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Dumbbell calf raises are one of the most old school exercises in the book. This is because while gym equipment for calves isn’t exactly rare, it’s also not something you find in every facility, either. If you’re interested in how to get huge calves, but are concerned because your gym doesn’t have a lot of specialized calf equipment, this exercise is for you.
The standing dumbbell calf raise would literally suit you fine if it was the only calf exercise you did. Calves are a very stubborn muscle, so to build them up a lot bigger, you’ll really want to overload them. They’re also capable of lifting a lot more weight than you might think.
For instance, start your calf workout off with the dumbbell calf raise done for 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. However, treat it as if you were only doing 4-6 reps in that you want to go as heavy as you can. Only instead of stopping at 4-6 reps, grind your way out to 10-12.
After that, if you’re going to do other calf exercises, now is the time to do them. This could include a seated calf raise machine or toe presses on the leg press. Once you’ve done those, come back to the dumbbell calf raise, reduce the weight by 30-40%, and go for 2 sets of max reps. Your goal is to get at least 20-25 reps or more. If you’re not doing any other movements, you can go directly from your heavy sets to your burnout sets.
When doing each rep of a calf raise, be sure to hold the contracted position for at least a second or two to put more emphasis on the muscle and fill it with blood. You would also do well to emphasize the stretch at the bottom for a second or two. Doing this lets you not only take advantage of fascial stretching, but improve muscle quality due to prolonged tension on the muscle.
A good idea when doing dumbbell calf raises is to perform them one leg at a time. Doing this gets rid of any balance issues because you can hold a dumbbell in the same hand as the leg you’re working, hanging your heel off some sort of block. Then use your other hand to hold onto something for balance.
This is preferential because it allows you to better take advantage of the aforementioned stretch and extended contraction as you don’t have to worry about losing your balance. At the same time, you can use a much heavier dumbbell than normal. Combine that with the fact that you’re putting your entire body weight on one calf, and that makes for quite a load it has to endure. This, in turn, then leads to more development.
You don’t want to lock the knees, as this could leak to a freak hyperextension injury. However, you also don’t want to bend the knees either. What can happen when you fatigue is that as you contract your calf, instead of your leg remaining in tact and your whole body moving up and down, your body remains stationary and your knee bends.
When this happens, though your calf is contracting, you’re not lifting your body (or the dumbbell you’re holding in your opposite hand) up and down. This substantially decreases the load, which reduces the tension placed on the calf. When tension goes down, so does the chance for building additional size.
The dumbbell calf raise is an excellent old school exercise. Split your time between super heavy reps and burnout sets if you care at all about how to get huge calves. You’ll also want to watch your form by emphasizing both the stretch and contraction as well as not letting the knees lock, nor bend. Spend a few weeks with this movement and you’ll be turning your “calves” into “cows” in no time.