We’ve all heard the jokes about the v-shaped guys who avoid leg exercises in the gym. However, if you’re one of the unlucky few who even after years of squats, lunges and various calf exercises still have skinny calves, all is not lost.
The Low Down About Calves
Genetics generally determine whether you’re a heavy set person or someone on the skinnier side. This includes your calves when discussing the lower body. Unfortunately, there isn’t much anyone can do to increase bone density, but where there is muscle, there is always the opportunity for growth with the correct training and nutrition.
Before beginning any weight assisted exercise, always revert to a, one rep max calculator for an optimum and safe lifting experience.
What’s the Best Way to Train Calves?
Calf muscles are actually quite resilient due to the day to day pounding they take supporting our body weight, which is especially true if you’re on your feet all day. In light of this, it takes more work to build calf muscle mass than any other muscle group such as your back or chest. It takes a dedicated approach to ensure muscle growth in this area, starting with the calf exercise tips below:
- Always stretch properly before, during and after calf exercise sets.
- Always use a full range of motion when performing calf exercises – don’t get lazy and/or use momentum to perform an exercise. It’s particularly important to keep this in mind when training heavy.
- Utilize various exercises rather than relying on one. Also try to keep changing your calf routine to ‘shock’ the muscles into growing.
- Try to make use of various intensity techniques in your calf workouts – super sets, drop sets, tri sets etc. Keep pushing until your calves feel like they are on fire, and then push some more.
- Some people benefit more from training calves several times a week rather than just once or twice.
- Use a mixture of seated and standing calf raises to target different muscles – the higher muscle called the gastrocnemius is worked more when standing (knees extended) and the lower muscle called the soleus is worked more when sitting (knees bent).
Best Calf Exercises for Growth
- Smith Machine Calf Raises – One of the most popular calf exercises in the gym is to utilize a Smith machine to perform calf raises. To perform the exercise, pull up a step, plate or other platform for you to stand on – allowing full range of motion with your heels. Set the bar to a desired position so it sits comfortably on your shoulders when you stand on the balls of your feet. Supporting the bar with your shoulders and hands, rotate the bar to move it off the rack and lift your heels as high as possible. Flex your calf at the top of the contraction before returning back down.
- Rocking Standing Calf Raises – For those who don’t have a smith machine or platform to stand on, but a barbell with a squat rack, it’s possible to perform a similar exercise. After choosing the desired weight, position the barbell on your shoulders while supporting it with your hands (similar to a squat starting position). Lift your heels, pausing at the top for a moment while flexing your calf muscles before returning them back to the ground. Once your heels are back on the ground, raise your toes by flexing your tibia muscles. Hold for a second before returning them to the ground. Repeat the full motion for the desired number of repetitions.
- Seated Calf Raises – If you have a seated calf raise machine at your disposal it’s a highly effective option. To get started, sit on the machine and place the balls of your feet on the platform. Position yourself so the pads are over your thighs. Lift your heels slightly so release pressure on the machine and disengage the safety bar. Raise your heels, squeezing your calves in the process. Hold at the top of the contraction and then lower your heels to the starting position. If you don’t have a seated calf raise machine, you can perform a similar action using a barbell across your knees.
- Standing Dumbbell Calf Raises – This is a simpler calf raise exercise you can perform at home. Place a block of wood, step or other platform on the floor. Holding two dumbbells of desired weight at your sides, place the balls of your feet on the platform. Slowly raise your heels and squeeze your calves. Hold at the top of the contraction before returning the heels back to the ground.
- Bonus Tip: You might have noticed that dancers often sport some serious calves as they are on their toes all the time. Try utilizing a tip from their playbook to build calf muscles, which is to perform 100 bodyweight calf raises every day. Try it out for 4-6 weeks and see if it works for you. You could also perform this exercise as a drop set after a regular set at the gym.
The calf exercises above are a good starting point. Also keep in mind that various sporting and cardio activities can be great for building calf muscles. These include cycling (off seat), sprinting, and utilizing stairmasters, stepmills and even treadmills. With treadmills, you can try walking backwards or use them normally with a steep incline. If you found that any of these tips worked for you, or you have a few of your own, please comment below.