There's a danger that your calves get neglected in your fitness training program in favor of the bigger leg muscles, namely the quadriceps and hamstrings. Well-proportioned calves can greatly improve your lower body strength and appearance, however. Even if your gym doesn't have an array of various calf exercise machines, you can still get an effective calf workout by using stairs.
Basic Calf Raises
You can create your very own version of the standing barbell or machine calf raise without leaving your home. Stand with your toes on the edge of the bottom step of your set of stairs. Lower your heels as far as you can, pause briefly, and then stand up on your tiptoes while squeezing your calves. Perform your reps with a slow, controlled tempo. To make these harder, hold a weight in one hand or wear a weighted vest.
Advanced Calf Raises
To take your calf training to the next level, implement single leg raises into your routine. These are much like normal calf raises, but they are performed just one leg at a time. To make it even harder, hold a dumbbell while doing the move. These not only target your calves, they also work the flexor hallucis longus muscle, which plays an important role in sprint speed, according to strength coach Charles Poliquin, of the Poliquin Performance Center in Rhode Island. Slow down the exercise to make your calf raises harder. Take 3 seconds on the way up, pause and squeeze for one second, then take three seconds on the way down and stretch for a further second in the bottom position.
Running stairs is most often associated with fitness and conditioning training. While it certainly will get you aerobically fit, it can also be a highly effective method of calf training. Run up the stairs as fast as you can, keeping your weight on the balls of your feet, walk back down and repeat. Perform 10 to 12 sprints, rest for 60 seconds and repeat four to five times. To increase the challenge of your stair sprints, reduce your rest times, perform more sets and wear a weighted vest, advises personal trainer Virgil Aponte of GivStrength.com. Alternatively, head to your local stadium and run the stairs there.
Programming and Considerations
Train your calves using stairs twice per week. Perform two different calf raise variations for three to four sets of 10 to 15 reps, and then spend 10 to 15 minutes performing stair sprints. Stretch your calves after your workout by standing with your toes on the edge of the step and dropping your heels as low as you can. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds, or concentrate on each leg individually for a deeper stretch.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.