Welcome back or welcome to the page.
Today I would like to talk about the calf muscles.
The calf muscle is a special muscle as it is considered a two-joint muscle since it crosses over or is attached to two joints, the knee and the elbow. There are only six of these in the entire body: the biceps, the triceps, the gastocnemius (calf), hamstrings, tensor fascis latae, sartorius, and rectus femoris. These muscles need special attention as we separate their functions as we work out.
The calf muscles are one of several muscles in the leg. The others, one which I dealt with here, and the other that I dealt with here are the quadriceps, and the hamstrings. Together, the leg muscles are the strongest and the longest muscles in the body.
For today, we will talk about the calf muscles: where they attach at both ends, what they do for us, and how to exercise them properly.
Let’s get started!
The Calf Muscles
The calf muscles are located on the back of the lower legs. There are actually two calf muscles” the gastrocnemius and the soleus.
The gastocnemius is the larger of the two calf muscles and forms the bulge that is visible just below the skin. This muscle has two parts or heads which together give it its trademark shape. Some say it looks like a diamond, others say it looks like a heart. Still others say it looks like a pound of butter. No matter what, it is an impressive looking muscle when developed properly.
The soleus muscle is smaller and flatter and lies underneath the gastocnemius.
Both heads of the gastrocnemius muscles originate on the femur. The medial, or inside head, attaches to the back of the femur (thigh-bone), and the lateral head attaches laterally to the femur. Together, these two muscles run down the back of your leg toward your heel. At some point they join up with the soleus, which originates at the rear of the fibular head and the medial border of the tibial shaft.
These two muscles merge together at the base of the calf muscle and the connective tissues of these muscle join with the Achilles tendon and connect to the heel bone.
What They Do
The soleus muscles’ primary function is to push off the ground while walking. It is vital to everyday activities such a walking, running, and dancing. The soleus muscle also helps maintain your posture and keeps you from falling forward.
It is also part of the skeletal-muscle pump and assists in circulating blood by compressing the veins that are within the muscle to send the blood back to the heart. Perhaps this is why some think the calf muscles are heart shaped.
The gastocnemius’ primary function is to flex your ankle. When this muscle contracts, your ankle and toes will point down (keep this in mind when you are thinking about exercising this muscle). When you are walking or running, or climbing stairs, the gastocnemius muscle works to propel you forward.
This muscle is also considered one of the anti-gravity muscles and it works along with the quadriceps and the gluteus muscles to help raise our bodies up against gravity.
As if that wasn’t enough, the gastocnemius muscle also acts to stabilize your ankle and your foot. Also, since it crosses the knee joint at the back, it is considered a two-joint muscle (there are only six of these in the entire body) and functions to move both the knee and the ankle. This is a busy muscle and is often overworked in everyday life. Take care to look after this muscle as it is prone to injury. You especially don’t want to tear your Achilles tendon. Ouch.
It is best to work any two-joint muscle with only one joint. So when we work the calf muscles, it will be by moving the ankle and keeping the knee stabilized.
So let’s get to the exercises!
Best Calf Exercises
If you do a search for calf exercises, you will find articles that list anywhere from four to fifteen of the best calf exercises.
As I have mentioned before, no muscle works in isolation, and when you are working your quadriceps or hamstrings or back muscle, you will inevitably work out your calf muscles. That being said, if you want defined and huge calf muscles, you will need to do some isolation work.
I have been blessed with good calf muscles, and have often been asked if I am a runner, since running is a great calf building exercise. I do not run, but I have always had a job that required me to be standing and walking for most of the day. I also worked in buildings where I was required to climb stairs many times in a day. Perhaps that helped build great calf muscles. That being said, walking, climbing stairs, and hiking, the steeper the climb the better, will also build your calf muscles.
Any sport that involves sprinting and running such as soccer, basketball or tennis will place a great demand on your calf muscles as you run, jump and push off the ground to accelerate or change direction. These sports are great for building stronger and more muscular calf muscles. Jumping rope is also a good calf muscle builder.
To specifically target the calf muscles at the end of (or during, for that matter) your leg workout, try one of the following:
Standing Calf Raise – stand near a wall for balance with your feet shoulder width apart. Press down on the balls of your feet and raise your body upward. Be sure to keep your knees and hips still to isolate the ankle as the joint that is moving. You can also perform this exercise with the balls of your feet on a step to increase the range of motion. Once you have done this exercise with some regularity, try adding weight by holding a kettle bell, a dumbbell, or a barbell.
Single-Leg Calf Raise – perform this exercise as above, but exercise one leg at a time.
Seated Calf Raise – sit on a chair or bench, lean forward placing your elbows or hands on your thighs. Press down. This is the resistance. Press down on the balls of your feet and raise tour legs up using your ankles. This is a good beginner exercise and can be performed anywhere.
Farmer’s walk on your toes – grab a dumbbell in each hand and go for a walk on your toes. To increase the difficulty and engage the core, just grab one dumbbell in one hand and go for a walk on your toes, keeping your trunk upright at all times.
Box Jumps – stand on the floor in front of a large stable box or other object. Jump up onto the object.
Dumbbell Jump Squat – hold a dumbbell in each hand, squat down as far as you can, and then jump up, landing as softly as possible. Repeat.
A Sample Calf Workout
To be honest, I usually just add one calf exercise (3 sets of 25 repetitions) to my leg routine. My calf muscles are pretty engaged in all the other leg work I am doing, so I usually just grab a really heavy kettlebell or a couple of heavy dumbbells and do some calf raises. I modify them slightly by going slow for the first half of the way up, stopping, and then exploding the rest of the way up.
To build really huge calves, you will need to do three of the above exercises. I suggest one set of 4-6 repetitions with really heavy weight, and two sets of 25 repetitions with a much lighter weight. This will work the fibers of the entire muscle.
If you have already done box jumps or Dumbbell Jump Squats, then do one fewer exercise for your calves.
Start with some calf raises, move to single-leg calf raises, and finish with a farmer’s walk.
As always, choose a weight that is comfortable for you, and be careful. You do not want to injure your calf muscles or tear your Achilles tendon.
Have fun, but be careful!
So there you have it.
My suggestions are just that – my suggestions. There are many ways to put together a calf muscle routine, and you should change it up once in a while to keep your muscles guessing.
Thanks for listening. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
Also, if you are a father (or mother) (or anyone for that matter) who would like an easy to follow program that includes a menu and work out information, check out this article from a few months ago.
See you in the next post.
Have a great day!