How to get great calf muscles
Updated: Jul 17, 2019
Whether you are a man or a woman, great calf muscles can help define a good-looking physique. One of the biggest myths is that the calf muscles are too stubborn to grow and that you have to be born with great calves to have great calf development. This isn’t true. The truth is that you can achieve great calf development if you dedicate yourself to training them consistently and know how to train them correctly.
The first thing a person looking to build up their calf muscles needs to learn is about the muscles they are trying to build. In the calf area there are several muscles. The muscles people most commonly think of when training their calves are the muscles in posterior (rear) of the lower leg. These are the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius has 2 heads (medial and lateral) and sits on top of the soleus muscle which is behind the gastrocnemius. Many people think these 2 muscles sit next to each other but the soleus sits immediately below the gastrocnemius. These 2 muscles make up the majority of the muscle in the calf area but there are also other muscles. There are also muscles in the front and side of the lower leg that make up the calf area. The tibialis anterior, peroneus longus, and other flexor and extensor muscles that are in the front and to the side of the lower leg make up what is considered the calf muscles.
Because the calf area is comprised of different types of muscles to get optimal calf development you must train all the different muscles that make up the calf. The different muscles in the calf respond to different types of training so training them the right way is critical to get them to grow. The 2 biggest muscles in the calf area and the 2 muscles that will add the biggest amount of size to your calves are the soleus and the gastrocnemius. Both these muscles perform plantar flexion (when you are standing and lift up with you calves to get on your toes and balls of your feet) but have some other significant differences between them. The soleus muscle of the calf is almost entirely composed of slow twitch muscle fibers (endurance muscle) and will therefore respond best to training with lighter weight and for higher repetitions. The soleus muscle works when the knee is in a bent position as with the seated calf raise machine.
While the soleus responds best to training with higher repetitions and lighter weights the gastrocnemius is composed of primarily fast twitch muscle fibers and will therefore respond better to heavier weights with a lower to moderate amount of repetitions. The gastrocnemius works when the knee is in the straightened position as with the standing calf raise machine and one arm standing dumbbell calf raises. Now most people that train their calves only think of these 2 muscles when they train their calves and don’t realize that there is more to the calf area than these 2 muscles. The people that do this are neglecting some other areas of the calf that can add size to the whole calf area. Like I stated earlier, there are many muscles in the front and side of the lower leg and training them is important to getting good overall calf development. Most of these muscles work by performing what is called dorsiflexion (the opposite of plantar flexion, when you move your toes closer to your shin or body). The only problem with training the calf muscles in dorsiflexion is that there are not many pieces of equipment in gyms that train the calves specifically for dorsiflexion and the front and side of the calf muscles. To train the front and sides of the calf you may have to get creative with free weights and resistance bands to do exercises for them. An easy exercise to perform for the front and sides of the calf is sitting with your legs up on a bench with just your feet resting over the bench and holding a dumbbell in your feet for resistance to perform dorsiflexion.
Because the calves are a smaller muscle they will recover quicker and can and should be trained more frequently. To get the calf development many desire a serious commitment to training them must be in place and that will require training them anywhere from 2 to 3 times a week. A proper program for the calves must consist of training all the areas of the calves that I covered. A workout consisting of about 2 to 3 different calf exercises and anywhere from 8 to 12 sets per calf workout is probably the right range for most people. Keep in mind though that workout programs are highly individualized and some people may respond best to training the calves more or less than what I recommended. Also keep in mind that the body adjusts very quickly to the same workout and it is important to continue to change your program to see consistent, long term progress.
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