The Best Exercises for the Calves
Tom McCullough MEd.


While most people in the gyms don’t bother training legs and instead look like the rode in on a chicken, training calves seems to be limited even further. So what did our researchers say is the best exercise for those of us who do train our calves?

Figure 8: Relative EMG activity of the calf muscles during selected exercises in comparison to the standing calf raises data adapted from Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000

As noted, the donkey cal raise with a 90 degree bend in the knee seem to be the most effective. Researchers noted that all of these calf exercises can be made more effective by incorporating peak contractions and forced contractions in the stretched position. Moreover, it is imperative that you do not actively bend the knees during the seated calf raise (no bouncing!), if you do not want to reduce the muscle activity by -11%. In a similar vein, you also do not want to mess with foot position, because the parallel foot position is the one that activates the inner, as well as the outer part of the m. gastrocnemius maximally. What a shock, huh?

Figure 9: Relative EMG activity of the m. gastrocnemius with different foot positions data adapted from Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000

That being said, the researchers thought it is worth mentioning that the overall activation of the calves is maximized during standing and bent-over (donkey) calf raises, while the m. soleus activity is highest when you do seated calf raises. A rule of thumb with regards to the activation of m. gastrocnemius vs. m. soleus is "maximize knee angle (as in standing calf raises or donkey calf raises) to maximize gastrocnemius, minimize knee angle (as in seated calf raises) to maximize soleus activity"



Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dave Draper
"Real men" ain't ashamed of doing donkey