Advanced Calves Training – 5 Alternative Calves Exercises
Have you ever been stopped in the gym and asked to flex your calves? No? I’ll predict it’s because of two possible reasons: You’re calves suck (that’s not a knock, just the cold, hard truth) or people just don’t care about calf training. Whichever one it is, one thing is true: you wouldn’t be reading this if your calves didn’t need work.
Many will relegate calf training to genetics and end it there. But what is left for you to do? I say you will never know your true potential for whatever you are trying to do without exhausting all avenues.
And once you’ve done that keep seeking new ways. Calves should be no different.
Let’s face it; if you don’t train calves regularly you will end up a walking candy apple – forever to wear pants in the gym, the beach and poolside. Don’t be one of those guys. If the genetic gods didn’t favor you in the calf department dry it up, move on and try a few new things.
Tiger Fitness CMO Marc Lobliner talks about what is takes to build bigger calves.
5 Calves Exercises for Advanced Gains
#1 – Bend-knee leg sled calf press
Since traditional methods have calf training divided into two main schools of thought (training the gastrocnemius and soleus differently) you will most-likely include standing and seated calf exercises in your routine. When the knee is straight you hit the gastrocnemius and a bent knee focuses on the soleus.
For soleus training the seated calf raise is the go-to. But at times it provides too much isolation with little wiggle room to involve other parts of the calf and use a maximum amount of weight.
Since most, if not all calf exercises are somewhat isolation-oriented what you may need is more of a compound move so you can pile on the weight. Try bent-knee leg sled presses.
The how: Load a leg sled/press machine with a moderate load. Lift the weight as if you were about to perform calf presses with your heels off the plate and the safety bars still in place. With a shoulder-width stance and your feet and your toes pointing straight bend your knees to about a 45 degree angle and keep them locked in that position.
Let the weight stretch your calves in the bottom position and then press back up keeping that angle in your knees. Once your calves are fatigued continue to perform reps by letting your knees/thighs help with the weight.
From the angled position slightly help your calves by pressing with your upper legs as well. This should be a half calf raise half leg press type movement. This will also allow you to use more weight than normal and blast your calves past failure.
#2 – Squat calf raise
Training density is the ability to perform more work in the same or less amount of time. You probably do this for upper body exercises such as with arms. Calves should be no different especially when you’ve classified them as a weak point. The squat calf raise is more of an in-between calf punisher.
The beauty of this exercise is that it doesn’t require another piece of equipment and can be done anywhere. And since it targets mostly the soleus portion of the calf it pairs nicely with straight-leg, standing calf exercises.
The how: In-between traditional calf sets assume a squat position where your hamstrings touch your calves and you are on your toes. Holding onto a support come up as high as you can on your toes and hold for a count or two. Lower back down to the bottom position resisting the urge to bounce and repeat.
This angle focuses on the soleus since you are in an extreme bent-knee position. Go for reps on these as adding weight will hinder your other straight sets a bit too much.
#3 – Sprint intervals
Have you ever seen the legs of sprinters? At times they rival those of some bodybuilders. Sprints are of the anaerobic family, meaning they do not require oxygen and utilize mainly fast-twitch muscle fibers – the exact ones you’re trying to stimulate to grow. Since sprinting requires rapid deceleration (eccentric contraction), amortization (harnessing power) and rapid acceleration (concentric contraction) it creates an ideal environment for calf development.
It’s a unique form of muscle contraction that is difficult to near impossible to achieve in the gym. Plus you will get residual muscular development in your quads, hams and glutes as well as build cardiovascular resilience.
The how: The mechanics of sprinting are rather different than that of regular running/jogging. Sprinting will have you striking the ground with your toes first (that is where the eccentric contraction of the calf comes in). Depending on speed and form you may or may not touch your heels to the ground during the sprint. With traditional jogging you are striking the ground heel to toe with each step.
Try sprint intervals focusing on toe strikes as opposed to heel strikes. Go for a series of intervals with a moderate to high work/rest ratio. For example, you might sprint for 10 to 20 seconds at maximum velocity and rest for 2 to 3 minutes between each sprint.
#4 – Run the rack floor raise
When space and equipment availability is limited or nonexistent floor calf raises can come in handy. Not all calf training will require you to achieve the maximum amount of range of motion possible. You hear it all the time – stretch the calf all the way to the bottom position and then come up as high as possible on the balls of your feet for a full contraction.
Remember sprints from above? Does sprinting follow that principle? Of course you will want to pair partial range of motion training with full range of motion training to achieve full calf development.
The how: Grasp a pair of dumbbells (one in each hand) and let them hang by your sides. With straight legs and your knees nearly locked lift up on the balls of your feet from the floor. Once you are in the top position actively contract your calves hard for a count or two. Lower your heels back down to the floor touching only for a brief second before lifting again.
To run the rack simply choose a heavy pair of dumbbells and perform your reps until you reach failure. Immediately drop to the next lighter pair of dumbbells and perform another set. Keep dropping down to each pair of lighter dumbbells until you are using only your bodyweight.
#5 – Contraction hold
Sometimes in life you won’t progress until you do something a bit drastic. If you do something the way you’ve always done it then you will stay right where you are – you won’t change. Your calves may need some extreme training every now and then and holds will subject them to this drastic measure nicely. Yes, full range of motion on all exercises is a must.
Doing half reps all the time will only short change your efforts and risk injury. But what about letting your body get a preview of something, a little taste of the extreme? Holds, while not as sexy as some techniques, can be a welcome calf strength and size builder.
The how: This exercise is best done with a straight leg exercise on a standing calf raise machine or on a Smith machine while standing on a block. After a thorough warm-up load the weight stack or bar with a weight you wouldn’t normally be able to perform full range reps with. Get the weight in the standard standing position with a slight but rigid bend in your knees and a tight core for protection.
Come up on the balls of your feet a few inches and hold that top position. Have a predetermined count (such as 10 or 15) where you are holding and feeling the weight on your calves. This will send them a new signal by feeling this new and huge amount of weight they’ve never felt before. Do several sets in this manner.