When it comes to fitness and physical health, most people think of their chest, back, biceps, and shoulders.
And while these muscle groups matter for overall aesthetics and strength, one other muscle group gets ignored by many – the calves.
In fact, calf training is a bit of a taboo, and many folks claim that you don’t need to train your calves because, if you have the genetics, they’ll grow on their own, and if you don’t, why even bother.
Well, today, we’ll go over why you shouldn’t ignore your calves, and how to grow them stronger as a senior.
The Incredible Benefits Of Having Strong Calves
Our calves are the relatively-small muscles located on the backside of the lower leg, but their functions are numerous.
For one, our calves serve as an essential stabilizer of the ankle joint and help create a solid foundation for exercises and activities like squatting, deadlifting, jumping, and running.
Second, our calves contribute to activities like squatting, running, and jumping by exerting force and allowing us to perform slightly better.
Third, thanks to the origin point of the gastrocnemius (one of the two muscles that form the calf) above the knee, it also contributes to knee flexion (for example, hamstring curls and glute-ham raises).
And finally, contrary to popular belief, most people are capable of developing an impressive pair of calves even if they don’t have good genetics for it. But nothing screams fitness and strength like having beefy and defined calves.
With that said, here’s your 4-step action plan for stronger and meatier calves.
How to Get Stronger Calves as a Senior: Your 4-Step Action Plan
In no particular order of importance, here’s what you need to do to optimize your calf growth as a senior:
Step #1: Perform Standing and Seated Calf Raises
Both the standing and seated calf raises serve the same function, at least at first glance:
To train the calf muscle through its full range of motion.
But, it’s a good idea to perform both the standing and seated variation of the exercise for optimal growth. The reason is, there appears to be a slight difference in muscle activation between the two variations, and, for optimal growth and strengthening, you should utilize both. This is primarily thanks to the fact that the gastrocnemius muscle crosses the knee joint, and having it bent or extended impacts its involvement.
For example, you can most certainly use only one variation, such as the seated calf raise. But, to make better progress, you should also incorporate a standing variation, such as the standing machine calf raise.
Step #2: Don’t Be Afraid to Use Light And Heavy Weights
There’s a common idea that we should train in the 8 to 12 repetition range across most exercises for optimal results. While there is some truth to this idea, this is mostly an old bodybuilding belief that has been around for decades.
Sure, you can utilize this repetition range, and you will make progress so long as you’re consistent.
But, if you want to make the most of your time and effort in the gym, you should utilize heavy and light weights. Heavier weights provide mechanical tension and strengthen your calves. Lighter weights cause more metabolic stress and help develop slow-twitch muscle fibers.
What’s excellent about calf training is that you can use heavy weights (for example, those that allow you to do no more than eight repetitions in one set) and still perform the exercise properly because it’s inherently safe and straightforward.
For example, you can go heavy on the seated calf raise exercise and then use lighter weights and aim for at least 12 repetitions on the standing calf raise.
Step #3: But Remember to Maintain Proper Technique
Calf training is quite safe and simple, but it can quickly turn into ego lifting. And, before you know it, you’re doing half-reps with a weight that is too heavy.
To perform seated calf raises properly:
- Place the balls of your feet on the platform with your toes pointing forward. Place the base of your quads (right at the knees) under the pad of the machine. Your heels will naturally dangle in the air.
- Contract your calves to lift the weight and release the safety bar.
- Lower the weight by dorsiflexing your ankles until your heels are below the level of the pad, and you feel a nice stretch in your calves.
- Contract your calves and raise the pad as high as you can.
- Hold the top position for a second and lower the pad again.
The most important aspect of proper calf training is to perform each repetition with a full range of motion. This will both stretch and contract your calves as best as possible and ensure adequate development in terms of size and strength.
Step #4: Train Your Calves More Often
Research suggests that training our muscles two to three times per week is the optimal frequency for muscle growth and strength gain. There are a couple of reasons for this:
- Volume allocation.
Volume allocation refers to the tactic of spreading your training evenly throughout the week in the most optimal way possible. That way, you get to do all of your weekly work (which is the most critical factor for muscle and strength gain) but you also prevent overexerting yourself in any given workout.
For example, if you’re doing eight sets for your calves, it would be better to split them across two workouts. That way, you’ll do all of your sets in a more recovered state, use a bit more weight, and avoid stressing your calves too much in a single workout.
- Muscle protein synthesis.
Once we’re done with a workout, muscle protein synthesis levels rise for about 36 to 48 hours. In other words, this is the time that the body needs to heal and possibly further develop the muscles we’ve trained. After that, protein synthesis levels go back to baseline.
If you train your calves only once per week, you’re leaving a few days on the table. Rather than taking advantage of that and stimulating your calves as soon as they are recovered, you’re waiting unnecessarily long.