If you want a well-balanced physique that looks as strong as it is, calf development is critical.
When you wear shorts the first thing people see on your legs are your calves. They immediately give a first impression of “damn, this guy lifts” or “damn, he looks like a 14 year old girl”.
Genetics are a huge part of calf development but that can be worked with by learning how to train them, what muscles comprise the calf and how often you can hit these stubborn bastards.
The calf muscles are made up of these major muscles:
- The Tibialis – on the front of the ankle
- The Soleus – back of the calf from the knee to the heel
- Gastrocnemius (medial and lateral) – this is that “diamond” muscle we all want, and aids in flexing the knee
Each of these have their own purpose, which you may not give a shit about, but a basic primer on what they do may convince you of the need to actually train calves instead of skipping them.
The Tibialis helps to flex your toes toward your body. Without this muscle working as we want it to, when you run you will trip over your own toes. It also provides stability with pulling the plantar surface of the foot towards your midline when standing or moving.
How can you strengthen the Tibialis?
Toe raises, weights on your feet and pick your toes up towards your body. This can be trained 2-4 times a week and high reps seem to work the best with this muscle. Do these anywhere from 20-50 reps a set. This is a muscle critical for locomotion and balance, treat it as a muscle that gets utilized often.
The Soleus has a simple purpose, the exact opposite of the Tibilias. This muscle is responsible for flexing your foot away from your body. It aids in jumping and pushing off when running.
By that explanation alone you would think the Soleus is a fast twitch muscle, correct?
You would be 100% wrong. The Soleus is predominantly slow twitch, to the tune of 80-85% old man slow.
Training a slow twitch fiber means they respond better to reps performed at a steady tempo.
Vary your rep range from 15-50 and train the Soleus with a bent knee.
Seated calf raise, standing calf raise with a slightly bent knee, leg press calf raises with a bent knee. Those are three examples of how to hit your Soleus in the best possible manner.
The last part of the calf is the Gastrocnemius. That elusive diamond shape a lot of us would kill to have.
The Gastroc does the usual shit you would expect it to do; help you run and help you jump. It also has a purpose a lot of you may not be aware of.
The Gastroc assists in knee flexion during one critical movement we all do in the quest to be stronger, the squat.
This muscle is part of a solid squat movement, period. It won’t necessarily be the missing link to help your squat skyrocket, but it will help your knee health. I am not going to scientific up this blog post to explain why but if you have pain behind the knee the Gastroc may be one thing you want to look at in terms of strength or flexibility.
The Gastroc is made up of mostly fast twitch fibers and responds very well to explosive reps.
Since a bent knee trains the Soleus, you want to keep your knee straight to hammer the Gastroc. Straight legs in donkey calf raises, leg press raises or standing.
One way to hit your reps with these is to not count them, but do them until you can’t go anymore. A style of training that has helped countless people is the DoggCrapp way of training the calves.
A three count down to a full stretch, pause the stretch, explode up without bending your knee and flex the shit out of your calf for a second or two. Repeat until you want to scream.
You can go heavier for 8 reps, you can do bodyweight (no weight for those that are going to ask what I mean) for dozens of reps (I do 100+) or moderate weight for reps from 10-25. Switch it up, it will respond to stimulus from all rep ranges.
You can even do these a little slower like you would other muscle groups, but since they are fast twitch dominant, they have the tendency to respond best to explosive training for reps.
That doesn’t mean do triples, don’t be an asshole about this. We want them to grow, not be a muscle group you tell your friends “I can do a 400 pound calf raise”.
You can train calves multiple times a week but I suggest not training the Soleus and the Gastroc on the same day.
An idea would be:
Tibialis – Front Toe Raises: 3 sets for 25 reps each, controlled tempo
Soleus – Bent knee Leg Press Calf Raises: 3 sets for 20 reps, controlled tempo
Tibilais – Front Toe Raises: 2 sets for 50 reps, controlled tempo
Gastroc – Standing Calf Raises Knees Straight DoggCrapp tempo: 3 sets to failure
Gastroc – Leg Press Calf Raises Knees Straight: 3 sets for 20-30 reps, controlled tempo with a flex at the end of each rep
You can use your imagination with rep ranges, tempo and machines to use to work on the three major muscle groups that are located in your lower leg.
Don’t be pigeonholed into a “calf day”, it doesn’t take long to do these and over time you will see better calf development if you actually train these.
Genetics are a big part of your calf development, some people have calves that are insane looking and they hardly train them while others have to work extra hard to have even a little development to them.
By training them properly, with the knowledge of how each muscle works, you will know what to do to make your lower leg look better and be stronger.
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