Weight Training for Calf Muscles

Weight Training for Calf Muscles

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Your calves may be small, but they can help bring up overall leg development.

Once you're done with your quadriceps and hamstring training, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's time to hit the showers and leave the gym. You have forgotten one vital thing, though -- calf training. The calves might not get the same attention as the bigger leg muscles, but whether your goals are strength-based, muscle gain or you just want to look good in shorts or a skirt, you need calf training.

Form and Function

Your calf muscle runs between your knee and your ankle and is actually made from two main muscles -- the gastrocnemius and soleus. The gastrocnemius works to plantar flex your ankle -- the movement you make when pointing your toes. It is most active when performing this movement with a straight knee and has a high proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are used during explosive contractions. The other muscle is the soleus, which plantar flexes your foot when your knee is bent and is made mainly from endurance-based slow-twitch muscles.

Seated Versus Standing

Seated and standing raises both work different parts of the calf. A bent-leg seated raise targets the soleus, while a straight-leg standing, or donkey calf raise works the gastrocnemius. Insufficient exercise variety in your calf training is a big mistake, notes trainer Greg Merritt on Instead of sticking to just one type of calf raise, switch between different ones and include both seated and standing exercises. Merritt recommends a mix of standing machine raises, calf presses on a leg press or a hack squat machine, calf raises on a Smith machine and one-leg standing calf raises while holding dumbbells.

Mind Muscle Connection

Just going through the motions on your calf training and banging out rep after rep with sloppy form isn't enough. Getting a good mind-to-muscle connection is critical when working calves, according to strength coach David Barr of Muscle and Fitness magazine. Aim to feel every repetition and keep the tension on your calves. If you're struggling with this, try performing all of your calf exercises one leg at a time.

Top Tips

Calves can be one of those stubborn body parts that refuse to grow, so give them priority and train them at the start of a workout when you have most energy. Pick two exercises -- one straight leg and one bent leg and perform five sets of eight to 20 reps on each. Do this three times per week. Stretch your calves thoroughly between sets and squeeze the tibialis anterior -- the muscle on the front of your shin -- at the bottom of each rep, advises trainer Charles Poliquin.