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If you have tight calf muscles, spending several minutes performing heel raises before beginning your workout reduces your risk of straining a muscle. Also known as calf raises, heel raises are an effective stretching exercise to loosen up the two major muscles of the calf muscle group, which are located on the rear of your leg midway between your knee and ankle.
To perform a heel raise, stand with your feet slightly closer than shoulder-width apart and shift your weight onto your toes. Push off with your toes and lift your heels in the air; you should feel a stretch in your calves when you elevate your heels as high as you can. Many people perform heel raise variations, such as holding weights while raising their heels or standing on the edge of a platform and dipping their heels below their toes. Basic heel raises help stretch the muscles, while adding weight to the exercise aids in muscle growth.
The two major muscles of the calf muscle group are the gastrocnemius and soleus. When you perform a set of heel raises, you'll work both muscles. The gastrocnemius is the larger of the two muscles and the more pronounced in people with toned calves, as it lies directly under the skin. The gastrocnemius muscle has two side-by-side masses that you'll eventually be able to see through extensive heel lifts and other calf exercises.
The soleus muscle lies under the gastrocnemius and also benefits from heel raises. Although you'll be able to see the results of your exercise because of the toning of your gastrocnemius muscles, the soleus muscles are also working when you perform this type of exercise. The soleus muscles aren't as large as the gastrocnemius, but are slightly wider.
Performing heel raises to loosen and build your gastrocnemius and soleus muscles is important before any period of physical activity. You use these muscles in walking, running and jumping, and they're crucial in a wide range of sports, including basketball, swimming and volleyball. Calf strains are common sports-related injuries, but regular stretching can help keep these muscles healthy.