How to grow the stubborn calf muscle?
This is my first blog post on the website and I wanted to start it off with a really important one.
Millions of people hit the gym to get fitter and look better aesthetically. But only a handful are in the process of developing a well rounded physique. Muscular imbalances, disproportionate upper to lower body ratios are very common. This is due to neglecting a few important muscle groups because of either laziness or lack of awareness. The difference this makes is absolutely monumental in the overall shape, strength, stability and lifting performance. Leg days in the gym are usually one of the most hated yet most rewarding. Personally I have always loved them because I understood very early the importance of building a well rounded physique. One of the most neglected muscle groups in the lower body is the calf. Yes you do engage them while doing the regular squats or leg presses. But do you neglect shoulder exercises because you engage them during a bench press? Obviously not.
The calf muscle group is made up of 2 muscles - The gastrocnemius and the soleus. The soleus lies deeper and lower and is harder to reach. It is a very important muscle group especially for runners for a better ground push off, stability and to avoid injuries. The gastrocnemius is the large muscle that is visible from the outside. I generally found that my calf muscle was lagging behind my quads. A lot of trial and error and experimentation helped me overcome this imbalance to an extent.
Seated calf raises - This exercise is especially important to develop the soleus. Yes the standing calf raises do target them, but if you want to disengage the gastrocnemius and target the soleus primarily, the knee flexion in the exercise helps in that cause.
Train to failure - This is one of the major changes I made to my calf workout routine. I do all the sets in my exercises to failure. I felt training them in rep ranges like other muscle groups just wasn’t working for me. I needed a different stimulus. This had a huge role in that. I do change it up a here and there, but primarily its every set to failure.
Increase frequency - The calf muscle group is engaged most of the time in the day because we either stand or walk. Because of this, it is my personal opinion that the stimulus of a calf workout once a week is not adequate. They are strong muscle groups that are adapted to constant stress. I train them at least thrice a week. 1 major day on during leg workout and 2 or 3 minor days on other workout days.
The 2 step plantar flexion - The first time I hit the gym as a novice in Abu Dhabi, it was to strengthen my legs to recover from a grade 3 meniscus tear in my knee. The trainer in the gym taught me this method and I have always used this and advice my clients to do so too. Its a staggered squeeze. You go down(dorsi flex) inducing a ‘stretch’ on the calf. Then come back up to a neutral position. Pause for a moment then go up (plantar flex) inducing the ‘squeeze’. The main reason is to make sure every rep you do is in the full ROM and to focus on the quality of each rep. Every rep has a good stretch and squeeze. This is important because the calf muscle is not as easy to squeeze like a bicep which is the flexion of the hinge joint in the elbow.
Plyometrics - As a triathlete my workouts now are primarily endurance based but I don't neglect a leg day at the gym. I find it crucial for improving on the bike and the run. I started doing plyometrics for the lower body to improve my run efficiency, power development, reducing my ground contact time and stride length. What I stumbled upon during this was a better tone and shape to my calf even though my heavy bodybuilding workout days were behind me! This was due to the use of the stretch shortening cycle in a plyometric exercise and the gastrocnemius generally has a lot of fast twitch muscle fibres. Plyometric exercises are basically exercises with quick stretch followed by a contraction. Skip rope, squat jumps, hops are all plyometric exercises. You require any equipment to do them too!
A well rounded calf workout routine -
Frequency - 3x per week
Rest period - 30 sec min between sets. 1-2 min between exercises
Skip rope : 2 min x 3
Single leg hops : 3 sets each leg x 30
Standing calf raises : 5 sets x RTF (aw)
Seated calf raises : 4 sets x RTF (aw)
Leg press calf raises : 3 sets x RTF (aw)
*RTF - Reps To Failure
*aw - ascending weight (keep increasing weight each set)