Putting Fitness First
Putting Fitness First Can Give You Cool Calves Later…
One of the perks of putting my fitness first and choosing to be a runner is that I have nice calves. The calves are responsible for pushing the feet down and back against the ground. With each step, you use your calves to move forward. When you run, your calves are an essential component of your muscle and fitness endurance that are used a lot and produce much greater forces than when walking. With many kilometers of running each week, the calves have no choice but to adopt a cool-looking shape. So I wear shorts as often as I can to show them off. Most people neglect their calves in the gym in favor of the more popular muscles, like the biceps, gluteus maximus, and pectorals. However, a set of cool calves can create a lot of shape to your legs and can be the difference between showing your legs in public and wishing for winter so you don’t have to ever wear shorts. After all, nothing looks worse than having a big, strong chest and small, wimpy calves. Most men wish they could have calves like diamonds, symbolic of their power, while most women wish they could have slender, sexy calves that will prompt men to drop the weights and go out and buy them diamonds. So that’s why for both men and women, I highly recommend putting your fitness first always, by choosing activities and exercises that promote your best health and wellbeing, as well as muscle and fitness building.
The calf is comprised of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The most prominent and observable is the gastrocnemius, a powerful muscle used for jumping and sprinting, which originates from two portions, or heads. The two heads of the gastrocnemius converge to insert into the calcaneus bone in the heel of your foot via the strong calcaneal tendon, also called the Achilles tendon, named after the Greek god Achilles, the hero of the Trojan war. The gastrocnemius plantarflexes the foot (points the toes down) and assists in flexing the leg. The soleus, which lies beneath the gastrocnemius, is flatter than the gastrocnemius. The soleus also plantarflexes the foot. Together, the gastrocnemius and soleus form a muscular mass that, when trained, will stop traffic!
What makes the calves look cool is the division between the two heads of the gastrocnemius, which gives it the look of a diamond when contracted and a bulb shape when relaxed. You also know you have cool calves when you can see the soleus peek out from underneath the gastrocnemius when the muscles contract. Acquiring definition in the gastrocnemius and soleus is difficult by weight training alone. Even if you train your calves forever they still won’t look cool unless you eliminate the fat covering them. So there really are two parts to getting the calves you want—making the muscles slightly bigger and more defined through strength training and (here’s the more important part) decreasing your body fat percentage so you can see their definition. As a fixture in the fitness world and an avid runner, I have firsthand experience of how to develop beautiful muscles for men and women. If running nearly every day for nearly thirty years so that you, too, can have my calves doesn’t appeal to you, try these specific exercises for the calves described below.
To make women swoon at the sight of your diamond-shaped calves or to make men drool at the sight of your calves that stand out when wearing a pair of red pumps, follow this training program. And if you train hard enough, maybe next time you step on the treadmill, someone will ask you where you got those cool diamonds.
Jason Karp, PhD, is a nationally-recognized running coach in the fitness world, 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, author of Running for Women and Running a Marathon For Dummies, and owner of RunCoachJason.com, a run coaching and personal training company in San Diego. For award-winning personal training, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Muscle and Fitness First: Cool Calves Training Program
Standing Calf Raises: Stand with feet together, with one foot off the ground. With the other foot, push against the ground with the ball of your foot to raise yourself up. To make the exercise harder, hold a dumbbell in each hand or rest a barbell or weighted bar across the back of your shoulders and neck. You can also do standing calf raises on the edge of a stair by hanging your heel over the edge and raising yourself up by pushing down with the ball of your foot.
Seated Calf Raises: Sit on a leg press machine with your back flat against the back pad and your feet shoulder-width apart on the platform so that only the balls of your feet touch the platform and your heels hang over the edge. Adjust the seat position so that your legs are straight. Grasp the side handles for support. Lift the weight by pressing the balls of your feet against the platform. Pull your toes back to lower the weight to the starting position. To isolate the soleus muscle, sit with your knees bent before pushing the weight. You can also sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, your knees bent, and a weight on your lap. Push the balls of your feet against the ground to raise your thighs.
Plyometrics: Plyometrics, which include jumping and bounding exercises involving repeated rapid eccentric (lengthening) and concentric (shortening) muscle contractions, is great for improving muscle and fitness power production and the look of your calves.
Single leg hops: With one leg at a time, hop up and down, forward and back, and side-to-side. To incorporate your quads into the exercise, bend your knees before jumping up; to isolate your calves, don’t bend your legs.
Bleacher hops: Standing at the bottom of the bleacher steps, bound up the steps. You can also hop up the steps with one leg at a time. Walk back down and hop up again on the other leg.
Double leg bound: From a squat position with both legs, jump forward as far as you can.
Alternate leg bound: In an exaggerated running motion, bound (which looks like a combination of running and jumping) forward from one leg to the other.
Squat jumps: With hands on hips in a squat position, jump straight up as high as you can. Upon landing, lower back into a squat position in one smooth motion, and immediately jump up again.
Depth jumps: From a standing position on a one-foot tall box, jump onto the ground and land in a squat position. From this squat position, jump straight up as high as you can. This is a great exercise you can do anywhere while getting fit and working those muscles.
Box jumps: From the ground, jump with two feet onto a box about one foot high, and then immediately jump into the air and back down to the ground. As you get experienced with the exercise, try jumping with one foot at a time.