Calf Exercises | Exercise Guides with Photos and Instructions

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The calves are a group of muscles that are located farther down the back of the leg running from the backside of the knee to the Achilles tendon. The two muscles that make up the calves are the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The primary function of these muscles is to extend your foot at the ankle and flex your toes, which helps you jump, walk, run and pedal.

Optimizing your calf muscles when training in the gym requires a careful understanding of the anatomy and characteristics of each muscle and their specific functions. Since the two main muscles of the calves consist of the gastrocnemius muscle and the soleus muscle, we will go into depth about these key muscles and explain why they play a major role in the functioning of the lower leg.

Exercise Guides For Your Calves!

Barbell Calf Raises

Exercise Instructions: Stand in an area near a squat rack and place a barbell on your shoulders, behind your neck (you may add weight plates to the barbell for added resistance). This movement is similar to the seated calf raises. Begin by pushing your toes down so that your heels become raised so that you are on your tippy toes. Be sure to really flex your calves at the top of this movement for a one-count. Return to the start position and repeat until failure.

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Barbell Seated Calf Raises

Exercise Instructions: Sit on a flat bench or any sort of chair with your back upright. Lay a barbell across the top of your thighs (you can add wight to the barbell for added resistance if you like). This exercise is performed just like the seated calf raises: place your toes on the ground and push your toes down so that your heels become raised so that you are on your tippy toes. Be sure to really flex your calves at the top of this movement for a one-count. Return to the start position and repeat until failure. The initial upward movement should be quick and explosive.

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Dumbbell Calf Raises

Exercise Instructions: This exercise is done in a standing position with your feet about shoulder width apart. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and let each hang by your sides. Begin by pushing your toes down so that your heels become raised so that you are on your tippy toes. Be sure to really flex your calves at the top of this movement for a one-count. Return to the start position and repeat until failure. The initial upward movement should be quick and explosive.

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Dumbbell Single Leg Calf Raises

Exercise Instructions: This exercise is done in a standing position with your feet close together. Hold a dumbbell with your right hand and use your left hand to stabilize yourself on a fixed structure such as a barbell rack or incline bench. Lift your left foot slightly off the ground and begin the exercise with your right calf muscle. Push up with your foot and rock up onto your toes. Be sure to really flex your calves at the top of this movement for a one-count. Return to the start position and repeat until failure. The initial upward movement should be slow and controlled.

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Hack Machine Calf Raises

Exercise Instructions: Using a hack squat machine, position yourself as you normally would if you were performing a regular hack squat. Place your toes at the bottom of the hack squat platform so that your toes are placed on the bottom edge and your heels are hanging over the edge. Begin by pushing your toes down so that your heels become raised so that you are on your tippy toes. Be sure to really flex your calves at the top of this movement for a one-count. Return to the start position and repeat until failure. The initial upward movement should be quick and explosive.

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Leg Press Machine Calf Press

Exercise Instructions: Using a leg press machine, position yourself as you normally would in the seat. Place your toes on the lower edge of the platform. Begin the exercise by pushing the platform forward/up with your toes (you can add weights to the platform for added resistance). Be sure to hold the platform at the top of the movement for a one-count and return to the start position and repeat until failure.

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Rocking Barbell Calf Raises

Exercise Instructions: Stand in an area near a squat rack and place a barbell on your shoulders, behind your neck (you may add weight plates to the barbell for added resistance). Begin the movement by slowly rocking back on your heels slightly so that your toes come off the ground about 2 inches. Once you have rocked back far enough, roll forward from your heels to your tippy toes. Be sure to really flex your calves at the top of this movement for a one-count and return to the start position. Repeat until failure.

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Seated Calf Raises

Exercise Instructions: Position yourself on a seated calf machine. Place your toes on the platform and push your toes down so that your heels become raised so that you are on your tippy toes. Be sure to really flex your calves at the top of this movement for a one-count. Return to the start position and repeat until failure. The initial upward movement should be quick and explosive.

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Seated Single Leg Calf Raises

Exercise Instructions: This exercise is performed just like the seated barbell calf raises, except that you will be using a dumbbell instead of a barbell and you will use one leg at a time. Place a dumbbell across one of your upper thighs so that the bar of the dumbbell is what is touching your leg (hold the dumbbell in place with your hand). Place your toes on the ground and push your toes down so that your heels become raised so that you are on your tippy toes. Be sure to really flex your calf at the top of this movement for a one-count. Return to the start position and repeat with your other calf. The initial upward movement should be quick and explosive.

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Physiology of The Gastrocnemius Muscle
The gastrocnemius is also referred to as the “gastroc”. This muscle is the larger and more prominent of the two calf muscles. It is present in the superficial posterior of the leg, meaning it is present over the soleus muscle and to the back of the knee. It is made up of fast twitch muscle fibers, and therefore, responds to low reps and heavier weight when training with weights.

The gastrocnemius muscle possesses both a lateral and a medial head with the medial head being the longer one. Both heads originate from the distal posterior femur from the lateral and medial side, respectively. They are then connected by way of insertion on the Achilles tendon, which in turn, attaches itself to the heel bone.

The lateral and medial heads’ fibers mirror their movements while traveling oblique to the tendon separating them. They are bipennate, meaning their range of motion is relatively restricted even as they can transmit more power; as they are arranged obliquely to the tendon attaching to them.

Functions of The Gastrocnemius Muscle
The gastrocnemius muscle is the most active when the knee is straight. Then it is the prime mover in plantar flexion of the ankle (moving the ankle down so that it is somewhat perpendicular to the knee) along with help from the soleus muscle. Therefore, it is critical in helping produce the normal range of motion of the ankle and the foot. When the knee is bent, the gastrocnemius becomes progressively less engaged and hands over the load to the soleus.

Physiology of The Soleus Muscle
This muscle is the smaller of the two calf muscles and yet equally as important in training. The soleus is almost under or behind the gastrocnemius muscle, and is therefore, almost invisible in the exterior shape of the calf. However, when exercised enough, this muscle can show clear definition and add to the shape and symmetry of the calf.

The soleus is also present in the superficial posterior of the leg, meaning it is to the back of the knee. In contrast to the gastrocnemius, the soleus muscle has mostly slow twitch fibers, and therefore, responds best to higher reps and lower weight when training.

The soleus has only a single head and also shares a common insertion point with the gastrocnemius muscle. This is why both of them combined are called the three-headed muscle or “triceps surae” of the calves muscle group even though they are different muscles.

The soleus muscle has multiple originating points inside the tibia and in and around the back of the fibula. It also finally inserts to the Achilles tendon. Its fibers run between multiple septa, also forming an oblique but multipennate architecture.

Functions of The Soleus Muscle
The soleus is the prime mover in ankle plantar flexion when the knee is bent. It is also mainly responsible for stabilizing the ankle and helping us stand straight. Interestingly, it is also called the “second heart” because it is one of the most important muscles that helps pump blood back to the heart.

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