Why should you train calves?
Calves are often overlooked and undertrained. The t-shirt muscles of the upper torso get a lot of attention, as can the muscles of the upper legs. However, calves are often an afterthought, or even outright neglected. Read on to find GymNation's best calf workouts!
Lower body power is generally spoken of in terms of glutes, quads and hamstrings. Aesthetics are too. However, if you want to really improve any kind of athletic performance, and/or to safeguard your body into old age, the calves need to be worked. Running and sprinting rely very heavily on the calves, as do other explosive lower body movements like jumps.
In fact, the calves take on far more of the overall effort involved in running than the other leg muscles – up to 25% more than the quads, for example. Increased strength and power in your calves will therefore have a profound effect on your running, sprinting, and jumping power.
The two main muscles of the calves are:
- The gastrocnemius of the outer calf
- The soleus of the inner calf
They work to extend and flex your feet, especially during landing and push off as you walk and run. They also act as shock absorbers, taking the impact from the ground – they can absorb over ten times your bodyweight. They also act as a tool for deceleration, helping you to stop and change direction.
Strong calves also mean strong knees. Both the increased muscularity towards the top of your calves and the improved interplay between the calves and the rest of your body as you jump and run will result in stronger knees.
With this in mind, using them as they are meant to be used is of prime importance in training calves. Perform plenty of jumps and sprints. Skip, keeping the pressure on as they help you to bounce. Walk a lot and often. Try multidirectional training, like running obstacle courses around cones. Aside from this, both high and low rep extensions are a good idea, either from standing or using a leg press style machine.
Calf raises are a staple of calf training. Low impact, relatively untaxing, yet incredibly beneficial, they will help you to build mass and endurance through the full calf. For best results, try going weighted and try performing them on a step, taking your heels slightly lower than the equivalent of ground level. Come up all the way and squeeze.
Main muscles used:
Box jumps work explosive power through the full body, with particular emphasis on your lower body. They are a great addition to any leg day and, as they raise your heart rate very rapidly, will also be perfect included into any HIIT or circuit routine.
They also work the calves through force generation on the jump, and force stabilisation and absorption on the landing.
Main muscles used:
Skipping is a pretty humble exercise. It is nevertheless very effective. It will bring your heart rate up very quickly, making it a great cardiovascular and fat burning exercise, and will work coordination and agility (hence boxers use it all the time). Part of this agility is the focus it places into the calves – they are performing to a high standard through one of their main functions throughout, as you generate the jumping power and repeatedly stabilise and absorb impact with every landing.
Main muscles used:
Calves are often overlooked in favour of more glamorous, more dramatic muscle groups. However, calf strength and ankle mobility are very important for all athletes, particularly explosive ones such as runners and jumpers. The functional stability of your full kinetic chain relies on a strong, mobile and stable base whenever your foot hits the ground.
Calves also help you to bend your knees and lift the heel (plantar flexion), meaning that they are crucial in force generation and delivery as well as absorption.
This means you need to train them. It is these humble muscles that absorb your full body’s impact whenever your feet land.
Personal Trainer, GymNation Mirdif