Triceps surae is another name for the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in the calf. Exercises that strengthen and tone the triceps surae involve plantarflexion against resistance, such as standing and seated calf raises and explosive jumping movements. These muscles see a lot of use every day because they're important for actions including walking and running. Therefore, they must be trained in excess of their normal load, whether through added weight or repetitions, in order to see improvements in strength and tone.
The triceps surae are sometimes referred to as a single muscle, the triceps surae, because the gastrocnemius features two separate heads, and therefore that three separate muscle bellies are found in this group. Located on the back of the lower leg, the muscles of the triceps surae group are also classified as one for their shared function. These muscles are responsible for plantarflexion of the ankle, which is the action of pointing of the foot downward.
Originating on the back of the knee, the muscles of the triceps surae run down the back of the lower leg to attach to the heel bone, or calcaneus, via a shared tendon known as the calcaneal or Achilles tendon. When they contract, they pull upward on the back of the heel bone, which shortens the back of the lower leg and hinges the foot downward at the ankle joint. This motion is common to all forms of gait, from walking, to running, to climbing.
One exercise that tones the triceps surae by loading the muscles with weight is the standing calf raise. Performed by standing in a machine with shoulders pressing upward against padded weights, or alternately by holding dumbbells in one’s hands or placing a barbell across the shoulders, the exerciser stands on a step or platform with heels hanging off the edge. He then raises up onto the balls of his feet by contracting the triceps surae and slowly lowers until his heels drop below the edge of the step and the muscles are stretched. This exercise can also be performed without added weight by standing on one foot and loading the muscles with repetitions.
Another variation on the standing calf raise is the seated calf raise. To perform this exercise, one sits on the calf machine with his knees at hip height and bent to 90 degrees and the balls of his feet resting on top of a platform below. With knees pressing upward against padded weights, the exerciser contracts the triceps surae, lifting the heels and pushing the weight upward, and then slowly lowers his heels below the height of the platform until the muscles feel a stretch.
The triceps surae can also be effectively toned by incorporating explosive jumping movements into one’s strength-training routine. One example is the squat jump, in which the exerciser lowers into a squat and explodes upwards, pointing the toes in the air, and lands softly with bent knees. A lower impact version of this move can be performed by beginners with professional supervision. Another example is jumping rope, which, though a form a cardiovascular exercise, can improve tone in the calves through the large number of repetitions required.