Let’s face it – the calves are a stubborn muscle. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who are gifted in the lower leg department, you’re going to have to work both hard and smart to get them to respond. The first part of that equation involves choosing the right exercises.
In this article, we break down some popular calf muscle exercises to separate the best calf exercises from the rest. Let’s find out what trains the calves the best, including those that want bigger calves !
What You Need to Know About Training the Calve Muscles
Although many people classify them as being two separate muscles, others consider the calves to actually be just one muscle, made of two parts – the gastrocnemius (gastro) and the soleus. That’s because they both have the same insertion point at the Achilles tendon and produce the same action of plantar flexion.
Many believe that you can do exercises to isolate the soleus and the gastro. The reality is that the soleus has very little potential for growth development. Furthermore, as stated already, the anatomical movement of the two parts is virtually identical. As a result you cannot do different exercise for these two parts of the calf muscle.
The gastro is made of two parts – the inner and outer heads. It is commonly believed that you can work the inner or outer part more by the way you point your toes when you do the calf raise. This is not the case. Both the inner and outer head insert at the Achilles tendon so they cannot be isolated. The whole calf gets activated when you do the exercise.
The reality is that there is nothing you can do to change the shape of your calves – it is genetic.
Ideal Foot Placement
Now that we know that angling your foot in or out does not have any influence on the effectiveness of the calf raise, we need to decide just what the best foot position is. Rather than worrying about the angle of your foot, think about the placement of the bottom of the foot on the calf raise block.
Make sure that the ball of your foot, just below your big toe, is firmly planted on the block. This is the most secure and the strongest position from which to extend and contract. The ‘ball’ of your foot is called the sesamoid bone. This bone runs diagonally down from under your big toe. So, to ensure that it is fully on the block, you should angle your feet slightly upward when you are setting up for this exercise.
Many people only have their toes on the block. This makes as much sense as doing dumbbell curls and holding onto the weight with just your fingertips!
When most people do the exercise, the feet naturally slip a little after every few reps. You should stop when this happens and reset yourself on the block. You need to be fully on the block to achieve a full extension and contraction.
Range of Motion
Walk into any gym and you will see a lot of people using an abbreviated range of motion on many exercises. When it comes to this exercise, whether it’s the standing or seated version, they tend to go through a bouncy motion, barely moving from the start position. Why do they do this? More often than not it is because they have overloaded the weight beyond what they can use for a proper full range of motion rep.
Your feet should drop lower than the balls of your feet. The calf muscle should also extend to its full extent. If you have to drop the weight in order to achieve a complete range of motion on the calf raise exercise, then that is precisely what you should do.
Ok, let’s start rating some calf exercises. . .
Seated Calf Raise – Rating: 7
The vast majority of your calf muscle is made up of the gastrocnemius. However, when you perform the seated calf raise exercise you are not able to fully stretch the gastro because the origin of the muscle is above the knee. With your knee being bent for this exercise, you simply cannot extend it through a full range of motion.
The fact that you cannot extend your gastro through full range of motion compromises the exercise somewhat. However, this is still a relatively good exercise for the calves. Just make sure that you are moving the calves through a full range of motion.
Standing Calf Raise – Rating: 8
The standing calf raise is a good exercise that allows you to effectively work the entire calf muscle, including the meaty gastrocnemius. Because there is no need to bend your knees, you are able to get complete extension at the top of the movement. However, many people find some discomfort directly behind the knee when they do this exercise. There is also the danger of hyper extending the knee.
To overcome these problems, you should have a slight bend in your knee when you are doing the standing calf raise.
People with spinal problems may find that the weight that the shoulder pads transfers through their spine to the calves is problematic for them.
45 Degree Leg Press Calf Raise – Rating: 10
The 45 degree leg press machine calf raise is an excellent calf exercise. That is because it provides you with a straight leg position to fully activate all the calf muscle, including the gastro. You also have absolutely no pressure on your spine when you do the exercise on the 45 degree leg press.
All three of the calf exercises that we have looked at in this article are relatively good. Of the three, the seated calf raise is the most compromised. If you do not have lower back problems, I recommend switching between the standing and the 45 degree leg press versions of the exercise. Do six sets of each, with reps ranging from 30 down to 15.
Smart Fitness Results has article written by qualified professionals so that you get the best exercise guides and training tips for both womens and mens fitness.
We have how to articles (how to do the famers walks, the box jump, use a jump rope effectively, the squats and deadlifts correctly); best exercises based on our review (best exercises that increases strength, best cardio workout, best lower body workouts, best chest workouts, best muscle growth exercises, best body weight workouts); and nutrition guides for you to follow (for example the importance of macronutrient calculator to help fat loss, what are the best workout supplements).
These exercises can easily be done in your home gym as well as the gym. Read on and enjoy !