Tip 1: Start Your Workouts with Single-Leg Calf Raises with a Dumbbell
The single-leg calf raise with a dumbbell is the best bang for your buck exercise for the plantar flexors. Not only does it recruit the gastrocnemius and soleus, single-leg calf raises also recruit the flexor hallucis longus muscle, which has been shown to enhance sprinting speed when developed.
To make this exercise more effective, make sure you hold the dumbbell on the same side as the working leg. In the bottom position, squeeze the glutes of the working leg because it will further increase the fascial stretch, promoting more growth.
Tip 2: Isometrically Fire the Tibialis Anterior in the Bottom Eccentric Portion of Calf Raise
Here is a simple trick for all your calf extension exercises. When you reach the bottom position of the eccentric lowering phase, isometrically contract the tibialis anterior muscle that is on the front of the lower leg.
This will increase the pre-stretch on the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, automatically activating more motor units in the following concentric contraction of the plantar flexors. The more muscle fibers you recruit, the greater the growth
Tip 3: Stretch the Calves Properly
Do the following stretches before every calf workout:
First, evaluate your marker of flexibility by squatting down with an empty barbell on your back. Once you reach the bottom position, pay attention to your body mechanics by assessing the angle of your shin in relation to the floor.
Then proceed to stretch your calves maximally. The standard static calf stretches just won’t cut it. You will need the extra resistance provided by weight machines. The best way to stretch your calves is to use two calf machines: typically, the standing one and the seated one.
First get under the pads of the standing calf raise machine. Lock your knees. Lower your heels as low as possible while keeping your knees locked. This will insure that both the soleus and the gastrocnemius are fully stretched. If you unlock the knees, the gastrocnemius will not receive a full stretch.
Hold the stretch for a full 15 seconds. Bend you knee to lower the shoulder pads, and take a five second break during which you increase the weight by 2 to 3 plates.
Repeat the stretch-rest-add weight process for another 3 to 5 reps.
Then proceed to the seated calf raise machine to give your soleus muscles a greater stretch. Use the same training methodology for the stretching: hold the stretch for 15 seconds, rest 5 seconds, add weight, etc., for a total of 5 to 6 reps.
By this time, your calves should have achieved their maximum length for the day. Then go back to the squatting rack and test your flexibility marker again. If your knees are moving farther than before your stretching routine, your calves were certainly limiting your range of motion.
In any case, looser calves will allow you to squat with a more upright trunk posture, reducing the stress level on your knees and lower back.?
Tip 4: Try the 36 Special!
Most trainees neglect their calves, especially those from New Jersey who carry elastic bands to pump their 11- inch arms in the men’s room of the local dance clubs. These are the same dweebs who go twice a week for sprayed-on abs at their local tanning salons, as recently reported in the peer-reviewed publication, Journal of Situational Delusional Guidos.
In all seriousness, you don’t often find a line to use the calf machines. If your calves are too thin to clean the barrel of 0.22 caliber rifle, I’ve got just the solution. It’s called the 36 Special!
After a good warm up, take a weight heavy enough so that you can only complete 12 “bottom-range reps” on the standing calf machine. Bottom-range reps are the range from the bottom stretched position to where the feet are parallel to the floor. Use a 13X0 tempo.
Now, decrease the weight about 20 to 25 percent, and immediately do 12 reps on 10X0 tempo using a full-range of motion. Add another 10 to 15 percent to the weight and do 12 bottom-range rep using a 16X0 tempo (yes, you are going to stay in the bottom position for 6 seconds!). Take a 2-minute rest, then repeat.
Then move to the seated calf raise and complete 3 sets of 20 to 25 reps, using a 20X0 tempo, resting only 60 seconds between sets. Of course, you will have to decrease the weight each subsequent set.
Tip 5: Train the Tibialis Anterior
If your tibialis anterior is weak, it inhibits the strength and growth of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. Supersetting the plantar flexors with the dorsiflexors is another way to accelerate growth in the calves.
The best device built to train the dorsiflexors is the tibialis anterior machine by Atlantis (see video below). Use it, and you’ll get big calves.
Athletes who jump a lot and have to produce high force with the plantar flexors, such as volleyball players, are going to benefit greatly from doing this exercise because they are more likely to suffer from a structural balance deficiency in the dorsiflexors.