By Myprotein Writer
Jamie Wykes Hobday
You have just come to the ‘end’ of your leg workout, finished that last set on the leg extension and thats it, right? You’ve gritted through the squats, lunges, leg extensions and hamstring curls before realising there is one last push that needs to be done or else you will be left standing on the beach in summer with an odd looking set of legs. It is time to talk calves!
Generally, we associate the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes with functional mobility, however, calves play a fundamental role in our day to day activities. The calf muscle pulls the heel upwards to allow forward motion throughout activities such as walking, skipping, jogging, sprinting. And with reference to the gym, the calves also play a slight role in almost any exercise involving the triple extension movement (Joint Movement at the ankle, knee and hip) such as the squat, deadlift, lunge, leg press and more.
The reason for this is due to the fact that there is movement at the ankle and knee joint; situated above and below the calves!
The calves are situated just below the knee joint and is comprised of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscle.
The gastrocnemius muscle
This is the larger muscle of the two and is comprised of two heads; the lateral and medial head. This muscle is responsible for movements such as ankle plantar flexion and also plays a role in knee extension. Being situated at the top of the muscle, it is the most visible when being trained and developed sufficiently.
If looking to stimulate the gastrocnemius muscle, exercises that should be applied tend to be straight legged calf movements such as; Standing Calf Machine Raises, Standing Dumbbell Calf Raises or Dumbbell Tip Toe Walks.
The soleus muscle
This is situated just below the gastrocnemius and whilst this causes it not to be completely visible; developing the soleus is what will give the calf the aesthetic development in width and broadness.
The soleus muscle is best stimulated via bent legged calf movements such as seated calf raises. With reference to the muscle fibres which are used throughout training; the gastrocnemius is largely comprised of powerful fast twitch fibres and because of this it tends to start first and also fatigue first. Once this occurs, the soleus muscle takes over due to its capacity of endurance slow twitch fibres.
As the previous passage will have explained, the calves are essential to our training programmes and should not be overlooked! One of the most common exercises in calf training is the calf raise; the following context will explain how to correctly perform this exercise and some of the common mistakes you can expect to see in the gym.
Calf Raise Exercise |
1) Standing opposite the calf raise machine set the pads for the shoulders at about eye level. With feet shoulder width apart and toes facing forwards, crouch and place yourself under the pads.
2) The front or ‘the balls’ of the feet should be on the base of the machine with the heels dropped off the end.
3) As you extend from your hips and knees, push the padding upwards until you are stood fully straight and upright with an erect spine; keeping a straight back throughout the movement will prevent any rounding of the back. Furthermore, to prevent any injury likelihood at the knee joint, ensure that your knees are not locked out and are slightly bent.
4) As you promptly exhale your breath, elevate through your ankles and heels until your calf is fully contracted and extended. At this point you should be emphasising a flexion on your calves. Hold this contraction and squeeze for a brief second.
5) Throughout this part of the movement, your legs should not be moving and all emphasis should be placed on the calves.
6) Once the calves are fully extended and they have felt a serious contraction, lower the weight back down slowly to the starting position.
7) As you lower the weight to the starting position, inhale your breath. Both the lowering and breathing should be done in a slow, controlled manner.
8) Lower the weight until the calves are fully stretched.
9) Briefly pause before repeating the movement.
Calf Raise Exercise |
✗ Not Getting A Full Contraction
In order to fully stimulate a muscle, you have to feel an adequate contraction. Fully stretching the muscle and adding a negative eccentric will achieve this. Applying this method and taking the correct time throughout each repetition is what will place sufficient time under tension on the calf muscle, ultimately resulting in muscle growth.
Next time you train calves, try this method; explosive concentric (upwards movement), squeeze and flex at the top of the movement for a second before slowly releasing the movement eccentrically. When at the bottom you should fully stretch the calves too – try it and feel the burn!
✗ Sticking To The Same Repetition Range
Due to the fact that your gastrocnemius and soleus contain different types of muscle fibres (fast twitch and slow twitch), they will respond differently to different training stimulus. Fast twitch fibres tend to respond best to lower, heavier, more explosive repetitions whereas slow twitch fibres will respond to the opposite; higher, lighter endurance like repetitions.
Neither of these styles are wrong and they both can serve unique purposes; lower, heavier reps can provide strength gains and higher reps can supply an awesome pump! For these reasons alone, when training calves; it is important to switch up the repetition ranges and moreover, know which exercises require specific rep ranges.
✗ Not Enough Training Frequency
If you think about it, there is simple logic why your calves are not as developed as say your biceps and triceps; because they are not trained as much. You are essentially hitting your biceps and triceps via pull and push movements as well as dedicating a session to them completely, whilst you only train your calves generally when you remember to as they are not massively prevalent in lower body movements! Prevent this by upping your frequency and training them more.
For example, don’t be afraid to add another calf session to your current routine; train them as much as you train your upper body. The frequency at which you train them can depend on a number of factors so find out what works best for you.
✗ Not Targeting All Sections
As stated earlier, the gastrocnemius and the soleus will be stimulated using different exercises; simply performing machine calf raises will not target the whole calf muscle. In order to target the whole calf muscle, try to add a stiff legged calf exercise and a bent legged calf exercise to each session.
For example, a standing machine calf raise and a seated calf raise movement. This will efficiently train both parts of the calves and prevent any unsymmetrical imbalances.
✗ Not Training Them
Often, because they are typically tailored towards the end of leg sessions, calves sometimes just do not get trained. Due to being so fatigued from tiresome leg sessions, some may skip training calves all together.
To avoid this, apply the priority principal; if you usually leave calves till the end of your session, try applying them earlier on towards the beginning. This way you will be less likely to forget/leave them out and will also be able to train them with a higher intensity as you will be less fatigued.