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6 Terrible Errors In Your Calf Raise That You Should Fix

Make sure your feet remain straight and even when you lift your calf. Calves are muscles notoriously difficult to grow.

6 Terrible Errors In Your Calf Raise That You Should Fix

Make sure your feet remain straight and even when you lift your calf. Calves are muscles notoriously difficult to grow. So much so that, according to a study by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, more than $2 million has been spent on calf augmentation surgeries in 2019. That's less than what was expended on breast rises or nose jobs, but it's not zero.

If your aim is to train your lower legs in elegant, diamond-shaped calves without going under the knife, you are likely to lift your calf. If you feel a little disappointed with your lack of progress, you might be making one or more of these seven errors. Fix them with these simple fixes, and you will gain your calf muscles more strength and size.

1. You’re Doing All Your Calf Raises in the Same Position

Fast anatomy lesson: Not just one muscle, your "calf." It's a multi-muscle complex that makes up your lower leg like your anterior gastrocnemius, soleus, and tibialis. If you're raising only one form of a calf, you're just training one of those muscles optimally.

"A standing, straight-leg calf raise hits, usually, one of the gastrocnemii," says Glenn Higgins, a personal trainer based in Surrey, England. But more of the soleus muscle is used in a bent-leg, seated calf lift, as bending the knee essentially "turns off" the gastrocnemius, it says.

The anterior tibialis is often missed, but it's also the site of many tendonitis issues, may cause shin splint problems, and is critical for knee and ankle stabilization, says Shawn Arent, Ph.D., professor, and chair of the University of South Carolina's department of exercise science.

Quick Fix

"To train the lower leg complex optimally [the three muscles], you need three moves," Arent says. Mix the variations in your calf up, including bent-knee and straight-leg calf uplifts. And turn up the foot positions to reach both the gastrocnemius heads and the anterior tibialis.

Arent recommends adding a significantly altered seated calf uplift to the anterior tibialis. "Lift your feet up [on the pad] in the seated calf position, and shift your toes up and down to do the exercise."

You can also adjust your standing calf raises by changing your foot position to expand your gastrocnemius. In a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Science in April 2020, researchers found that the outside (lateral) head of the gastrocnemius developed more when doing standing calf raises with the foot pointing slightly inward.

The inside (medial) head of the gastrocnemius had more development, pointing the toes slightly outward. Doing a combination of these foot positions — as well as performing the exercise with the toes pointing straight forward — will ensure that the whole gastrocnemius muscle is increasing.

2. You Blast At Warp Speed Through Your Reps

Many people schedule their calf raises in their workouts for late (see error 6 on this list) because they are in a hurry to get out of the gym. According to Tatiana Lampa, a licensed personal trainer in New York and founder of Training with T, they hurry the exercise and don't perform the full range of movements.

"Many emphasize the upward step, but should really bring down the heel to get the full benefits of the motion range," she says. "Most people don't get up full from their heels either, making the range of motion narrower again."

Sacrificing range of motion reduces the muscle movement you continue to exercise. Jared Meacham, Ph.D., CSCS, a fitness specialist in Silver Spring, Maryland, says that you're also that the amount of time the calves are contracting.

"The research on 'time under strain' is fairly mixed," he says. The standard "time under stress" technique suggests the more a muscle gets stretched — by more or more reps — the more it develops. While certain muscles, such as the biceps, grow faster with faster reps, with slow, controlled reps, Meacham says the calves respond well to more time under stress.

Another reason not to rush: If you raise calf too fast, you might not be preparing your calves for strength and size at all, Arent says.

"On the stretch reflex, the calves — and the Achilles — are very strong. The calf is made to rebound, which is why they are so important to the vertical jump," he says. "If you move around the range of motion, you might do more to trigger the stretch reflex than to work the muscle."

Quick Fix

Just slow down! Have your calf come up under control. Stop at the bottom (foot just above the ground) and at the end of each rep (and squeeze!) so the muscle works, not your stretch reflex.

3. You Don't Do The Optimal Number Of Reps

The soleus is around 90 percent muscle fiber type I, or "slow-twitch," and the gastrocnemius is more than half slow-twitch fiber. This means that the muscle fibers mainly use fat as their power, and they're muscles of stamina that can be used without exhaustion for a long time.

There is a good reason for that: For every step you take, you use your calves. Running will be a much bigger challenge if they fatigued too quickly! That means you have to wear them out, to train them.

"While we've always read about the 'right way to train your calves,' we're taking a very divisive approach: either 'soft, hard, bang those suckers because they're so resistant to fatigue... you need to subject them to soft weight because that's not what they're used to,'" says Arent. "And the flip side is 'Type I fibers seem to be more sensitive to more volume work, so we need reps reps'."

What's the best, then? A mix-up.

Quick Fix

The reality, Arent says, they need a variety of training for your calves. "Rather than being stuck in high reps or low reps, lightweight or heavyweight ... mix that kind of exercise with your calf training. Do all that a little bit.'

Arent recommends changing the calf training days from a day with a lighter weight to a day with heavyweights — in both cases, failure approaching. You will do as many as 15 to 20 reps per set on the light days while you will do 8 to 12 in each set on the lighter days.

4. Through Your Hips or Knees, You Lift Some Of The Weight

Especially if you are raising calves with a heavyweight, cheating the exercise can be easy — without even realizing it.

"When I don't care about what I'm doing, I can quickly start shifting the weight with other muscles — my hip flexors can do much of the work and I won't even know it," says Meacham. The calves are relatively small muscles, and muscles in the leg are much bigger. If those big ones take over, then you are no longer really training the calves.

"It's not just a case of moving in the movement from A to B. You need to know how you're moving there, and that the right muscles are working," Higgins says.

Quick Fix

Make sure that when you lift the calf you are only using your calves. Higgins recommends doing body-weight reps of any calf exercises to prime and stretch the muscles and build the mental-muscle link to help generate knowledge about the calf itself.

Keeping the mind-muscle link with this coaching cue from Meacham once you add weight: Instead of concentrating on raising the weight up in your calf raise, concentrate on bringing your toes back into the field.

Try it while sitting in a chair to see how this works: You can quickly move your feet up and down by trying to bring your knees up. But focusing on moving the toes down into the ground slows down the rep and holds tension on the calf — where you want it to be.

6 Terrible Errors In Your Calf Raise That You Should Fix

5. You're Not Pressing At The Top Of Any Rep

If you are trying to increase a muscle's size, concentrating your attention on the muscle's contraction will help it expand.

In a study published in the European Journal of Sport Science in March 2018, a group of untrained college men focused on contracting the target muscle — having a strong squeeze — experienced twice the growth in that muscle over eight weeks of training compared with a group focused on simply raising the weight.

The calves are composed of very strong, thick muscle fibers, like the triceps and the quadriceps. "These [types of fibers] very well respond to peak contraction [aka the squeeze]," says Meachum, adding that it also increases your tension time.

Quick Fix

Stop at the top of each rep for a moment, contract your calves to ensure they are fully engaged. Set a 1- to 2-second squeeze at the end.

6. You Leave Calf Raises for Last in Each Workout

This makes sense in several ways: if you're going to use them for bigger movements where they're still enabled, like lunges, squats, and step-ups, you don't want to wear your calves out. But if you're hoping for growth in the calf, saving them for last can hamper your gains in two ways, Meachum says:

  1. You are getting more likely to miss the workout.
  2. It may not be that the body has the resources it needs to conduct complete contractions.

"It's a problem from an acid-based point of view. Lactic levels are on the increase, hydrogen levels are on the increase. The contractions won't be as good ... because the tension on the calf isn't strong enough to induce any kind of development," he says.

Quick Fix

If you want to grow your calves, make the work with the calf a priority. Earlier integrate the exercises into your routine, and make them a regular part of your routine.

Instead of sacrificing calf contractions for the other, large leg movements, Meacham recommends programming some calf raises in the workout on non-leg days earlier, done during other moves' rest times.

For instance, if it's back day and you're going to make a set of pull-ups, superset them with heavy rows, then do 2 sets of calf raises, says Meacham.

"You could lift the seated calf 45 seconds, lift the standing calf 45 seconds. Then you're ready to roll back into your pull-ups again, "he says.

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YourFitnessRink - Fitness and Health Matters: 6 Terrible Errors In Your Calf Raise That You Should Fix
6 Terrible Errors In Your Calf Raise That You Should Fix
Make sure your feet remain straight and even when you lift your calf. Calves are muscles notoriously difficult to grow.
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