slow your body down and absorb shock when you land on the ground.
This stretch works on moving the ankle joint and tissue elasticity of the calves and hip flexors as you shift your weight back and forth repetitively. This method, called active stretching, stimulates muscle movement and increases body temperature. The stretch should be performed before you exercise, the National Academy of Sports Medicine suggests. Stand with your right foot behind you and your right heel pressed on the ground, and point both feet forward. Put your hands over your head and tighten your right buttock to increase the stretch. Do not arch your lower back or lift your heels up. Shift your weight to your left foot and hold this stretch for five seconds. Shift your weight back to your right foot and lower your arms. Perform 10 to 12 reps of this exercise on each leg.
This exercise reduces pressure upon your lower back and stretches the fascia from the bottom of your foot through your calves and into your hamstrings and buttocks. Lie on the ground facing up and bend your right knee to your ribs. Grab the back of your right knee with both hands, and slowly straighten your right leg until it is perpendicular to the ground with your foot flexed to your face. Keep your left leg still and your left foot pointing up. Hold this stretch for five seconds and bend your leg back to the starting position. Perform 10 to 12 reps per leg.
Squat jumps help your gastrocnemius produce force in sync with other leg and hip muscles as you jump straight up and absorb shock when you land. This helps you reduce your risk of ankle, knee or lower back injuries when you jump. Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart and your feet pointing forward. Bend your legs into a squat and swing your arms back. Brace your abs and jump straight up, swinging your arms over your head at the same time. Land gently on the balls of your feet first before your heels contact the ground. Perform three sets of six to 10 jumps.
This exercise works on lower body endurance as well as full-body coordination and rhythm as you hop on one leg during jump-roping. As you jump, you may find that one side of your body is more coordinated than the other side. If so, perform one extra set on that side of your body in every training session until both sides feel relatively even, suggests physical therapist Gray Cook, author of "Athletic Body in Balance." Stand on your left foot and raise your right knee up so that your thigh is parallel to the ground. Swing a jump rope beneath you and hop over it. Jump at a rate of two jumps per second on each foot. Keep your raised leg still and your posture upright.
- "NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training"; Michael Clark; 2007
- "Athletic Body in Balance"; Gray Cook; 2003
- Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.