I’ve been noticing some serious muscle growth on my lower legs a.k.a calves these days. And I mean SERIOUS – my calves are getting that “diamond shape” that most body builders lust after – and whats even more important is the functional strength and endurance they add to an already well exercised pair of legs.
Now, if you’ve been reading my notes regularly, you’ll know that I’m a fan of focusing on tough, compound movements for the larger muscles (thighs, back etc) as opposed to “isolating” the smaller muscles such as the calves and forearms. And with good reason as well – working the larger muscles into the ground leads to tremendous overall gains in strength and stamina – and rapid fat loss as well, if we’re talking about regular hill climbs (an absolute quadriceps killer if done right).
But while isolating muscle groups is a huge mistake, it is also important to know that the smaller muscles must not be completely ignored as they are usually the “weak link” in any chain. And as the saying goes, you are only as strong as your weakest link. Case in point being weak forearms and thick bar pull-ups – something that a lot of folks can probably identify with, by the way - how would you be able to do these for reps if you can barely GRIP (and hold on to) that thick bar, much less pull yourself up on it?
And when it comes to calves, remember that calves are pretty much the equivalent of forearms for the lower body. Ever seen a really strong and functionally fit athlete, strongman, power lifter or combat sports practitioners with weak and underdeveloped calves?
I didn’t think so – and there are many good reasons behind this.
First, calves “connect” the more powerful thigh/hamstring/butt muscles to your feet. The stronger your calves are, the more power you’ll be able to generate through your legs and core – and the better you’ll do at activities that require functional strength (jump starting a dead car battery by pushing the car around, for example – speaking from personal experience here!).
Second, weak calves are an invitation to injury, especially when paired with powerful thighs and
exercise that require the entire leg to work as a unit. The same thing holds true for weak forearms and powerful upper arms – something that came back to bite me strongly in the backside a few years ago while doing handstand pushups in the form of a nasty bone spur on my left wrist. Yow!
Third, strong calves make it much, much easier to warm up when playing any sort of sport or even before your regular workout. Again, I’m saying this from personal experience – it takes me far less time to warm up before my exercises these days due to stronger and more enduring calves – as opposed to a few years back when I could pound out hill climbs “straight out of bed” like there was no tomorrow, but needed a warm up before a brisk walk or jog on flat land regardless.
So, those are three good reasons - there are more as well, but these should suffice for now.
And so, your next question will likely be – well, HOW do I train “dem” calves then?
Well, pretty much the same way I advocate training other body parts – with tough compound exercises that make you use your entire leg as a UNIT – but simultaneously require you to develop strength and endurance in your calves (with size being a byproduct as well in most cases).
Some simple but incredibly powerful (and time honored) exercises that you can use to build up your calves are as follows: -
- Jumping rope: A proven way to build stamina and endurance throughout the entire body, but especially the calves.
- Sprints: Another great, great way to build the calves – and entire body – with one heart pounding, sweat inducing exercise.
- Jogging in place (if done correctly and at the right cadence).
And while those will get your calves (and legs) in great shape, there is FAR, FAR more to working your calves than simply these exercises – and I plan on devoting a book entirely to calf training in the near future. Be on the lookout for that!
So, that’s the tip for the day. If you plan on working out today – make it the best one ever!
P.S.: - The exercises in Fast and Furious Fitness do a pretty darn good job of “prepping” and conditioning your calves for the really brutal stuff at a later stage – grab your copy HERE: - http://rahulmookerjee.com/index.php/articles/83-fast-and-furious-fitness-the-book