You’ve perfectly balanced your chest and back. Your biceps and triceps have been carefully molded into the deepest valleys and the most solid peaks in the gym.
Your neck is yolked, and your thighs can crush a watermelon. Hopefully your calves have kept up. If you’ve put all of that effort into building the perfect body and then it tapers off into weak calf muscles, then what are you doing?
Calf exercises are great because they don’t require a lot of equipment, and the payoff is beyond compare.
Your calves aren’t a very complicated muscle group. When you think about it, they’re a lot like your biceps. The key difference here is mostly the size and location.
If you’re smart about keeping your legs limber and your knees in line during your workouts, you’re probably never going to run into some of the more common problems our calves are, unfortunately, designed to run into.
The human body is incredible, but sometimes it’s too complex for its own good. It takes a lot of knowledge to avoid injury when you’re working out regularly, especially if your goal is to break down your muscles to build them back stronger than ever.
As a broad overview, your calves are made up of two muscles. Again, this is a lot like your biceps. That’s convenient because the tibia and fibula are just as similar to your forearms in structure as the calves and biceps are, so it’s easy to remember what’s similar and different about the two.
The placement, for one, should stick out to you as a major difference. Beyond the obvious, like how your calves are situated on your legs instead of your arms, your calves can be seen as a kind of opposite to your biceps.
Your biceps split one thicker body into a pair of heads that allow your lower arm to twist every which way, giving your arms a great range of motion. Your calves on the other hand (or foot in this case) are more like bodies that convene at a single point. That may not sound like much of a difference, but you can see how their placement and shape affect something like the rotational ability of your legs.
If you stick your arm out in front of your body, you can see how easy it is to flip your arm over 180-degrees. This is because of your biceps and their two-headed structure. Your legs, however, take much more effort to rotate, and they don’t rotate as far as your arms will without significant training.
Your calves are made up of two muscles as we mentioned earlier. The larger of these two muscles is the gastrocnemius. If you have a little definition to your calves, you can look down hile flexing them and see a bulge. That bulge is your gastrocnemius.
Your gastrocnemius continues the trend of twos by being made up of two heads as well. These two heads split off and make a nice diamond shape, that shape helps with a lot of the power and stability that your calves need to be able to generate in order to keep your body walking all day.
The smaller of these two muscles is your soleus. This muscle is flatter than your gastrocnemius as well as lying a little bit more shallow. Together these muscles sweep down into a point on your heel, and they’re responsible for all of your walking, balancing, and tip-toeing.
These muscles are a pretty clever use of physics and evolution when you think about it. They use leverage with the ground to pull your heel up, allowing you all sorts of movement.
This connection point is your Achilles tendon. It’s a particularly thick tendon that’s under a great deal of tension at all times.
Your calves are pretty strong, and they need to be in order to allow us as humans to walk and run for extended periods of time. This high-tension choke point becomes an area that’s prone to devastating injury.
Farmer’s walks are an amazing way to build muscle in your forearms and trapezius muscles, but when you add in a simple change like walking on your tiptoes, you push them even further and you can blast your calves out of the water. This variant on the farmer’s walk is an excellent way to increase the strength of your calves while working on the rest of your body.
Jumping Jacks don’t come up very often around these parts. We tend to focus on weightlifting, but in this case, this calisthenic exercise is a great way to build up your calves while getting some cardio into your routine.
We know you’re not getting enough cardio into your routine, and jumping jacks are a simple and effective way to do that. They’re also a plyometric exercise that will train your calves to put out a lot of energy and they’ll beef up the muscles pretty quickly.
Not everybody is going to have access to an agility ladder, you usually find them on the football field, but you can rig up something similar with a little masking tape or your imagination. As long as you’re capable of marking set distances for your feet to land in, you’ll be able to take on the agility ladder.
Calf raises are so deceptively simple, but they’re an excellent exercise for isolating exactly your calves and nothing else. You’re getting a lot of utility out of this simple set of movements, and you can get a lot out of them while you’re on the clock at work or out on the road making a quick pit stop. The beauty here lies in using your full body weight to resist your calves.
This is a simple variant on the calve raise. If you’re worried that the single-leg variant is going to be as hard as something like a pistol, then let your mind be at ease for a little bit. Single-leg calf raises are challenging, for sure, but they’re a testament to how powerful these little muscles are.
You’re going to need a leg press machine of this variant of the calf raise, but it’s well worth the effort. If you’re serious about developing rock-hard, beautifully sculpted legs, then you’re going to need to challenge your calves with something way more difficult to lift than the bodyweight you’re already constantly carrying around on them.
Isometric exercise is one of the best ways to build endurance as well as muscle. You’re going to be pushing your calves to the limit with what, on the surface, looks like very little work. If you can push through the pain, and progressively get better and better at this exercise, you’re going to be setting your body and your calves up for some major success.
Because your calves are split into a pair of very distinct heads, it’s good to branch out a little bit in order to fully cover your muscle’s range of motion.
This is the final variant on the calf raise. Weighing your body down with a significant amount of weight is the only way to get truly bulging calves. You’re going to need a squat rack for this, but it’s well for the added equipment.
Building muscle isn’t just about how many reps you can do. It’s a delicate balancing act between how often you work out, how far you push yourself, and how effectively you can rest in between bouts at the gym. You should be treating your body to plenty of protein and lots of regular stretching if you want to pack on a lot of muscle.
Keeping your calf muscles limber is going to be extremely important. When you build a lot of muscle, you run the risk of pulling tendons and joints out of alignment. If you’re going to pack on muscle in an area as specialized and delicate as your Achilles, then you’re absolutely going to need to stretch regularly.
If you can make time during your rest days to stretch your calves out, you can limber up all of the rigid muscle you’ve built. This is going to save your body from a lot of grief down the line, and you’ll have the added benefit of more enjoyable workouts once you’ve achieved a degree of flexibility.
Rest days are the bread and butter of an effective workout routine. You need rest just as much as you need exercise. The importance of rest after a particularly intense workout and the reason you don’t just train the same muscle every day lies in how your body builds muscle.
If just working out was enough, you could pump the same weights all day long, but instead, we have to take a step back and give our bodies the chance to do their work. When you’re working out you’re creating micro-tears in your muscles. These micro-tears set off a signal in your body that something needs fixing.
When your body sets out to fix something, it’s not like a lazy landlord, your body understands that fixing something broken means you’re going to want it built back better than ever. This natural inclination of your body is the entire reason you can build muscle at all in the first place.
This process of building thicker, stronger muscle in place of muscles that have been torn up by your rigorous exercise is called hypertrophy. You can help this process along by resting and stocking up on protein. Rest days don’t have to be totally passive, but they do have to be low-impact.
Take this time to take a walk around your neighborhood or this would be the perfect time to work out your stretches, to keep your muscles light and ready to go.
Yoga also works well for this. Isometric exercise, flexibility, and the opportunity to slow down and appreciate the hard work you’ve done is the perfect rest day activity.
Be sure to pack in protein as well. A diet that’s high in protein is going to be capable of responding quickly to the demands of your muscles. Your muscle fibers, and most structures in your body, are made up of protein. Keep your body well-stocked in protein, and the gains will follow.
You know now what makes your calves so powerful to begin with, and what all you can do to change them for the better in the long run. If you’re trying to create an overall sculpted look, you can’t skip out on calf gains.
Take some time every week to at least work in some calf raises, and you’re going to put yourself strides ahead of the competition.