Fit and fine by Kamal Singh CSCS: Growing calves into bulls
Fitness aficionados generally consider calf training as mostly for aesthetic reasons, but that is not really true. Though having a muscular lower body – thighs and calves go a long way in balancing a buff upper body. Most trainees do not like to train the lower body, even more so the lower leg muscles as they are hard to hypertrophy and are usually trained as an afterthought. But it is a mistake to think that calves are just for show and just barely assist in walking and running. But before we get into calf training, let’s look at the anatomy of the lower leg.
Functional anatomy of the calf muscles
The calf is composed of two muscles – gastrocnemius and soleus. The gastroc muscle originates from above the knee and connects to the heel, forming the longest tendon of the body, the Achilles tendon. The soleus, which lies underneath the gastrocnemius, originates just below the knee. The soleus also forms the Achilles tendon and connects to the heel.
Both these muscles, which form the posterior compartment of the lower leg are involved in walking, running, jumping, maintaining balance. Since these muscles are used throughout the day, they tend to be largely slow twitch, endurance-based muscles. This is one of the reasons why people have problem trying to increase the size of their calf muscles.
The superficial gastrocnemius gets activated more while the knee is straight and the deeper soleus is activated more when the knee is bent, though both muscles are active while doing any type of calf raise.
Muscle size or function?
As we grow older, muscle mass as well as bone density starts to go down. Recent studies show that the calf muscles are amongst the first group of muscles to lose size and strength. Also, the calf muscles are vitally important for maintaining balance while standing upright. Cue to the number of senior citizens falling down while walking! Thus calf training is not just for having an aesthetic physique.
Also, we are facing an epidemic of weak bones, aka osteoporosis. Earlier this condition was prevalent amongst the older citizens, but now that is no longer true. Training the calf muscles can be easily and safely done by anybody in their home without needing special or extra equipment.
If you are an athlete and want to run fast or jump higher, then training the calf muscles is imperative. If your sport requires you to bounce around on your toes like in boxing or martial arts, then developing the requisite explosiveness in the lower limbs could mean the difference between winning and losing.
Training the calves
Most people train the calf muscles while using too little weight! I usually say that either you can use lots of weight or lots of repetitions. But please remember that the calf muscles are used to handling your entire body weight through the day. So you have to hit then with lots of weight and lots of high repetitions. You want those calves to grow, then be ready to suffer! Load up the bar or the machine and do repetitions in the range of 25-50 per set. Otherwise it will not happen. Also, do a number of exercises with the knee straight – standing calf raises, donkey calf raises, leg press calf extensions and with knees bent –sitting calf raises – double and single leg versions.
The above paragraph is for people who have access to a gym but you can do the same at home – start with standing single leg calf raises – work up to 50 repetitions per leg. Then add weight – back pack, etc. You can do the same with sitting calf raise – start with single calf raise, work up to lots of repetitions, then put a loaded back pack on your legs to increase load.
•It’s important to train calf muscles as they are vital for being fully functional.
•For increasing muscle size do three sets of 20 repetitions of standing calf raises, donkey calf raises and sitting calf raises.
•For reducing age-related muscle mass loss, do two sets of standing single calf raises. Work up to 50 repetitions per set. Also do two sets of sitting single leg calf raise with added resistance. Work up to 50 repetitions per set.
Now go and do it. Get back to me if you have any questions!
Kamal Singh is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has been coaching for 15 years
From HT Brunch, July 26, 2020
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