Working the calf muscles is typically considered part of a complete lower-body workout. Ignoring such a large and important muscle group would be detrimental to your overall health and fitness goals. But what is the best way to train your calves? The answer may surprise you.
What Are They Comprised Of?
First and foremost, if you're looking to train your calves efficiently, then one should get to know how they work. Not to get overly technical, the calves are comprised of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Both are responsible for extension of the ankle. The "gastroc" is located in the bulge of your calf and is chock full of fast-twitch muscle fibers. Best suited for power moves such as: sprinting, jumping, or any movement where you're quickly changing speed/direction, but the amount of power it can generate depends on the number of fast-twitch fibers. The more, the better. The soleus is located behind the gastrocnemius. It is comprised of dozens of slow-twitch fibers; basically, endurance activities like walking or jogging.
Training The Calves
Yes, the traditional "go to" exercise for the calves is the calf raise. It's a simple movement—extending your ankles against gravity (or another form of resistance) to strengthen your calves. The more reps you perform, the more you feel like your calves may pop right out of your legs.
"Muscle popping must be effective." Well, sure. But definitely not the best way to train them. Isolating the calves with this type of movement builds a foundation of strength, especially if you are new to strength training. But, the same can be said about squats and lunges—which also hit other muscle groups.
All in all, doing isolated work can be productive, but to get a higher velocity isolated calf movement, do Single Leg Hops or Taps, but with the knee straight. They allow you to isolate the calves in an explosive movement.
Effective Calf Exercises
"Jump Rope?!" You may be thinking that, but this cardio burner also heightens the speed and force of a normal calf raise into a continuous calf beat-down. Getting started may take some time, but once performed correctly, this exercise can start the shredding process.
Perform this exercise for five minutes. Easy? Continue to add five minutes until you hit the 30 minute plateau. Insert this into your weekly (or biweekly) leg program.
- Single-Leg Hurdle Hops
Set up 8-10 objects on the ground (objects that will not harm you if stepped on!), in a straight line, about two-feet apart. Hop through the hurdles on one leg, spending as little time on the ground as possible.
Sounds easy, right? After performing three rounds on each leg, you will be feeling it!
- Single-Leg Box Hops
With your hands out in front of your body (for balance) stand on one leg with a 4 to 6-inch box in front of you. Hop up to the box, extending your ankles to generate momentum.
Hop down and immediately repeat, minimizing time spent on the ground.
Perform three sets of 8-10 reps on each leg.
Note: Perform each of these exercises with your knees straight, but not locked out!
Don't Forget to Stretch!
Calves have a tendency to tighten and cramp, especially after a good pump. Some quick calf stretches at the end and throughout your calf workout will help to keep them loose and even help to define them.
Place a foot up against the wall and lean into, so that your toes are up toward the ceiling. This is one of the best ways to stretch those bad boys out. Another way is to, more or less, invert the movement of a calf raise, allowing your heel to go down toward the ground. Easy way to perform this, is to stand off a step and let your body weight stretch your heel toward the ground. Hold each of the previously mentioned positions for 5-to-10 seconds, give time on each side.
Muscular, strong calves help support and stabilize your body during lifts like the Deadlift and Squat, and also during just about every sport possible. In fact, strong, developed quads and hamstrings can be counterproductive in many sports unless you’ve got calves strong enough to control the force the upper leg can generate as it transfers into the ground.
We've all seen it. The person at the gym with a great physique, but is walking around with chicken legs. Get a jump on them and start shredding those calves with these simple tips. You won't regret it!