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- American Council on Exercise: When Strength training, is it Better to do More Reps With Lighter Weights or Fewer Reps with Heavier Weights?
- American Council on Exercise: Barbell Calf Raises
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How to Go From Small to Big Calves
The calf muscle, located on the back of the lower leg, works in conjunction with your hamstring to propel you forward. Greater strength and power in your calves can help you to walk, run or climb stairs faster and with more agility and stability. Going from small calves to big calves takes a dedicated fitness routine along with patience; keep at it, and you’ll likely see an improvement in strength in your calves.
Perform functional exercises that work your entire leg as well as those that specifically target your calf. Lunges, for example, are ideal for building strength in your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes. Lunges also incorporate your core for stability and encourage the different muscle groups of your body to work together to execute one movement.
Work your calves three days a week, resting at least one day between sessions. Overworking any particular muscle group can result in injuries, so give your calves at least 48 hours recovery time before putting them through another workout.
Complete at least three sets of three different exercises that involve your calves per workout session. For example, start with three sets of lunges and then three sets of single leg calf raises. From there progress to barbell calf raises, where you hold a barbell behind your head just above your shoulders and lift your heels off the floor while pushing into your toes.
Execute three to six sets using heavier weights and fewer repetitions to build bigger calves. Aim for resistance, or weights, that leave you fatigued within six to 10 repetitions in each set, which means that you are not able to complete another rep in proper form. Work up to that fatigue level gradually if you are just starting to strengthen your calves. For example, start with weights that leave you fatigued after 10 to 12 reps; doing too much too soon can lead to an injury. The heaviness of the weights you use depends on your particular strength level and ability; if you are just starting out try lighter weights first, such as those that weight 5 to 8 pounds.
Pick cardio activities that also help you to build bigger calves. Running, indoor cycling, jumping rope and the stair-stepper are all effective at increasing the strength in your calves.
Stretch your calves at the end of each workout session to prevent injuries such as muscle strains and tears. Stand in front of a wall, and place your right toes on the wall while leaving your heel on the floor. Bend your knee and lean into the wall slightly; you should feel a stretch. Hold for 20 seconds, repeat several times if necessary, and then stretch your left calf muscle in the same way.
Eat right for your calves. Dehydration and low potassium levels can cause muscle pain and tightness in your legs, especially your calves. Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Include foods in your diet that contain potassium such as bananas, orange juice, spinach and potatoes.
Consult your physician before starting any new fitness routine.
Beth Rifkin has been writing health- and fitness-related articles since 2005. Her bylines include "Tennis Life," "Ms. Fitness," "Triathlon Magazine," "Inside Tennis" and others. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Temple University.