It is easy to remember to perform large movements such as squats, deadlifts and lunges, but sometimes, it is easy to forget the little guys. For overall leg strength and tone and to add symmetry to your legs, include exercises that target the gastrocnemius and the soleus- the two muscles that make up your calves.
The two work together during calf exercises in which your legs are straight. However, when you bend your knees and perform calf exercises, the soleus is the prime mover. It is important to use a variety of calf exercises to target both muscles. You can train your calves every other day with a day of rest in between. Aim to use a weight that challenges you and causes muscle fatigue during the final two repetitions of each set. To increase the size of your calves, you need to use heavy weight that breaks down the muscle. Then, the muscle repairs and that is how the muscle fibers grow in strength and size. Perform one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions and allow for limited rest, approximately 30 to 60 seconds, between sets.
3 Calf Exercises to Help Them Grow
Standing Calf Raises
You can do these on the floor with your body weight as resistance, or holding onto a dumbbell in each hand. Stand with your feet at hips-distance apart. Raise your heels as high as possible and shift your weight onto the balls of your feet. Contract your calves at the highest point of the movement and maintain this position for one second before you lower and repeat. You can also do this one leg at a time to increase the challenge. Once you are able to safely perform calf raises on the floor, move the standing calf raises to a block, step or stair. Place the balls of your feet onto the stair and allow your heels to hang off the edge. Lower your heels until you feel a stretch and then raise up onto your toes.
Seated Calf Extension
In the seated calf extension machine, place the balls of your feet on the moving platform, keep your legs straight and push your toes away from you to contract the calves. Or, you can use a leg press machine and slide your feet to the bottom of the sled. Keep the balls of your feet on the sled and then point your toes to push the sled away.
Seated Calf Raises
Begin seated calf raises with your feet on the floor and sitting on a weight bench or a chair. Your knees are bent to 90-degree angles. Raise your heels as high as possible and then release. For resistance, place a barbell across your thighs or hold a dumbbell on each thigh. You can also perform the calf raise one leg at a time. Progress to placing your feet on a block or a small step to increase the range of motion for your heels. If you have access to a seated calf machine, place the balls of your feet on the platform and adjust the pads so they are resting on your calves. Raise your heels as high as possible and then lower your heels until you feel a stretch before you repeat.