Sometimes the simplest exercises are the most effective, and there is little need to complicate your gym session to get results. In today’s world of fancy programs, miracle solutions, and contradicting advice, there are some exercises that have stood the test of time, and provide an easy and efficient way to build muscle. As our readers know how much we love low weight and bodyweight exercises, today we talk about the incredible benefits of calf raises and how to do them effectively.
What Muscles are Involved?
The calf consists of two main muscles, the gastrocnemius, and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the largest of the two and is responsible for creating the “bulges” we all are familiar with in professional athletes, bikers in particular. This gastrocnemius muscle is responsible for flexing the leg at the knee, as well as providing the force for running and walking.
Lying underneath the gastrocnemius muscle lies the smaller soleus muscle. Like the bigger gastrocnemius, the soleus is used as a plantar flexor helping to push off the foot while running, dancing or walking, and helping to maintain posture.
Together these two muscles comprise the calf, and both can be worked out in a similar way.
How to do a Calf Raise?
Calf raises are simple.
Stand upright on a flat surface with your toes comfortably pointing forward. Relax the shoulders and upper body, and lift your heels off the floor, feeling the flex in your calf muscle. Return the heel slowly to the ground in a controlled matter and repeat.
For beginners, try starting out with two or three sets of 15-20 reps, with 30- 60 seconds of rest in between. If your calves are burning by the end, you’re doing it right! A burn is good, but just be sure that if you’re feeling shooting pain you’ve pushed too far. Stay within your limits and build slowly.
Incorporating a quick calf workout into a routine is easy and doesn’t add significant effort. Some calisthenics such as jump rope and plyometrics naturally use calf muscles and can be complimented nicely with an isolated workout.
Benefits of Calf Raises
Muscle Strength Gain
Athletes such as professional cyclers, gymnasts and basketball players are often most well known for their prominent calf muscles. This is both because they use the calf muscles more regularly and because having stronger calves results is more solid performance in their particular sport. Calf raises strengthen the calf, providing a functional and aesthetic boost.
Regardless of whether you are a professional athlete or not, strong calves are important for all-around functionality as well as foundational strength for exercise progression. Our best advice- don’t forget about them, they will ensure balanced development.
The Achilles tendon is a band of tissue that runs down the back of the leg and connects the calf muscle to the foot (heel and ankle bone). In sports, an Achilles tendon injury can not only be extremely painful and debilitating, but also carries a frustratingly long healing time.
Calf raises work to both strengthen the tendon to prevent injuries, as well as provide rehabilitation to current injuries. By strengthening both your gastrocnemius and soleus muscle, you take the stress off of the Achilles and allow it the proper time it needs to heal.
As the calf muscles are integral in providing strength for walking and running, it is no surprise they are just important in jumping. For basketball players or other athletes who want to increase their vertical jump, building your calf muscles is a necessity.
For many, even a small and regimented calf building routine can result in a significant increase in vertical jumping ability in a relatively small amount of time.
Sprained ankles are the bane of many athletes’ existence. Calf raises help to strengthen ankle stability, decreasing the chance of ankle injuries. For those who have recurring ankle problems, calf raises help to build up the stability muscles that have been damaged, rehabilitating the ankle and helping to prevent further degradation.
Ankle injuries can plague impact athletes throughout their career, so maintaining proper calf strength and ankle stability become important in retaining function.
Lower Body Functionality
It is not only about the calf muscles themselves, but the entire function in the lower body. Strong calves result in a stronger foundation for other important lower body exercises such as squats, lunges, and triple extension exercises such as jerks and push-presses.
On the other hand, weak calf muscles can result in decreased lower body stability, hindering progress in these other exercises. For many athletes looking to increase their lower body weight tolerance, it is important to isolate and work on calves as a preparation.
Short Burst Sprinting
For short burst athletes, such as sprinters, football players or gymnasts, greater calf strength supports these fast-twitch muscles and prevents them from injury. Even though it is the hamstrings and the glutes that provide the sprinting “power”, the calf muscles provide stability and impact absorption in these exercises.
One Leg Calf Raise
Once you have tried and mastered the two-legged calf raise described above, you can move on to a more challenging modification, the one-legged calf raise. Try this exercise at first by using a wall in front of you as a support, and lift one leg up straight behind you. Complete the calf raise as normal, switching legs throughout.
If you want a further challenge, stand on a box, stair, or stable elevated platform, and hang your heels off of the end. Complete the exercise as normal, allowing your heels to dip below the plane of the platform, giving a longer range of motion, and a stronger burn.
Keeping the same form as any of the above-mentioned exercises, you can increase the challenge by adding weight. Free weights, medicine balls, or even household items will get you a bit of an extra push, and help to spark your progress.
Adding a calf workout to your routine will create diversity, add foundational strength, and give you another metric to track your progress with. Having a healthy lower body will help significantly in achieving the fitness results you desire.