Since we covered Butt Stuff on our last episode, we thought we would spend some more time today talking about another under trained muscle: them calves. They’re important, typically aren’t super part of regular programming, but are necessary to be strong for so many reasons. We’re gonna make you calf believers by the end of this episode. Come, drink this kool-aid, won’t you? It’s delicious. 🙂
WHAT IS THE CALF
The calf muscle is the back part of your lower leg. It is responsible for pulling your heel up to allow forward movement while walking, running and jumping. BUT, it’s actually comprised of two muscles:
- The gastrocnemius is the larger calf muscle, forming the bulge visible beneath the skin. The gastrocnemius has two parts or “heads,” which together create its diamond shape.
- The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles taper and merge at the base of the calf muscle. Tough connective tissue at the bottom of the calf muscle merges with the Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon inserts into the heel bone
- The gastrocnemius is mostly made up of Type II fibres (aka fast-twitch fibres). This means this muscle is important in powerful explosive movements such as sprinting, jumping and changing direction
- The other, smaller muscle, is called the soleus. It sits underneath your gastrocnemius and starts from your tibia and fibula rather than your femur. The soleus then joins with the gastrocnemius to become your achilles tendon.
- The soleus is mostly made of Type I fibres, (slow-twitch fibres). This means the soleus has better endurance, i.e. won’t fatigue as fast and is there to support you. If you didn’t have your soleus you would fall forward and eat shit.
WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT
Your calf muscles allow you to move forward, they absorb load with each impact and they support the rest of your lower limb and body.
1. Increasing calf strength allows you to do to awesome, more powerful shit:
- Become faster
- More endurance (running for longer)
- Keep a consistent running pace
- Jump higher
2. Strong calves also help prevent injury
- Calf tears and strains
- Sprained ankles
- Plantar fasciitis
- Media Tibial Stress Syndrome (shin splints)
- Patellofemoral Pain
- Tendinopathies of the ankle and foot
- Tendinopathies of the knee
- Stress fractures
3. Calf raises are often used as rehab for Achilles tendon injuries. It may be that you have an Achilles tear or Achilles tendonitis: by strengthening both of the calf muscles, you can reduce the amount of stress on your Achilles tendon and help it heal.
- Calf raises stabilize your feet and ankle
4. Your entire lower body performance depends on the strength of your calf muscles
- Having issues adding weight to your back squat? Experiencing muscle ache or spasms in your lower body after doing a little bit of cardio? Strengthen your calves.
- The calves actively stabilize the ankle and provide additional downwards force application into the floor during squats and pulls
5. Strong calves are good for your joints
- Stronger muscles help absorb force and loading that would be placed on other tissues, bones, tendons, etc. Again, some of us may suffer from Achilles tendon injuries or calf strains due to lack of properly developed muscle coordination and eccentric strength to assist in force absorption during higher impact movements
- Collapsing ankles and poor stability at the ankle joint (due to lack of plantarflexion, etc.) can result in stability issues at the knee and hip, which over time may cause overuse injury
- While we are talking about joints… have you cycled out your training shoes lately? When the foam on the outside compresses to the point it looks like wrinkles on the bottom of your shoes, it’s time to get new ones. Your joints and calves will thank you. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.
FUN WAYS TO TRAIN YOUR CALVES
- Calf raises – any variety is good: standing, deficit, weighted, but we wanna talk specifically about seated calf raises. So when you sit with your knees bent, you’re able to isolate the calves fully. We really like seated calf raises because the machine is easily racked and un-racked, making it perfect for rest-pause sets, tempo training, and generally going to failure… all good things to grow ur calves!
- An important friend of calf raises, especially when rehabilitating an Achilles injury is calf stretching. After performing your calf raises at the wall, simply extend one leg straight behind you with your heel pressed into the ground. Keep both toes facing the wall as you lean forward stretching out the muscles you just worked with calf raises.
- Farmer’s walk on your toes – You probably already know the benefits of farmer’s walks for grip strength and physical conditioning, but walking on your toes turns this move into a calf-builder. Keeping your calves contracted under load while walking improves your calves’ strength and definition and, because of the reduced base of support, and improves your balance, too.
- Jump roping – A million boxers can’t be wrong. Jump rope may not be the first exercise you think of for building calf muscles, but it’s a great one. Jumping rope is an excellent exercise to challenge the calf muscles while improving coordination and conditioning.
- Being on your toes with the repeated plantar flexion of the calves puts the largest calf muscle under constant tension for better hypertrophy potential and endurance.
- Sled drags – Many calf raise variations have you isolating the calf muscles to build and strengthen them. The sled drag ain’t one of them. It uses your calves in unison with your quads and hamstrings. This is a functional way to train your calves as you force them to work in a way that mimics more realistic movements you use daily. Seated calf raises are awesome, which is why they’re on this list… but when are you ever doing that movement outside of the gym? Probably never.
- Clean pulls – these are for the more experienced kids. There’s nothing wrong with doing clean pulls, but there’s a lot of things that can go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing. Being injured sucks, don’t do it. Anyway. The clean pull is a full-body exercise that also trains the calf muscles at the end of the movement. This is called triple extension, which is an extension at the hips, knees, and ankles. The calf muscles work as part of a unit to pull the loaded barbell to hip height. The beauty of this exercise is that the calf muscles are under more load, and the powerful nature of the clean pull trains the fast-twitch muscles of the calves for better strength and muscle potential. All good things.