The muscles of the calf and thigh constitute most of the major lower-body muscles. The calf muscle is called the gastrocnemius. The muscles of the thigh include the quadriceps muscles on the anterior (front) side, the hamstrings on the posterior (back) side, and those that abduct (move away from the center of the body) and adduct (move toward the center of the body) the leg at the hip joint. You can do plenty of exercises in a gym or at home to strengthen these muscles.
Seated Heel Raises
Seated heel raises exercise the gastrocnemius muscle. Sit with your knees flexed to 90 degrees, your heels on the ground and your toes elevated about 2 inches on a solid surface. Hold a dumbbell on each knee for added resistance. Raise your heels as high as possible, then slowly drop them back to the ground.
Standing Heel Raises
Standing heel raises work the calf muscles. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your side, and stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Elevate your toes and forefeet about 2 inches on a sturdy surface; leave your heels on the ground. Lift your heels off the ground as high as possible, then slowly lower them back to the ground.
Squats exercise many of the muscles on your anterior and posterior thigh. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Hold dumbbells at your sides or a weighted barbell on your upper back and shoulders. Slowly flex your hips and knees to lower your thighs until they are parallel to the ground, then stand back up by extending your hips and knees. Keep your spine straight and rigid throughout the exercise.
Leg curls work your hamstring muscles. Lie face-down on a leg-curl machine, with your knees off the edge of the thigh pad. Place your feet under the foot-roller pad. Grip the sides of the chest pad to keep your trunk pressed against it. Flex your legs at the knees to lift the roller pad until it touches your hamstring muscles, then return to the starting position.
This exercise works muscles that move your legs sideways, away from the center of your body. Begin on your side, with your legs stacked. Support your head with your lower arm. Lift your top leg until you feel tension or it begins to turn, then lower it back down. Repeat the exercise on the opposite side. Wear ankle weights for added resistance if desired.
Hip adduction exercises the muscles that move your leg toward the center of your body. Begin as you do in the hip-abduction exercise, but position your lower leg in front of your upper leg. Raise your lower leg until you feel tension, then slowly lower it back down. Repeat on the opposite side. Use ankle weights for added resistance.
About this Author
Matthew Schirm has worked in the sports performance field for 10 years. He has professional experience as a baseball coach and weight training instructor. He recently earned a Master of Science degree in human movement from A.T. Still University in Mesa, Ariz.