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How To Build Big Calves

By Matteo Longobardi

Many people find it difficult to develop the calve muscles. This is primarily because daily walking has toughened these muscles to the point where it takes exceptionally intense training to force them to grow.

Calve Muscle Anatomy

There are two primary muscle groups on the back of the lower legs - the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles. The soleus is a wide, flat muscle that lies beneath the heart shaped gastrocnemius. Both muscles contract to extend the feet and toes, but the soleus can only fully contract when your leg is bent to at least a 30-degree angle.

There are several other smaller muscles in your lower legs, all of which will be developed by focusing on working the calves. The only exception is the tibialis anterior muscle, which runs up the front of your shin and contracts to pull your food and toes upward.

If you have trouble developing your calves you can work these muscles more frequently then other muscle groups. They are tough, dense muscles and they can handle a bigger workload.

Calve Exercises

It is essential that when you do any exercise that you perform the movements correctly, if you don't you will receive less then optimum benefit from the exercise. It is very difficult to unlearn bad exercise habits, so it is best to learn the right exercise technique from the very start.

For each calve workout do 4 sets for each exercise listed below. One workout do high reps (i.e. 15+ per set) the next workout do low reps (i.e. 5-10 per set). This is one of the best ways to get stubborn calve muscles to grow.

Standing Calve Raise

This is a basic calve movement that works the gastrocnemius muscles.

F/W VER:503601 F/W VER:503601



Step up on the foot block of the machine and place your head between the shoulder pads. Position yourself so that your shoulders are comfortably under the pads. Place the balls of your feet on the foot block, with your feet about shoulder width apart, toes pointing forward.

Straighten your legs and support the weight on your shoulders. Keep your knees straight during the entire movement. Slowly lower your heels until your calve muscles stretch down as far as possible. Hold the stretched position for a second and then rise up as high as you can on your tippy toes. Hold this position for a second to enhance the peak contraction in the calves. Repeat.

Tip - for a variation you can do this exercise with one leg at a time. If you do not have access to a standing calve raise you can perform the exercise with a barbell across your shoulders instead.

Seated Calve Raise

This exercise targets the soleus muscles because it is performed with your legs bent at a 90-degree angle. This exercise also works the gastrocnemius muscles are as secondary muscles.

Adjust the knee pads of the machine so that you can sit with your knees snug to the pads. Place the balls of your feet on the foot block, with your feet about shoulder width apart, toes pointing forward.

Rise up as high as you can on your tippy toes. Hold this position for a second to enhance the peak contraction in the calves. Slowly lower your heels until your calve muscles stretch down as far as possible. Hold the stretched position for a second. Repeat.

Tip - if you do not have access to a seated calve raise machine you can do this exercise seated on the end of a bench with a barbell wrapped in a thick towel placed on top you're your knees.



Stand with the balls of your feet on a block, with your feet about shoulder width apart, toes pointing forward. Bend over and rest your hands on an exercise bench so that your upper body is parallel to the floor while keeping your legs straight.

Have a training partner sit up on your hips and balance in place as if they were riding a horse. Slowly lower your heels until your calve muscles stretch down as far as possible. Hold the stretched position for a second. Rise up as high as you can on your tippy toes. Hold this position for a second to enhance the peak contraction in the calves. Repeat.

1 Leg Calve Raise

This exercise works the gastrocnemius muscles.


Note: This pic shows a 2 leg calve raise, you can also do them one leg at a time.



Stand on one leg with the ball of your foot on a calve block and your heels hanging off the edge of the block. You should hold onto something, such as a squat rack, to help you keep your balance.

Keep your knee straight during the entire movement. Slowly lower your heel until your calve muscle stretches down as far as possible. Hold the stretched position for a second and then rise up as high as you can on your tippy toes. Hold this position for a second to enhance the peak contraction in the calve muscle. Repeat for the desired number of reps. Repeat with the other leg.

Tip - you can hold a dumbbell or do this exercise in a standing calve raise machine to add more resistance.

This is a good exercise to do as a warm up or as a finishing exercise for your calve workout.