This week I’m going to keep things short and sweet and focus on the final area of the lower body for this beach body series – the calves.
For recreational exercisers, I tend to view training the calves in a similar way to training the arms. What I mean by this is I will prioritise the lower body work mentioned in previous articles and use isolated calve exercises as a “cherry on the cake” if the training schedule permits it. This is not to discredit the importance of targeted calve work as for a lot of men this can be an area of the lower body that can often seem to be less responsive.
The calves are made up of two muscles – the gastrocnemius which is the larger of the two and gives the calves their superficial shape. And the soleus which is a smaller flatter muscle that lies underneath gastrocnemius.
The gastrocnemius crosses both the knee and ankle joint, so it will tend to be more active during exercises when the legs are straight.
Loaded single leg calf raise
A good example of this is a dumbbell loaded single leg calf raise – I like this option as it allows you to train each calf individually to help even out differences between sides, plus you only require minimal equipment.
To perform this exercise, stand on the edge of a low step (or anything that allows you to lower your heel below the level of your toes), while holding a dumbbell in one hand (you can use your free hand to hold on to something for stability). Unweight the foot opposite to the hand holding the weight and push up on to your tip toes with your stance leg.
Then slowly lower your heel down until it has passes the level of the step and you feel a slight stretch in the calf. Next, push down with the toes again, raising the heel as high as you can go. Aim for a 3-4 second lowering phase and a 1-2 second lifting phase. 3-4 sets of 10 reps at the end of your leg work out should do the trick.
Seated calf raise
The soleus, on the other hand, only crosses the ankle joint and therefore tends to more active during calf exercises when the knees are bent.
A good option for working the soleus is therefore the seated calf raise. Some gyms will have specific bits of equipment to perform this exercise but you can also use dumbbells and a bench if you don’t have access to a machine. To set up using dumbbells, simply sit on the end of a bench with your knees bent and your feet planted on the floor in front of you.
Rest a dumbbell upright on each thigh and hold them in place with each hand. From this position, push the toes into the ground and raise the heels off the floor. Then control the lowering of the heels back down to the ground to complete a rep. Again, aim for a 3-4 second lowering phase and a 1-2 second lifting phase. You can pair this exercise with the single leg calf rasies mentioned above in a superset, where you complete a set of 10 reps on each before resting for 60-90seconds and then repeating for 3-4 sets.