Squats are a great exercise that target many muscles groups. Are they sufficient for training the calves? Are they all you need to grow your calves?
Do Squats Build Calves?
The calf muscles do stabilize knee flexion and ankle movement during the squat and are used to spring out of the bottom of the movement. However, squats do not work the calves to a great extent and other exercises such as calf raises, skipping rope, and running will build them better.
Muscles Worked In The Squat
Since squats are a compound exercise working multiple muscle groups, they trigger the release of testosterone and growth hormone, helping the body gain more muscle. More muscle leads to a greater ability to burn body fat.
The quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abs, and calves are all worked during the squat. The quads are worked the most at the bottom of the movement as they extend the knee. The further your knees drop, the more that your quads are working. This is why you should squat as low as you can to build muscle.
The glutes role is to extend the hips which is most important for the lockout at the top of the movement. The hamstrings also support hip extension, while also stabilizing the knee joint. The abs are used to stabilize the body and keep you from leaning forward during the movement.
Now the part we want to focus on; the calf muscles are used to stabilize knee flexion and ankle movement during the squat.
They provide a supportive mechanism to the major muscles such as the quads and hamstrings. They also help push the weight back up out of the bottom of the movement.
The calf muscles activate when the feet come in contact with the ground. The calves are primarily used when sprinting and jumping and are one of the most frequently injured muscles in the body as they are in contact with the ground.
Stronger calf muscles allow for greater sprinting and running and help in many other sports as they provide explosive strength. They can also add that explosive power to your squat.
The calf muscle is composed of two muscles which are the gastrocnemius and the soleus.
The gastrocnemius is the more noticeable and receives more of the force when performing activities. This gastrocnemius is made of up mostly fast-twitch muscle fibers which are responsible for explosive movements.
The soleus muscle lies behind the gastrocnemius and is composed of slow-twitch muscle fibers. It is more resistant to fatigue and is responsible for endurance activities such as jogging.
If you have tight calves, it will negatively affect your squat. This is because the muscle fibers in the calves affect ankle and knee mobility. Many people have issues with ankle mobility which doesn’t allow them to go low enough without experiencing ankle pain.
Consider doing ankle circles, standing heel lifts, or ankle flexion stretches before a squat session to loosen up the ankles and increase mobility.
Knee pain in the squat is also very common. See this post for more information on how you can reduce knee pain while squatting.
By strengthening the calves, you can increase knee and ankle mobility, increasing your squat.
How To Train Calves
The calves simply aren’t trained to a great extent in the squat and need to be trained with isolation movements. Here are some great exercises to actually grow your calves.
Calf raises can be done seated or standing. They are very versatile and can be done in the gym or at home. You can use a machine, barbell, dumbbells, or even body weight.
Whatever variation you are doing, it’s best to try to get your heels elevated. Most machines will have a platform where you can do this. If you are at home consider placing your toes on an object so that the heels hang off and can lower down past the toes. This allows for a full range of motion and increased stretch on the calf muscles, allowing for greater growth.
Push through the balls of your feet and squeeze at the top of the movement, pausing for a second and then slowly returning down.
Consider doing a variation of the squat with lighter weight where you push up into a calf raise at the top of every rep. This will allow your calves to work a lot higher and increase the intensity of the movement.
Calves can be trained at 20-30 reps per set. Many people won’t go above 15 reps and this is why their calves are lacking.
At the top of each rep, squeeze the calves for a second or two and slowly return down. Train with full range of motion to completely stretch out the calf.
Why Your Calves Aren’t Growing
Most likely you aren’t training them with the same intensity or frequency as your other muscle groups. Most people leave calf training until the end of their leg workout after they’ve already done exhausting exercises.
This leaves you feeling fatigued and tired and ready to get out of the gym. So what do you do? A quick 4 sets of calf raises without any real intensity so that you can get home.
Like all other muscle groups, training twice a week is the best way to see growth. Start by choosing 2 calf exercises per leg day and doing 4 sets of each.
With calves, it’s usually better to use lighter weight and high reps. Take each set until failure, which will encourage calf growth. If you still don’t notice growth, calves are a muscle group that can be trained 3 times a week as they are smaller.
The calves are made up slow twitch muscle fibers which means they don’t grow fast. If you aren’t noticing growth in your current training, add sets and reps
A lot of people like to throw on heavy weight and bounce their calves up and down, expecting growth. This is not the best way to grow your calves. Slow reps with high volume is the best method.
Our calves are slightly worked all day through walking and running. This means that they need to be trained with high reps in order to grow.
Focus on training with lighter weight to allow high reps. If you have pain in your feet or can’t complete reps without bending your knees, then the weight is probably too heavy.
Running is a great way to train your calves. Doing the stairs or putting your cardio machine on an incline will even further work them. Jumping jacks, skipping rope, and HIIT workouts are other ways to switch up your calf training.
Think about how you are prioritizing your calves. If you save them until the end of your leg day, this may be a reason why they aren’t growing.
At the end of a tiring leg day, you won’t have much energy or desire to properly train the calves. Consider doing them at the beginning of the workout and seeing if that makes a difference.
The calves are made up of the gastrocnemius which is the upper and outer part of the calves, best trained with standing exercise. And the soleus which is the lower and deeper parts of the calves This is best trained by seated exercises.
By slightly moving your toes, you can target the different parts of the calf. To target the gastrocnemius, point your toes slightly inwards. To target the soleus, point them slightly outwards. Whereas, having your toes pointed forward will target both. You only need to move your toes about an inch either direction.
Why You Should You Train Your Calves?
If you always wear pants no one will see them, so you should just focus on the muscles that everyone notices like your arms and chest, right?
Well, here is some important reasons to take calf training seriously so that you don’t skip leg day.
This was already touched on earlier in the article but they help with explosiveness and power in lots of movements including running, jumping, and the squat.
Bigger squat numbers leads to an increase in muscle mass and testosterone increase, leading to an overall increase in muscle.
If you are a runner or participate in sports, stronger calves will benefit you in many ways on the court or field.
Weaker calf muscles make you more prone to injuries mainly involving the ankle. If you’ve ever had an ankle injury, you know how much they suck. We use our ankles for everything so an injury really hinders your performance.
Stronger calf muscles also make any injuries that you get heal a lot faster.
Leave any questions or comments below and I’ll get back to you!