at the lower realm of things

It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to sit down and write out a post. But, today seems to be a good time as I’m taking a break from getting outside work done around my house. And, who doesn’t like an afternoon coffee, especially a Mexican Chiapas!

What

When we think of strong legs, large legs we often think of the upper leg, the quads. I like to throw hamstrings in there too as they can get neglected. I think of the hamstrings as the triceps to the upper arm. Most people work biceps and neglect triceps but you need to strengthen both triceps and hamstrings to keep a well balanced body both in strength and injury prevention.

legs
Never neglect the legs

Often what gets overlooked is the calf muscles. Running from the ankle to just above the knee attaching to the lower femur the calf muscle aids in the ability of all leg movement. The calf muscles are comprised of 3 muscles:

        • The Soleus: this runs between the other two muscles largely seen below the diamond shape of the calf muscles to the achilles tendon.
        • The Gastrocnemius: These are the two muscles on either side of the Soleus, the muscles that give that diamond shape just below the knee.

These muscles are what moves the heel up when we walk, run, jump or any movement that requires the heel to come off of the ground.

So now that you have a bit of a better understanding of the calf muscles, why do we need to work them? One reason is to prevent injury. A survey of 14,000 injured runners revealed that the 2nd most common injury were calf pulls.

Strong calf muscles means stronger and more stable feet. Ankle rolls are less likely to occur. Also, if you have a pronation or supination (foot turning inward or outward) in your feet, strong calf muscles can help correct this producing a balanced, more neutral stance, thus reduced risk of injury.

More power can be realized when your calf muscles are strong. As mentioned earlier the calf muscles are what lift your heels, your feet off of the ground. Want to increase your explosiveness for any movement where you move your feet you want to strengthen your calfs.

What

Here are some exercises you can do to achieve the ultimate strong calf muscles, those bulging diamonds just below your knees:

          • Calf raises: This exercise totally isolates the calf muscles. It will add time onto your workout but if you are looking to target your calf muscles this will do it. The exercise can be done on the edge of a stair tread, a 4 x 4 square piece of wood that is long enough to support you or anything where you can stand on the balls of your feet and lower your ankles as far as they will comfortably go. The idea is to lower and lift your heels, holding at the top to get that extra contraction of a couple seconds. You can also add weight by doing one leg at a time, having a dumbbell in one hand and supporting yourself with the other. Or, you can wear a weight vest to add weight. Or, you can go to a gym and use the calf raise machine. Whatever method you use you will want to keep in mind what your goal is. If your goal is to add strength you will not want your reps to be greater than 12.
          • Lunge Pulses: Stand with your feet together. Step forward into a lunge with your right foot. Bend your right leg 90 degrees at the knee and extend your left leg behind you, knee bent. Be sure not to have the foot too far behind you as you will want a bend in this knee. Now,  pulse up so that your left leg is straight. Bend to complete one pulse. Attempt about 15 reps then do the other side. This exercise is great for working the Soleus muscle of the 3 calf muscles.
          • Mountain Climbers: Position yourself like you are in the starting blocks for the 100 meter dash. Kind of a modified pushup position. Now, alternate bringing one knee to your chest and then the other. Kind of like running on the spot. Your feet should glide above the ground, not dragging along. Mountain climbers are great to strengthen the whole leg but really help in strengthening the calf muscles. You wont add much bulk or strength though as your reps will be much higher than 12 – 15.
          • Jump Rope: This is more of an isometric contraction of the calves since your heels remain off of the ground the whole time and the heel will never drop below ground level. Since the heels are always up the calves are always in the concentric contraction state making it an isometric contraction, contraction without movement.

Finally

balance
Balance your body

If you are already doing some of these exercises then great, you are working your calves. If you feel you need stronger calves due to weak ankles, or not having a neutral foot position, then look into isolating them and using resistance training to build them. If you need help in that area hire a personal trainer for a few sessions and you will be well on your way to stronger legs overall.

Here’s a tip. This can be applied to calves or any other muscle or muscle group. If you are a person of a higher fitness level and maintain that fitness level well, take the calves, or something else and make it a project to increase its strength. Target that muscle or muscle group every 3rd day (this gives 48 hours off for maximum recovery) and do that for 4 -6 weeks. During this period keep track of your performance at the beginning and each workout. At the end of week 4 or 6, look at your performance numbers. I bet you they have jumped at least 10%. Then, look at your calves. Larger, aren’t they.

I’m a fan of a 4 to 6 week program where you target one area and work on that area diligently. Why? Because 4 – 6 weeks go by in a blink of an eye. Take a part of your body you want to increase strength/size. Do the 4 – 6 week program. Stick to it. Document it by measuring size, strength. Then, at the end do the same. I know you wont be disappointed.

Yours in health,

Darryl