How to build big calf muscles
Check out this awesome calf workout Youtube video by Benjamin Paluski, champion bodybuilder and personal trainer. Ben is really strict on good technique, as you'll see.
His main coaching tips are: stand with feet shoulder width apart, feet pointing forward not toes outward. There's no benefit from wider or narrower stance. When performing calf raise, push with emphasis on big toes, rather than the outside of the feet. Aim for as high a raise as possible. Perform the movement slowly. Keep knees straight. Ben performs 10 reps with weights, then 10 reps with no weights straight away, then repeats the cycle. Don't forget to stretch afterwards, both gastrocs and soleus (see below).
Arnie was a great fan of heavy calf workouts, he loved the deep burning sensation they produced. He was an animal!
"Ideally, your calf development should about equal the development of your arm muscles. If your calves are smaller than your arms, then you need to give them extra attention." (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
The key mass-builder for calves, the unbeatable exercise, is the standing calf raise machine. You can also perform this with dumbbells, but the machine locks you into position, and the foot rest is a solid platform from which you can perform the exercise to the max. Your calves can withstand very heavy weights, and they are also muscles of great endurance (not surprising, as they come into play whenever you walk, so they've evolved to be strong and durable). So in order to grow your calves, you need to train both heavy and with high reps, to stimulate further growth.
The burning sensation you get from a heavy calf workout is unlike the feeling you get from any other muscle. It's agonising, and also invigorating when you've finished the set. Heavy calf training also stimulates your muscle-growth hormones, and indirectly helps overall muscle development.
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This is the smaller and deeper of the two calf muscles. Its origin is at both the fibula and the tibia (the two bones of the lower leg). The soleus inserts into the rear of the calcaneus (the heel bone). The soleus plantar-flexes the foot, ie enables you to raise up on your tiptoes.
Gastroc for short, this muscle is larger than the soleus, and straddles both the knee joint and the ankle joint, whereas the soleus only straddles the ankle joint. The gastroc is a two-headed muscle. The lateral head originates at the lateral side near the bottom of the femur, the bone of the upper leg. The medial head originates at the medial side near the bottom of the femur. The common point of insertion is the rear of the calcaneus, the heel bone, same as the insertion point of the soleus.
The gastroc plantar-flexes the foot, as does the soleus. But the gastroc also helps flex your leg at the knee joint.
This muscle gets worked whenever you perform the above calf exercises, but it can get tight and cause your feet to mis-align, so make sure you stretch and foam roll this muscle. The point of insertion is around half way up the medial (inside) portion of your calf, near the shin bone.
This is a small muscle which opposes the tibialis posterior, and assists with dorsiflexion (when you raise your toes upwards).
Standing Calf Raises - for both soleus and gastrocs - this is by far the best mass builder for the calves. For full development, make slight variations in the position of your feet ie - toes pointing outward targets the inside of the calves, and toes pointing inward targets the outside of the calves. Try this - you'll really feel it! The Russian bodybuilder personal trainer I hired a few years ago in north London, he had Arnie-size calves, and this was his main calf exercise. Don't go so heavy that you compromise your range of movement in the exercise, and perform the movements slowly for maximum effect.
Seated Calf Raises - isolates the soleus
Make sure you stretch your calves thoroughly at the end of your workout. Failure to stretch calves after a heavy workout may result in you not being able to fully straighten your legs the next day, which makes walking rather difficult! Make sure your upper calves (origin of gastrocs) are stretched as thoroughly as the lower calves at the ankle. Most of the hamstring stretches achieve a good stretch of the gastrocs behind the knee. Don't rush these stretches, take at least 1 minute for each calf.
The calf muscle often neglected when it's time to stretch, is the soleus. Stretch one leg at a time. Stand on the edge of a step, with the front third of your foot on the step and the back two-thirds off it. Now let your heel drop slowly, and hang from the ball of your foot, with a slight bend of the knee. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other leg.
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