Leg Day | Don't Forget your Calves!
Calf muscles just aren’t worth getting worked up about are they?
They’re possibly the most overlooked muscles in the body when it comes to working out. But you should definitely give these little powerhouses the attention they deserve.
This article will take a look at why strong, defined calves are so important and how to get and maintain them.
Don’t forget the calf half
What exercises first spring to mind when planning your lower-body strength training sessions?
Squats? Hip thrusts? Lunges?
While all of these are great for targeting larger, broader muscles such as the thighs, hips or glutes, they place less focus on those all-important calf muscles that make up almost half the length of your leg.
The calf is made from two muscles:
Large Gastrocnemius | Large, shorter and rounded muscle that gives the calf a curved appearance.
Smaller Soleus | Longer and flatter muscle that runs below the gastrocnemius, in other words the lower part of your calf that runs down to the ankle joint.
Due to the length and size of the calf muscles, it’s pretty obvious that they do quite a bit of work and carry out important functions in the body, mainly balance and stability. Therefore, it’s a mistake to neglect your calves when strength training.
The benefits of strong calves
They may be relatively small, but they are pretty mighty. Having good calf muscles can bring you a whole host of benefits. Here are some of the reasons to fit calf exercises into your workout routines.
Reduced risk of injury
Calf injuries are some of the most common injuries for those who take part in strenuous sporting activities such as running, football, hockey, basketball etc. When a movement is too sudden or a muscle stretches too far, a painful pull can occur leaving you unable to work out for up to many months. Strong calf muscles that have been toned are far less likely to sprain and will be able to stretch further.
Stability and control
Exercising your calves is great for improving stability and control. You’ll be far more agile and quick on your feet with strong calves, which is ideal for anything from hiking to fast-paced team sports. For any activity that requires precise balance such as gymnastics or javelin, strong calves are a must.
Looking your best is always a great motivator. And looking good shouldn’t stop at the knees. Well-defined and toned or shapely calves with improve your entire leg definition as well as giving you better overall muscle symmetry.
So, do you want to build strong, toned calf muscles while reducing your chances of lower body injuries? Find out how with these quick and simple exercises.
Super-charged Calf Exercises
Working out your calves falls into two main categories: Strengthening and Stretching. For well-defined calves, aim to complete a range of exercises which include the four main calf and foot movements:
- Rising up on your toes
- Pulling your toes toward you
- Rotating the foot inwards
- Rotating the foot outwards
Make sure that you are fully warmed up before beginning any strengthening activities. To find out the best warm-up routine for you, click here.
If you’re looking for flexibility and a reduced risk of injury, you must stretch your calves regularly – both before and after a training session. Choose from these four simple stretches to ensure you get a complete total-calf-workout.
Ankle circles will stretch and increase your range of movement in your calf muscles.
- Place a hand on a solid surface for support.
- Standing on your left leg, raise your right leg a few inches from the floor.
- Rotate the foot in a circular motion turning clockwise, drawing a large circle with your big toe. One circle is one repetition.
- Breathe normally throughout and repeat with left leg.
- To target the whole calf, repeat by rotating anticlockwise on each leg.
STANDING CALF STRETCH
This is a really powerful stretch – you should really feel it all along your calf as you pull your toes towards you.
- Place your right heel on a step with your toes raise upwards and your right knee fully locked and extended.
- Your other leg should be slightly bent. Make sure your weight goes through your back heel.
- Lean forward and place your left hand on your left leg and your right hand around your right foot, pulling your toes gently towards you until you feel a pull in your right calf muscle.
- Repeat for the left leg.
FOAM ROLL CALVES
- Start by sitting on the floor with the foam roller under your right knee. Your left leg should be placed over the top of the right with ankles touching, but you may choose to rest it on the floor for added support and balance.
- Place your hands on the floor just behind or to the side of you and slowly raise your hips off the floor by redistributing your weight onto the foam roll through your calf.
- Roll the foam roller down your right leg, from just below your knee to above your ankle.
- Hold this position for 10-30 seconds before repeating on left leg.
To gain well-defined calves, they need to be worked! If you are new to training this muscle, start with lighter weights and build up gradually. If using a heavier weight for the first time, you may choose to complete slightly fewer reps to start with.
STANDING DUMBBELL CALF RAISE
Calf raises use a short range of motion and are one of the most effective and popular ways to build muscle in your calves. You can easily tailor them by adjusting the weights used.
- Stand feet hip-width apart on a raised surface such as a stable wooden block (about 2-3 inches tall). The balls of your feet should be on the block while your heels extend off, touching the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand for added resistance.
- Begin to exhale as you raise your heels as high as you can. Your calves should be fully contracted. Hold this position at the top for a few seconds.
- Remember to keep your knees straight throughout the exercise, possibly bending only slightly during stretch.
- As you inhale, go back to the starting position by slowly lowering the heels.
- Repeat for the required number of reps.
Variation: If you want an alternative to holding heavy dumbbells, try a single leg calf raise. This is the same movement on a step or wooden block, but place a hand on the side for added support instead of holding dumbbells. This makes this variation a great exercise to do from home with no equipment!
SMITH MACHINE CALF RAISE
This exercise is similar to the dumbbell calf raises but here the weight is distributed across your back.
- Ensure that the bar is in a position which best matches your height – normally just above shoulder height. Load the bar with your chosen weight.
- Place a wooden block or weight plate on the floor below the bar and position the balls of your feet on it. Your heels should be extending off, resting on the floor. Position the bar onto the back of your shoulders. With both hands facing forward, unrack the bar.
- Raise your heels as high as you can by flexing your calf muscles. Once contracted, hold this position for a few seconds before inhaling and gently lowering your heels back to the floor.
- Repeat for the required number of reps.
CALF PRESS ON THE LEG PRESS MACHINE
- Lay on the machine with feet flat on the platform, knees shoulder-width apart.
- Lower the safety bar to release the platform, allowing you to push it all the way up, straightening your legs without fully locking out your knees. (You may be able to leave the safety bar on with some machines. If you can, for added safety, it is better to leave it on.) You should now be in an L-shaped position.
- Carefully move the balls of your feet to the lower part of the platform so that your heels are extended off. (Be very careful when moving your feet down the platform - if the safety bar is not on, the platform could slip, causing serious injury.)
- Breathe out and slowly push the platform away by extending your ankle. There should be no movement at the knees with just your feet and ankles moving. Once fully extended, hold for a few seconds before carefully lowering the heels and stretching your calf muscles.
- Repeat for the required number of reps.
Variation: Why not try completing this one leg at a time?
DUMBBELL SEATED ONE-LEG CALF RAISE
A seated calf raise can be a great way to make all the focus on those calf muscles, and remove the emphasis away from other muscle groups. Again, this exercise can be tailored to your needs by choosing the weight that best suits you.
- Place a wooden block or a weight plate about 12 inches from the flat bench.
- Sit on the bench and position the ball of your right foot on the wooden block or weight plate. The heel of your foot should extend off, touching the floor. Your left foot will be flat on the floor.
- Place the dumbbell on your right leg, a few inches above the knee and hold steady.
- Gradually bring your heel up, contracting the calf muscle and hold this for a few seconds at the top.
- Bring the heel back down as far as possible, feeling a stretch in the calf.
- Repeat for the required number of reps and on both legs.
Variation: You can also carry out this movement with both legs at the same time as well as with a seated calf raise machine.