Train Like the Pros: Critical Calves

The NFL Injury Report from week 8 reveals lots of calf injuries.  These are costly injuries for players and teams.

Troy Polamalu PIT 350x350Pittsburgh Steelers’ strong safety Troy Polamalu has had to sit out several games of the 2012 regular season due to a persistent calf injury.

Since the calf muscles are not big and do not attract attention, people tend to ignore them.  Athletes definitely should not ignore these muscles and the best way to prevent injury is to work them to make the muscle stronger.  Calf muscles are essential to start and stop movements.

The calves actually are made up of two muscles: 1) the gastrocnemius, also called the gastroc, which is the big, visible and meaty part of the calf, and 2) the soleus, which is located below the teardrop shape, on the side of the calf.  The gastroc is allows you to raise your heel, which happens in every step – walking AND running.  The most common way to work the gastro is the standing calf raise. The soleus also works when you raise your heal, but the it called into service when your knee is bent – which is why it is exercised by the seated calf raise.

The main thing that you should know is that they are equally necessary to a healthy and durable leg.

Important: Remember to slightly bend the knee during a standing calf raise to take pressure off the knee and force the gastroc to do more work. Bending the knee a little also recruits the soleus, so you get the best of both worlds.

To introduce calf work to your exercise routine, try:

Standing calf raise: 3 sets of 20 raises working each leg separately or both together. Start with only your body weight until you feel your calves getting stronger.  Then you can hold a dumbbell in one hand to add more resistance.  Stand with the balls of your feet over the bottom step of stairs or a stepstool or ladder, which will give you something to hold onto to steady yourself during the exercise.  Raise up and hold for a second, then lower back down and repeat.  Doing one leg at a time will maximize calorie burn.


Seated calf raise: 3 sets of 15-20 raises.You don’t always need a seated calf raise machine to do this.  Sit in any chair or bench and hold a dumbbell over each knee then raise both heels off the ground so your knees raise up.  Pick a weight that causes you to feel the fatigue the last 3-5 reps.  So if you are going for 20 reps, feel the burn the last 5.


With every exercise you should keep your form slow and controlled.  The longer the muscle is contracted, the more muscle fibers are broken down thus more gains are made.  This is the concept of Time Under Tension (TUT).

And remember, it’s all about training not complaining!

By Francis Micheli

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