The muscle groups of your upper legs may very well support the core muscles of your body when you’re lifting but the lower leg muscles of the calves must work hard to stabilize the body through every movement while bearing the total weight of the body and any additional loads – twisting, raising you up onto your toes, lowering your onto your heels, twisting your feet.
It’s vital that your calves support you through every movement or you risk serious injury. Likewise, it does little good to train the rest of your body but leave your calves alone. You won’t be able to effectively stabilize the weights you’re moving and lifting outside of general workouts – meaning there’s no practical application for your muscle mass. Plus you’ll look like you’ve got chicken legs.
Instead of wasting all the time doing agonizing squats and deadlifts without supporting your overall mass, start working through these top 5 exercises for increasing your calf muscles to ensure that you establish and maintain a well-rounded workout.
The Anatomy of the Calf Muscle
The calf muscle is a group of muscles that are balled into a large group in the upper portion of the lower leg just below the knee. This group is made up of 2 muscles that combine to make up the whole of the calf muscle.
• Gastrocnemius – The calf muscle that is most visible from the exterior of the body. This muscle attaches at the Achilles tendon and originates just behind the knee on the femur where it crosses the knee joint
• Soleus – This is a deep muscle that is not visible when looking at the leg externally. It lies beneath the gastrocnemius on the rear portion of the lower leg.
The function of the two muscles together is the elevate the heel both with the leg straight and when the knee is bent. The action of bending the heal is used in a variety of movements – walking, jumping, running, squats, etc.
The Top 5 Exercises for Increasing Calf Muscles – The Breakdown
The calf muscles can be worked in a variety of ways but they are a specialized muscle group that receive very little activity and attention unless they are specifically targeted. These top 5 exercises for the calf muscles will help you maintain a balanced workout in conjunction with other exercises so that your overall wellness and physical tone remains in balance.
Some of these exercises require the use of weights while others use little more than natural physical resistance. For additional resistance in any exercise you can add additional weight by using body straps or free weights (or by increasing the resistance of a machine if one is used.)
Top Calf Exercise #1 – Standing Calf Raises
This exercise can be done using either a dedicated machine or a calf block. The number of reps you do for this exercises will vary depending on your current calf mass and workout routine. Test different ranges to see which works for the density of your calf muscles.
Stand under the machine pads or bar with the balls of your feet on the calf block. Start with your heels low, approximately 2 to 4 inches below the block. This will offer the best stretch on your calves. Slowly raise yourself up on the balls of your feet as high as you’re able and contract your calf muscles as you reach the peak. Hold briefly and lower under control to repeat.
Top Calf Exercise #2 – Seated Calf Raise
This is a workout that is necessary to achieve complete development of the calf muscles. While this movement is similar to the standing calf raise, the seated calf raise will actually target the lower muscles of the calf (the soleus).
Sit with the machine pads resting on your thighs. Again, drop your heel to 2-4 inches depending on how flexible you are. Raise again and squeeze the calf muscles once you reach the top. The rep range for this workout, as well as the standing calf raise, should between 10 and 20 depending on the needs of your body and what you can tolerate.
Top Calf Exercise #3 – Leg Press Calf Raises
This is a tried and true exercise that has been in use for years known also as the donkey raise. Because of the nature of the exercise it has the most potential for getting a deeper pull in the calf muscles. The workout can be intensified with added weights, so you can avoid having to do calf presses with someone sitting on your back.
Sit on the leg press machine and hold the sled with only your toes and the balls of your feet. Do not move with your hips or knees and instead put all the movement into your ankles. This puts all the emphasis on your calf muscles and nowhere else in the leg.
Top Calf Exercise #4 – Box Jumps
In many lifting exercises you need to have explosive strength in your legs. The box jump offers that, as it’s a functional exercise made to give your calf muscles far more power and “spring”. This exercise can train your muscles to react and contract much more quickly, and will deliver some serious tone to your calf muscles.
Stand on the balls of your feet and you toes in front of a box, with the height appropriate to your limitations. Jump onto the box and land again on your toes and the balls of your feet. Jump back down to the floor and repeat for 8 to 10 reps. Do not use dumbbells or other held weights during this exercise as you may need your hands free in order to catch yourself if you trip.
Top Calf Exercise #5 – Dumbbell Jump Squat
While this movement does also work the upper leg muscles it focuses a great deal of attention on the calf muscles as well and is an integral part of any whole body workout. Like the box jump, the dumbbell jump squat can help add explosive power to your workout routine. This form of workout helps to develop muscle quickly – increased mass equals a higher metabolism and a better calorie burn through your other workouts.
To perform, simply place yourself in a position for a standard squat and lower your body into the squat, moving to the balls of your feet and toes as you do so. Once you’re at your lowest point, propel yourself up and explode upward into a jump. Land on the balls of your feet and immediately move into another squat. Use dumbbells for this exercise to increase the difficult, but avoid using a barbell. Dumbbells will provide a lower center of gravity and give you more central control of your balance.
You’ll see the best results by adding the top exercises to build your calf muscles to your usual workout routine. When working on increasing muscle mass in the lower legs, remember that it’s important to take in the proper amount of nutrients and protein to sustain your exercises and never push yourself beyond your daily limit. Give your body the appropriate time to rest and recover between each workout session as a damaged muscle group is a useless muscle group.