Q.I have skinny calves. What exercises can I do to develop them
J.P. Fairfax. A. The calves are the muscles on the backside of the lower leg. Two major muscle groups make up the calves -- the soleus and the gastrocnemius (gastrocs). The most visible group is the gastrocs. You can see them contract when someone stands on tiptoe.
The soleus is a thick band of muscle closer to the bone than the gastrocs. You can't see the soleus because it's covered by the gastrocs.
Most people perform exercises for the gastrocs but ignore the soleus. You exercise the gastrocs by keeping the legs straight. To exercise the soleus the legs must be bent.
Since you may not have access to a health club, let's talk about exercises that will give you an at-home quick fix. Without equipment, it's more difficu but not impossible.
Because there are two sets of calf muscles, I'm recommending two different exercises. Realize that there are progressions to make these exercises increasingly more demanding. First I'll describe the easiest approach, then give you the more-demanding options.
The first exercise is a straight- legged calf raise.
Progression No. 1: To start, stand with the toes and the balls of both feet on the edge of a step. The arch and heel should be off the edge. Bend forward at the waist so that the upper body is parallel to the floor. Place your hands on a step to balance and stabilize the upper body; this will take some of the weight of the upper body off the calves, making the exercise easier to perform.
In the starting position, the calf muscles are relaxed and in a stretched position. Contract the calves by elevating your heels as high as possible (taking one to two seconds) and pause momentarily in this position. Allow at least four seconds to recover to the starting position. When you can perform 12 to 15 repetitions, advance to the next progression.
Progression No. 2: In the starting position, stand erect with the balls of the feet on the edge of a step. By standing erect you place all the weight of the upper body over the calves, which increases the difficulty of the exercise. When you can perform 12 to 15 repetitions, advance to the next progression.
Progression No. 3: Return to the bent-forward position described in Progression No. 1. Remove one foot from the step and perform the exercise one leg at a time. Now each leg will be forced to lift almost double the weight in this position. When you can perform 12 to 15 reps with each leg, advance to the next progression.
Progression No. 4: Return to the erect position described in Progression No. 2. Perform the exercise one leg at a time. This will again increase the difficulty of the exercise. When you can perform 12 to 15 reps with each leg, advance to the next progression.
Progression No. 5: Perform the exercise one leg at a time while holding additional weight (perhaps a dumbbell) in one hand. While exercising the right calf, hold the extra weight in the right hand, and while exercising the left calf, hold additional weight in the left hand.
Progression No. 6: The last progression without some type of calf machine is to use the bent-at-the waist position and have someone (one of your children, spouse, training partner) sit on top of your lower back and hips (as if riding a horse). The difficulty can be again increased by performing the exercise one leg at a time.
To exercise the soleus at home you'll need a chair and something to elevate your toes off the floor. A thick telephone book or a couple of 2-by-4s placed on top of each other will suffice.
In the starting position, sit in the chair and place the toes and the balls of your feet on the telephone book or boards. Stretch your cal muscles as far as possible. If your heels can touch the floor, you need to elevate your toes higher so that the heels can't touch the floor in the starting stretched position. Then try to elevate your heels as much as possible.
The resistance will be supplied by a training partner who will sit (facing away from you) on your knees and upper legs. The weight of your spotter will dictate the amount of overload provided to your soleus. Your training partner can apply additional resistance by grabbing the sides of the chair and pulling with the hands. The weight of your training partner and the additional manual resistance applied should be enough. If it's not, try performing the exercise one leg at a time.
You can place a pad of some type across your knees for your training partner to sit on. This will make it easier for your spotter to balance on your thighs.
Use the same techniques and number of reps to perform the bent- legged calf raise as you used to perform the straight-legged calf raise. Perform these two exercises correctly (three times a week on alternate days) and you'll soon see and feel a difference.