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The Best Cardio for Your Calves

by Sárka-Jonae Miller
See more articles by Sárka-Jonae Miller

(The Best Years in Life) One of the frustrating things about cardio exercise is it can slim your thighs and shrink your waist, but it doesn't often give you shapely calves. In some cases, people notice their butts and thighs taking on a toned appearance with no change in their lower legs at all. The popularity of recumbent cycling, walking on treadmills, and using low-impact aerobics to lose weight and improve cardiorespiratory function could be the problem. If those sound like your favorites, you'll be happy to know that with a few tweaks to your cardio routine, your calves can experience the same improvements as other areas of your body.

The muscles of the calves activate when you raise your heel and push against resistance with the balls of your feet. Most cardio exercises don't challenge the calves enough to increase muscle tone. But adding an incline or a stepping element creates more work for the calf muscles.

Walking or running at an incline is a great way to target your calves and increase your caloric burn. A person weighing 155 pounds who walks at a brisk pace of 3.5 mph burns around 267 calories in an hour. But, that same person will burn around 422 calories if walking uphill. Raising the incline of a treadmill can mimic hill walking.

If you prefer to get your dose of cardio from a group exercise class, consider high-impact or step aerobics instead of a low-impact class. Stepping up and down creates more work for the muscles in the front and back of the lower leg. Step aerobics is also a much faster way to lose weight. Low-impact aerobics burns 352 calories per hour for a 155-pound person. Step aerobics burns 598.


For people who love stationary cycles, moving off the recumbent and onto an upright will help the calves. A spin class is even better because there are periods of standing, which puts more weight onto the calves. A good tip to remember is not to lean or shift forward when in a standing position. That puts stress on the knees. Keeping your weight over the front of the saddle puts stress on the muscles, giving the thighs and the calves more to do.

A great exercise to do at home to burn calories and exhaust the calves is jumping rope. You can burn 100 calories in 10 minutes with a jump rope while toning your legs, arms, and shoulders. A jump rope is also cheap and portable, perfect for cardio while traveling or something to do when you don't feel like allowing other people to see you sweat.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate cardio exercise per week for adults. The CDC also says that a mix of moderate- and high-intensity activity is even better for one's health. Jumping rope and running qualify as high-intensity exercise while brisk walking and aerobics is more moderate. Mixing up the type of cardio you could be more fun and better for your health, not to mention a faster way to shapely legs.

See also:

Exercises for Sexy, Sculpted Calves

Exercises for the Multifidus, the Other Back Muscle

The Rotational Exercises You Need to be Doing

Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk



About the Author

Sárka-Jonae Miller is a health and fitness expert. She began working in the fitness industry in 2000 while pursuing a BS in journalism at Syracuse University. She became certified as a personal fitness trainer and group exercise instructor in 2003. She has also received training in massage therapy. Sárka also writes fiction. She is the author of the chick lit novel, Between Boyfriends. Get more health and wellness tips on Sárka's Natural Healing Tips blog or join her on Facebook and Twitter.

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