They might not be at the top of the vanity muscle list and are surely behind the chest, abs, and biceps when it comes to weight training. But when it comes to calf muscles, showing off isn’t the only reason you should train them regularly. Well-built calves are not only for short days, but can also give you insight into muscle mass, resting heart rate, stroke risk, and liver issues.
A 2008 study entitled Calf circumference is inversely associated with carotid plaques studied more than 6,000 participants to conclude that larger calves meant less fatty deposits in the arteries, which meant a lower risk of heart disease. The logic was simple: the calves allow the body to store fat elsewhere.
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âThe association of carotid atherosclerosis with body composition and fat distribution is poorly understood. We sought to test the transverse association of carotid plaques and the intima-media thickness of the common carotid artery with calf circumference (CC), representing peripheral fat and lean mass, and with waist circumference. and waist-to-hip ratio, 2 markers of abdominal obesity, âthe study says.
But it’s not that easy to build calves. In fact, even those with remarkably torn bodies might find it difficult to trigger calf growth, even over a period of sustained exercise. Some reports suggest that even legendary golfer Tiger Woods was unsure of his calf muscles. To explain the dependence of genetics on leg muscles, scientists often use the example of our sprint mechanism compared to other species. In general, humans have more resistance on their legs, which equates to more endurance. Our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, chimpanzees, have faster twitch muscles. The calves are one of those lower body muscles that help us push and need to be worked harder to grow taller. And that’s because they already do so much work just keeping the body straight every time we stand.
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But building strong calves may not be all about genetics. âA lot of people give up training calves altogether, believing that the muscle’s ability to grow is purely dictated by genetics. While genetic makeup is still a factor in muscle potential, a recent study from our lab has shown that calves do indeed respond robustly to regimented resistance training; in fact, about as good as the other major muscles in the body, âsays Brad Schoenfeld in a bodybuilding.com article titled Ask the Muscle Doc: Is Calf Development Purely a Function of Genetics? Schoenfeld is Associate Professor of Exercise Science at Lehman College in New York.
It’s this lack of motivation that could eventually lead to not wanting to work the calf muscles at all, but there are a few basic tips that could make their workout enjoyable and worth it.
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Know your calf muscles: Calves are made up mainly of two elements, the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Both work to stabilize and push. Both must be trained. And both will need their own exercises. Any exercise with the legs straight will hit the gastroc, and those with bent legs will hit the soleus. Also, try doing these exercises with your feet pointed outward and inward, as some studies have shown that this may lead to a greater amount of muscle activation.
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Repetition ranges: This is where your genetics – and subsequently your calves – may respond differently to training with lower weights and higher reps, or fewer reps with heavier loads. Try these two forms of training to find out what works for you. Remember that choosing the right weight is also important. You want a weight that works your calf muscles without putting too much load on the ankles.
Range of motion: You may have seen or even heard to quickly repeat calf exercises – but like any other muscle – they need a full range of motion, unless you temporarily pump them. So focus on the great pressure, speed, and a full range of motion when performing even something as simple as a standing calf lift.
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Don’t treat calves like an extra post-workout set: When you plan to do a chest workout, you don’t do a bench press at the end of your gym day. It’s the same with your back or your biceps. So why treat calves after the fact? Hit your calves at the start of your workout, rather than at the end of a grueling leg day, making it difficult to walk, let alone heavy calf lifts.
Although they are stubborn in developing, the calf muscles have the simplest set of exercises. Sometimes all you need is a step and some commitment. And if you already have a gym membership, use the squat rack, leg press, and seated calf machine to make sure you treat them with a proper workout.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.
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