EVERY BODY’S NOTORIOUS SLOW GAINER – THE CALF (GASTRONEMIUS AND SOLEUS)

Dear Dr Bell,

I have been training for a while and I just can’t seem to gain any size in my calfs. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do to make some progress?

Without a doubt, the single greatest concern in the “Kingdom of Muscular Development” has always been the calves.

In order to refresh your memory, you learned in the Personal Trainer Certification Course that the calves were primarily made-up of two major muscles and several smaller ones.

You also learned that the gastronemius was active with the knees straight and became less effective in relationship to the degree of flexion in the knee. At 90-degree of knee flexion the gastronemius is approximately 20% effective, while the soleus takes over as the major muscle responsible for plantar flexion (heel raise – toes down).

Therefore you were taught to exercise both muscles in order to maximize the size of the calves. “Straight knee heel raises” for the gastronemius and “Bent knee heel raises” for the soleus. I also recommend you do the “straight knee heel raise” in 3 positions:

  1. Feet in internal rotation. To perform this safely, internally rotate at the hips in order to maintain knee-toe alignment. In order to make this exercise effective shift your weight toward the small toe (slight inversion at the ankle – adduction), see IFPA -Personal Fitness Trainer Manual- the Book on Personal Training, page 125. Maintain this position for the entire set. You will know you are doing this correctly if the lactic acid buildup, “the burns,” is felt in the lateral head of the gastronemius. If you don’t feel the burns laterally, focus on continuously pushing with the little toe.
  2. Second position is the opposite – feet in external rotation. Again to perform safely – externally rotate at the hips in order to maintain knee-toe alignment. In order to make this exercise effective shift your weight toward the big-toe (slight eversion at the ankle (abduction), see IFPA – Personal Fitness Trainer Manual- the Book on Personal Training, page 125). Maintain this position for the entire set. You will know you are doing this correctly if the lactic acid build up, “the burns” is felt in the medial head of the gastronemius (if you don’t feel the burns medially, focus on continuously pushing with the big-toe.)
  3. Third position is precisely the way you learned the exercise in the Personal Trainer course, with you feet in neutral(parallel) position.

The straight knee heel raise is far more effective with tight hamstrings. Therefore Donkey Calf Raises, Heel Raises on the leg press machine with a 90 degree between the torso and legs, or 45selectorized calf machines will make these exercises far more effective. Single Leg Heel Raises are also more effective than double-leg heel raises.

Combining all of these exercises and techniques with Super Slow training will give you the most bang for your efforts. Does it hurt? Of course, Super Slow Sets always create a high level of lactic acid leading to the “BURNS!”. NO PAIN – NO GAIN right? But remember, according to Nietzche: “that, that does not kill us – makes us stronger.”

The 3-position technique used above has been very effective for me, as well as numerous athletes I have trained. There is some disagreement, based on recent MRI analysis, on this techniques effectiveness.

I personally believe the misunderstanding is due to the fact, that internal and external foot rotation has little or no effect. The effect you are looking for stems from inversion and eversion and pushing through the “little toe” or “big toe.” Try it and I’m sure you will agree.

Unfortunately, this technique does not work with the soleus, but you still need to do Bent Knee Heel Raises since the soleus is a big muscle (just not as “showy” since the soleus is mostly hidden under the gastrocnemius).

Lastly, the gastrocnemius can be over 90% type I fiber and the soleus can be close to that percentage. Therefore you will need to do aerobic activity that activates these fibers.

I’ve had great results with many athletes having them perform walking, jogging or running uphill at 5 – 8 degrees of incline (above 8 degrees places to much stress on the knee complex).

If there is something else you have questions, comments, suggestions or problem, please email your request to: [email protected]

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