Ladies, we all need to up our calf game. There is no better time than the legging covered winter to work on the body part that gets all the attention when you throw on your favorite heels. Carving out a nice set of calves takes persistence. But all that constant work means nothing if you aren't doing things the right way to get the look you want.
In knowing how to build and shape the calf muscle, we need to first understand what we are dealing with. The calves are constantly working and always under load from everything we do all day long. As a result, the muscles in the calf are very dense, and are a unique combination of both slow and fast twitch muscle. Additionally, the calves can be a couple of degrees colder than the more central muscle groups, so getting them to respond takes strategy.
Hollywood legend Steve Reeves was known to spend his mornings on his tiptoes. He felt that immediately stimulating the calves after lying down all night was a good way to force them to grow. He also had an amazing body at a point in time when no one had an amazing body - so he may have known what he was doing. Want to give it a shot? Just try standing on your toes when you brush your teeth. Even small, incremental stimulation can push your muscles to change.
Three Ways To Get Them Going:
The Seated Calf Raise : This is a staple to build lower calf strength. I like to do these as a starting exercise to really get my achilles stretched out as I get the blood flowing. I keep the weight light and move slowly through the movement like a ballet dancer getting up on her toes. Bouncing is not the way. Keep control - and keep your weight low and your reps high. I feel that overloading on this exercise can create a thickness in the lower calf area that doesn't benefit the desired shape.
Leg Press Calf Raises : Here is where I add the weight. I put just enough to make 20 reps challenging. If you load it right and get a full range of movement, 20 will be more than enough. I also change my foot position here during my three sets. I go from inline, to slightly outward , to slightly inward. If you start bouncing, you are going too heavy. Lighten up and do it right. Think about how you would press if you were trying to look over a wall. Pay attention not to shock load your knees here as well. A slight bend is all it takes - just keep them from being locked out - but don't let the quads sneak in to help you either. That's called cheating.
Standing Calf Raise : I have a love/hate relationship with this one. I love the feeling of the deep muscle stretch it gives me, but I hate the marks it can leave on my shoulders. To combat this, I use a lighter weight, and really relax at the bottom of the movement to get the full benefit of that elongation. When you feel it, you will know you are in the right spot.
If you don't want to risk the shoulder marks from the standing calf raise, try the standing dumbbell calf raise. Flex hard at the top and relax the muscle as you lower back to the floor. It's not exactly the same, but if you don't enjoy your workout, you aren't going to stick with it, so alternatives are always a good thing. Using a couple of weight plates under your toes can give you an additional range of movement that you wont get from just being on the floor.
Simple But Effective
To get good calves, you have to plan your work, and then work your plan. Accessory muscles can be overlooked. Don't do that. Training your calves regularly will not only give your legs an overall better shape, but will give you more balance and confidence in every move you make. Brush your teeth on your toes, don't bounce in the gym, keep them stretched out, and the next time you put on your favorite heels, you're going to steal the show.
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