Join Isabel Romero as she shares her journey in health, fitness and mental wellness. Her goal is to serve as an inspiration to others by helping all her readers achieve their personal best.
It’s always been the strangest thing to me. I walk down the street. I encounter a hunky man. I think “wow, great body!” I look down at the legs. WTF happened here?
Why is it that the calf muscles seem to be the most neglected body part when working out? The conclusion I have come to is that perhaps everyone just thinks the calves get worked out “on their own” while they are performing other activities like running. Right? WRONG! Just to prove that I am correct about this neglected body part, the past 2 weeks, I have conducted my own personal little research study/social experiment with 20 of my friends. You all know who I’m talking about. I have been using the whole “I will let you touch mine if you let me touch yours” line (which, not surprisingly, works every time), and although my subjects are all in complete shock when they touch my calves, I am in even more shock when I touch theirs! Most are soft and pillowy mounds of pathetic atrophied muscle. (Sorry guys. But thanks for your unknowing participation in my project).
Calves need to be trained with the same consideration as every other muscle group in your body–with attention to the amount of weight lifted, frequency, and intensity of the exercise. Just like performing another exercise, for example, a bicep curl, you should train your calf using the highest weight possible while still maintaining proper form. It’s really no different. You can vary: 1-the amount of weight used, 2- the repetitions, and 3- the position of the body part when flexing and extending to work the different heads of the muscle. The one thing that should not vary is that the movement should be complete. Meaning, all the way up as high on your toes as possible, and all the way down with your heal as low as possible (meaning the heal should ideally go lower than the toes which would require you to do these exercises on a step—I do them on my staircase). Without this vital factor of technique, your calf raises could potentially be useless.
Foot positioning comes into play when working the different heads of the muscle. If you are standing with your toes pointed straight forward, you are essentially working the entire gastrocnemius. By pointing the toes inward (pigeon-toed), you are working the outer/lateral edges of your calf, and by pointing the toes outward (like a ballerina!), you are working the inner/medial aspect of your calf. As a disclaimer, my freakishly strong calves did not appear overnight. I have been on “relevé” (tippy toes!) since I was 5 years old or so. That’s why ballet dancers have amazing legs. We just use our own body weight for the exercises, but we do a gazillion repetitions. Personally, I relevé about 100 times on each leg individually when working on my calves (R then L). Then I repeat. Try it out. I guarantee you will feel the burn (especially the next day!). And you will love it.
This goes for both men and women: Chicken legs are NOT hot. So get cracking.
Peace, love, health and happiness,
The pictures below depict the proper form when working your calves. Raise all the way up on your toes to flex the muscles, then lower your heal as far down as possible to extend the muscles and repeat. This can be done using your own body weight, but preferably while holding weights or on a machine. Thanks to Domenic Mazzella for being my model (check out his calves!). You can see that his medial and lateral heads are equally defined, whereas my medial head is a lot more defined than the lateral due to the normal outward position of my toes in ballet.