Calves might not be the sexiest, most notable part of your anatomy, but when toned and trained properly, they can still draw attention and boost your overall leg power. Thankfully, it's not too difficult to buff up the calves. As long as you're willing to follow a few simple guidelines, you'll be effortlessly running up stairs in no time and looking good doing it.
The calf muscles are made up of three parts: the gastrocnemius, which is the big muscle, the soleus, which is in front of it and the Achilles tendon. While not included in the calf region, the tibialis anterior, the muscle in the front of the leg, is important to calf growth as well.
As with any workout, you'll want to stretch out your muscles and warm up before doing these exercises. For calves, this could mean doing leg extensions, light running on a treadmill or cycling [source: Valeo].
Now that we've covered the basics, let's take a look at a few excellent ways to get eye-popping growth in those calves.
Bent Knee Calf Raises
You can do several different types of calf raises either in your home or at the gym. These exercises are among the simplest of methods to increase calf strength and size. We'll begin with the bent knee variety.
Bent knee calf raises are meant to contribute to the strength of the soleus muscle, the smaller of the two calf muscles. They're done, as the name implies, with a flexed or bent knee. Sit either on a workout machine at the gym or on a chair at home with a barbell or other weight on your knees. Raise your legs by pushing off the ground with the balls of your feet [source: Glenn]. Think of it as taking a nervous knee-tic and turning into a muscle-building technique. As few as one set of 20 reps a day will do the trick.
Straight Knee Standing Calf Raises
It might not seem like it would make much of a difference, but straight knee and seated calf raises work entirely different calf muscles, so it's important to add both to your workout if you're looking to increase calf size.
Like seated calf raises, straight knee standing calf raises can be done in a gym or at home. Because you'll be standing for this type of calf raise, you'll be stimulating the gastrocnemius more than the soleus [source: Sportsmed].
You can perform straight knee standing calf raises on any elevated surface that can support your weight (the bottom step on a staircase, for example.) Keep your toes and the balls of your feet on the surface and raise the heel as far as possible. Depending on your experience and strength, you can add weights to add resistance, but the exercise can be effective with body weight alone in some cases. Like the seated calf raises, you'll want to do one set of about 20 reps.
Unilateral training implies that it's best to train one muscle at a time. It's essentially a one-sided workout strategy in which you switch from side to side with each workout session, zeroing in on one leg.
The previously mentioned exercises can be done unilaterally to mix up your routine or provide a different workout method completely. Instead of standing on both legs or sitting and pushing with both, just do one at a time. For the straight-knee standing calf raises, this means raising your leg up and lifting your body with the strength of the other. The same goes for the seated calf raises -- just cross your legs and lift with one foot. Unilateral training is often used to work out imbalances in a person's physique and it can help balance power output if one of your calves is stronger than the other [source: Men's Health].
Ultimately, the choice between bilateral and unilateral training is yours, but both have benefits depending on the state of your muscles.
Regardless of which muscle group you're trying to build, a healthy dose of protein in your diet is vital. You can get protein from a number of sources including meat, fish and dairy, but bodybuilders are known to incorporate protein shakes into the mix during heavy training.
Generally speaking, adult men need about 56 grams of protein a day; women need 46 grams [source: WebMD]. Athletes need a bit more because physical exercise breaks down muscles. Depending on your exercise regimen, you may need to add as much as 50 percent more protein to your daily diet while training and building muscle [source: Nierenberg].
We know, this one doesn't sound like a whole heck of a lot of fun, but hill repeats are quite effective at building calf muscles quickly. They also help increase the strength and power of all your leg muscles.
Find a hill around 50 to 200 yards (45 to 182 meters) long. If you're a flatlander, a treadmill set on an incline for the same distance will work just as well. Run up the hill near the threshold of your speed and strength [source: Devine]. Make sure you're flexing your ankles and running in an upright position, with your neck and shoulders relaxed. Once you get to the top of the hill, continue your momentum for a few yards then turn around and jog to the bottom of the hill to start again. Repeat the drill six to 12 times.
None of these tips will bring overnight success, but they are time-tested and effective methods of reaching your goal of having bigger, stronger calves. For lots more information about muscle building and exercising, continue on to the next page.
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- Barr, David. "2 Quick Calf Training Tips." Muscle and Fitness. June 9, 2009. (March 29, 2011)http://www.muscleandfitness.com/training/legs/2-quick-calf-training-tips
- Devine, Dave. "Speed Exercise 7: Hill Sprints." ESPN. July 1, 2010. (March 28, 2011) http://rise.espn.go.com/all-sports/Speed-training/30-Hill-Sprints.aspx
- Glenn, Lynn. "Seated Calf Raise Machine." Muscle Mag Fitness. (March 29, 2011)
- Men's Health. "At Last! Great legs." Men's Health. (March 29, 2011) http://www.menshealth.co.uk/building-muscle/get-big/at-last-great-legs-248288
- Nierenberg, Cari. "How Much Protein Do You Need?" WebMD. Feb. 28, 2011. (March 28, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/diet/healthy-kitchen-11/how-much-protein
- Sydney Sportsmed. "Calf Muscle Rehabilitation." (March 29, 2011) http://www.sportsdoc.com.au/rehab_calf.html
- Valeo, Tom. "Strength Training: Building Leg Muscles." WebMD. Dec. 15, 2009. (March 29, 2011)http://men.webmd.com/features/strength-training-building-leg-muscles