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Developing and Strengthening the Calf Muscles

The calf muscles are an important group of muscles on the back and sides of the shin bone in the lower leg. They are made up of two major muscles and a number of smaller ones. The larger muscles are the gastrocnemius and soleus at the back of the calf, both of which narrow down to become the Achilles tendon which inserts onto the back of the heel bone. The gastrocnemius originates partly from above the knee and the soleus from the shin bone only, aspects of anatomy which have important effects when designing a training regime for the calves.

While the two big muscles make up by far the greatest amount of the bulk of the calf, there are several important muscles which need considering although specific training for them may not need to be designed. The tibialis anterior muscles on the outer aspect of the front of the shin are mostly concerned with lifting the foot in walking, stair climbing and running and are not powerful muscles, but they set off a fully developed calf. The tibialis posterior muscle originates under the main calf muscles and inserts on the inner side of the foot, being closely associated with maintaining the foot arches against the body weight.

Initial calf exercises are usually the standing calf raise with the ball of the foot on a raised step, allowing the heel to pass right down past horizontal and then right upwards to the tip toe position as the calf is fully contracted. This is a very testing movement for the calves and should be done initially without any resistance beyond the body weight and for a limited number of sets, or severe delayed onset muscle stiffness or even a frank calf injury such as a tear can occur.

This calf exercise is done with the knees straight, stressing the gastrocnemius more than the soleus, which has to be exercised with the knees bent to avoid the gastroc taking much of the strain. Gyms often provide a seated calf machine as well as standing ones to allow for these two muscles which need to be exercised separately for full effect. Calf movements need to be performed slowly for maximum effect as it is common to “throw” the movement and take away some of the training effect. Allied to this idea is the importance of moving the calf right through its available range rather than small fast movements.


Author: Jonathan Blood-Smyth

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