Step up to a full-length mirror and turn around. Then place all your weight on your left foot, and turn your right heel 45 degrees to the side and flex your calf. (Don’t tell us you don’t know the pose we’re talking about because you probably do this every time you wear shorts in the gym.) Are you satisfied with what you see? Does it look like someone jammed a grapefruit inside the back of your lower leg, or is there nothing there to flex?
Which Approach is Best?
The Internet fitness boom has given us loads of quality information, but when it comes to calf training much of the current wisdom leaves us scratching our heads. Take a long, hard look at any of the popular programs available today and you’ll find the majority tell us one of two things. Either we’re not supposed to train our calves because they’re worked hard enough by what we already do, or we’re advised to keep everything status quo — burning out our calves with 20–30-rep sets on standing and seated calf-raise machines.
Machine training is great for calf work because it allows you to isolate the muscle and train it as hard and heavy as you want, but what about adding a little athleticism to the mix? If you’re bored with banging out set after set of machine raises, there are myriad other ways to give your calves their due, most of which offer exponentially more benefit than standard gym exercises in terms of improving your overall athletic ability and mobility while adding all the mass and definition you want. Read on to see the moves.
1. Jumping Rope
- Get yourself a quality jump rope and perform either timed sets — the duration depends on your experience and conditioning levels — or sets for a specific number of reps.
- Bounce on the balls of your feet and keep your ground contact time as short as possible.
2. Low Pogo Jump
- Stand with your feet together, your knees slightly bent and your hands in front of you at chest level, elbows bent.
- Jump up as fast as you can as if you’re jumping rope but without the rope.
- Two or three sets of 40–50 low pogo jumps are a staple in any dynamic warm-up and they’ll hit your calves hard.
3. High Pogo Jump
- Begin in the same position as the low pogo jump, but jump as high as you can using just your ankles and calves.
- Two or three sets of 15 reps will be plenty for beginners.
4. Sled Drag
- We've sung the praises of the dragging sled, which is one of the most versatile weapons in any training arsenal. When you load a sled with enough weight, you’ll no longer be able to strike the ground first with your heel, meaning you’ll essentially be walking on the balls of your feet.
- Do this for multiple trips of 50–60 yards and your calves will soon understand that sleds aren’t just for cardio.
5. Glute-Ham Raise
- This machine has become immensely popular of late, but before it ever crossed the Iron Curtain the exercise was known as the glute-ham-gastroc raise for the way it works the gastrocnemius muscle, which along with the soleus forms your calf.
- If you’re lucky enough to have access to one of these, perform 2–3 sets of as many reps as you can.