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Calf training is important. These lower-leg muscles are essential to your success as an athlete and necessary to complete the aesthetics of an ideal physique. And if you're reading this article, chances are you've struggled to build mass in your lower legs.
Chances are you're already doing standing and seated calf raises, so rather than throw out your entire calf-training program, here are three exercises you can add to your leg-day routine to take your calf training to the next level and maximize muscle growth below the knee.
1. Seated Barbell Calf Raise
If you are a serious lifter, there are two things you already know about calf training. First, the soleus (the less-visible, but volume-enhancing portion of the calf) is targeted with bent-leg movements. Second, free-weight movements are awesome for building muscle.
So why haven't you been doing seated barbell calf raises? This may be a tough exercise, but when it comes to building calves, it is so worth it. Grab a barbell, sit your butt down, and get to work.
Wrap the bar with a pad or towel so it doesn't hurt your legs. Have a partner help you lift the bar to get yourself set up. Place the balls of your feet on stacked plates so your heels can stretch at the bottom of the movement. Perform reps with a full range of motion and without using momentum.
If you're short on time or floor space, you can always hop on the seated calf machine as a quick and easy alternative–but for superior growth, the barbell version is definitely the way to go.
2. Single-Leg Calf Press
Now you can shift your attention to the gastrocnemius, the more visible portion of the calf. You know from working other muscle groups that focusing on one side at a time can help bring up a lagging muscle, so apply the same logic to your calves. Devote enough time to each leg to ensure each side receives the same amount of love.
Single-leg calf presses can be performed on the leg press, the donkey calf raise machine, or just standing with free weights, so there's no reason why you can't incorporate this exercise into your routine. To isolate the gastrocnemius, keep your knee straight throughout the movement. Choose a weight you know you can lift without having to cheat and bend your knee or use momentum.
For each calf, perform one set of raises with the toes of that foot pointed out, one with toes straight forward, and one with toes pointed in. Each angle shifts the emphasis to a different area of the muscle. Between the three sets, you'll target every angle and generate a noticeable pump. It may take more time to work each side on its own, but serious growth takes serious time and commitment, so be patient as you work for better calf growth.
3. Tibia Barbell Raise
The tibialis anterior is the muscle in the front of your lower leg and is often neglected in lower-leg training. True, this exercise does not specifically build the calves, but training the tibialis anterior is necessary for balancing out mass in the lower leg and improving athletic performance.
There is a specific machine you can use for the tibia if your gym has it. If not, here's an easy alternative. Sit at the end of a bench and place your heels on plates so they are higher than your toes. Take a barbell with a pad on it and place it on your feet. Have a spotter help you so the bar stays balanced.
Lift your feet so the bar comes up. You'll feel a contraction below your knee. Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position and repeat. You can also use a cambered bar if it's more comfortable for you. You won't need much weight here, so don't go crazy. Rest for 60 seconds between sets.
Bonus Tip: While you're resting between exercises, take time to stretch the calves and flex them. This extra attention stretches the fibers in your calves and helps pump more blood into the muscle bellies, maximizing your calf-building potential.