Although calves are a trouble spot for most people and sometimes they are the most overlooked body part in the lower body, it’s important that your calves support you through every movement.
If you are a person that trains the rest of the body and leaves the calves alone, you won’t be able to stabilize the weights you’re lifting or moving while working out in an efficient way.
Some of the exercises you’re doing for leg day, such as squats and deadlifts, are not reliable when it comes to training the calf muscle as well. You need to work on your calves with some exercises that are sure to increase, tone and shape your calf muscle and you need to make sure that you establish and maintain a well-rounded workout each time.
The anatomy of the calf muscle
The calf muscle is a group of muscles that are gathered into a large group in the upper portion of the lower leg, just below the knee. The 2 muscles in this group that fuse to make up the calf muscle are:
- Gastrocnemius – The calf muscle that is most visible from the exterior of the body – it originates just behind the knee on the femur where it crosses the knee joint and attaches at the Achilles tendon and
- Soleus – This is a deep muscle that is not visible when looking at the leg externally – it lies just beneath the gastrocnemius on the rear portion of the lower leg.
The function of the two muscles together is elevating the heel when the leg is straight and when the knee is bent, and it is used in a variety of movements – walking, jumping, running, squats, etc.
Training the calf muscle
What happens when the calf muscle is too stubborn to respond to any of the workout you’re putting into it? It’s simple. If the calf won’t grow the way you need it to, you need to use different variations and shock the muscle. Try something that they're not expecting and watch the growth begin.
Any muscle takes about 3 to 4 weeks to adapt to any workout routine. This is why you need to change it up once you stop seeing increases in strength and muscle size. When you don’t know exactly what to change, just change everything.
Try mixing and matching various exercises with different training variables and you’ll start seeing results again.
These are the different training variables you should mix with any of the calf exercises we’ve been talking about in our second email this month:
- number of sets and reps
- choice and number of exercises
- order of exercises
- length of rest periods
- frequency of training
- amount of resistance
These top exercises we’re about to give you for the calf muscles will help you maintain a balanced workout when combined with other exercises.
For some of them you need to use weights while for others you need a little more physical resistance, such as straps, free weights, or by increasing the resistance of a machine if you use one.
- Standing calf raises
For this exercise you will need a calf block. Position your toes and balls of your feet on the calf block with your arches and heels extending off. You can hold on to something with one hand for better stability.
Now raise your heels by extending your ankles as high as possible, then lower heels by bending your ankles until your calves are stretched and repeat.
- Seated calf raises
This exercise is important to achieve a complete development of the calf muscles. Although this movement is similar to the standing calf raises, it will actually target the lower muscles of the calf – the soleus.
Sit with the machine pads resting on your thighs. Reach forward to pull the hand lever towards your body and place your forefeet on the platform with your heels extending off. Drop your heel to 2-4 inches depending on how flexible you are, then raise again and squeeze the calf muscles once you reach the top.
- Leg press calf raises
Also known as the donkey raise, this exercise is the best for getting deeper in the calf muscle. Sit on the leg press machine holding the sled on your toes and the balls of your feet.
Push the sled by extending your ankles as far as possible, then return by bending your ankles until your calves are stretched. Do not move with your hips or knees, because you need to put all the movement into your ankles.
- Box jumps
The box jump gives your calf muscles power and springiness, which is great because you need to have explosive strength in your legs when doing many of the lifting exercises.
This exercise will train your muscles to react and contract faster, and will seriously tone your calf muscles. Stand in front of a secured box or platform with the height suited to your limitations. Jump on the box then immediately back down to the starting position and repeat for eight to ten times.
Caution: do not use dumbbells or any other weights when doing this exercise. You may need your hand in case you trip or fall.
- Dumbbell jump squat
This exercise ads explosiveness to your exercise routine and helps you develop muscles quickly. Hold a pair of dumbbells and stand into a squat position. Once you’re at your lowest point in the squat, propel yourself up and explode into a jump. Land on the balls of your feet and immediately go into the next squat position repeating the move.
For a beginner and intermediate workout we recommend 2 sets of 10 reps for each exercise of the first three we gave you. For an advanced workout, you can go with 2 sets of 15 to 18 reps for every exercise.
You can add any of these exercises, if not all, to your usual leg day routine. Just remember not to push yourself beyond your daily limit, giving your body the appropriate time to rest, recover and reinforce those muscles.
Also, keep in mind that you need to consume a proper amount of nutrients and protein to sustain your exercises.