This is the one area that most people struggle to build size in, any quick look at instagram and you will find hundreds of memes about small calves and probably a few thousand articles about why you can’t grow them. Like you feet the muscles in your lower leg need to be strong the help absorb most of the forces during ballistic movements like running or jumping and act like a spring to redirect that force and recycle it into the next step or rebound jump. Most importantly they help to stabilise the knee and prevent injury.
Fortunately the calf muscles are built for strength (current record for a standing calf raise is 600kg).
As you can see we have two big muscles, the gastrocenmius which is made up of mostly fast twitch muscle fibres and the soleus which is mostly slow twitch fibres. Both play a part in plantar flexion (the fancy name for pointing your toes) so the most common exercise is the calf raise.
Seated version puts more emphasis on the soleus, because its mostly slow twitch fibers its better targeted with longer sets (15-20 reps).
Standing version more emphasis on the gastrocenmius Its mostly fast twitch muscle and responds best at lower rep ranges (1-8 reps).
But what about the front of the leg??
Well, even though it feels like a big hard bony structure as you can see below there is quite a bit of muscle in there.
These muscles work to stabilise the foot and ankle as well as dorsiflection of the ankle (fancy way of pulling your toes up). As any runner knows shin splints can be a real killer, slowing your progress and leading to other injuries. Anybody playing a sport that involves fast changes of direction will know how easy it is to roll your ankle. Being strong should be the first line of defence against injury, in the same way as its a base to build on for improved performance.
Just because there isn’t a machine for it in the gym doesn’t mean you can’t strengthen it. Sprinters have some of the most impressive lower leg musculature out there, the footwork drills that are used to develop technique naturally work these muscles, but these are specialised movements and take time to learn. If you are playing sport you should be doing some kind of sprint training it crosses over into pretty much everything.
For those of us who are training for strength and aesthetic value we need to look at other methods. This is one of my go to moves, first learned it after a bad bout of shin splints that had me sidelined for a few months.
As you can see a pretty simple exercise using a resistance band. Add it into your warm up to help you remember to do it.
I hope this helps if you have any questions or any topics you would like me to cover please get in touch.
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