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In many respects, calf muscles are not different from other muscles of the body. They get stronger if they are stimulated properly with exercise. However, the calf muscles are already “trained” to some degree. We use our calves extensively when climbing a flight of stairs, riding a bike or walking on a treadmill. Every step we take generates a torque at the Achilles tendon that exceeds three times our bodyweight. As a result, if you do any walking at all, your calf muscles are already partly trained. Therefore, to stimulate the fibers in the gastrocnemius, you have to dig a little deeper and work harder than with many other muscles. A great way to activate the medial gastrocnemius is with one-legged heel raises using heavy resistance throughout the fullest range of motion possible.

Muscles Activated

Although the gastrocnemius is considered one muscle, it’s physiologically and anatomically two distinct muscles. Each has slightly different fiber types and functional properties. The medial gastrocnemius muscle forms the inner part of the diamond- shaped part of the lower legs. It arises from the area behind the knee called the popliteal surface of the femur (thigh bone), just above the medial condyle of the knee (bony protrusion on the medial knee). The medial head of the gastrocnemius intertwines with the strong, elastic fibers of the Achilles tendon. This tendon travels along the posterior (back) part of the leg just above the ankle joint and attaches on the posterior surface of the calcaneus bone (heel bone).

The lateral gastrocnemius muscle begins from the outer (lateral) surface of the femur just above the knee and extends all the way down to the posterior side of the leg, where it fuses with the Achilles tendon and inserts into the calcaneus bone.

Together, the lateral and medial gastrocnemius muscles raise your heel in a movement that’s described as plantarflexion of the foot at the ankle joint. The gastrocnemius actually crosses the knee joint. The origins to these muscles are superior to the knee joint on the femur and will have some function at that joint (assisting the hamstrings to flex the knee joint). However, these muscles are unable to exert maximal forces at the ankle joint and the knee joint simultaneously. If the gastrocnemius is to be maximally activated during plantarflexion, it’s essential that the knee joint is straight and not flexed. A straight knee stretches and tightens the gastrocnemius muscles; this maximizes the mechanical contribution of this muscle complex to plantarflexion.

Standing One-Legged Heel Raises

1. Find a stable block of wood or metal approximately 6”x12.” It must be high enough so you can’t touch your heels on the floor when you’re standing on the block. Place the block on the floor, next to a vertical pole or bar or perhaps an upright part of a cable station. Make sure the soles of your shoes are not too worn to grip the block when you’re standing on it. The block must not be slippery, or you’ll risk sliding from the block during the exercise and injuring your ankle or Achilles tendon.

2. Select a heavy dumbbell and hold it in your right hand (when working your right calf first). Wrist straps will help avoid wrist fatigue that could result in losing your grip on the dumbbell before your calf is fatigued. Step up so the balls of your feet are on the block, but your heels are not. The dumbbell should be hanging directly down from your right shoulder.

3. If you’re holding on to a support with your left arm, take your left leg off the block, leaving only your right foot there. You might wish to wrap your non-working leg (left) around your working leg (right). Straighten the knee of your support leg and lock it in this position. Rise up on your toes as high as possible. As you’re coming upward, attempt to roll the weight inward toward your big toe.

4. Hold the top position for two or three seconds. The weight should be on the ball of your foot next to, or over, your big toe, not on the lateral side of your foot.

5. Slowly lower your bodyweight until your heel almost touches the floor (it should not contact the floor). Get a very good, slow stretch.

6. Repeat the movement by rising on your toes. Make sure the movement occurs only at your ankle joint and your knees do not bend as you’re trying to lift the weight. After finishing your right leg, take a short break, then switch the dumbbell and take the support in the opposite hand. Place your left foot on the block and begin the set for the left leg.

Training Tips

Activation studies in the calf muscles suggest that the “secret” to strengthening the medial gastrocnemius development is rolling the weight up to the big toe side of your foot as your heels are raised. When the weight is pushed over your big toe, the medial gastrocnemius will be preferentially recruited. The opposite is true if you let the weight roll over the outer (lateral) side of your foot, near your little toe. You may find it helpful to point your toes outward to get the weight over the proper part of your foot. The higher you rise over your big toe area, the more muscle fibers you will activate in the medial gastrocnemius.

Ballistic lifts, especially from a position with your heel close to the floor, risk injury to the Achilles tendon and the muscle fibers that insert there. These soft tissues are vulnerable because they are maximally stretched at the point of ballistic contractions, so there’s little room to absorb additional forces. The result can often be nasty tears. If you must train for power in the gastrocnemius, it’s best to do the last two-thirds of the lift ballistically. This will not place the tendons in such a dangerous position as during the first one-third of the lift.

The most efficient way to recruit the fibers in the medial gastrocnemius muscle is to train with heavy weights and always lower the weight slowly. The very heavy sets should recruit both fast- and slow-twitch fibers in the gastrocnemius. These sets should be done slowly and under control. After your fast-twitch fibers are fatigued, you can finish the final sets with less resistance. Lighter sets will be completed mostly with the weaker and the more fatigue-resistant slow-twitch fibers.

It’s very important that you do not bend your knee during one-legged heel raises. If you do, quadriceps muscles and not calf muscles will do the work. If you’re doing it correctly, the last few repetitions of this exercise should make your calf muscles feel like a small blowtorch is being applied to your lower pinnings. The discomfort is partly because the gastrocnemius is only supplied by one artery (posterior tibial artery). This increases the potential for metabolic byproducts to build up rapidly in the calves during any exercise. Most other muscles have several arteries that supply blood.

Nevertheless, this pain is a “good” pain that dissipates quickly after the set is completed. However, you must avoid the “bad” injury-induced pain that results from sloppy exercise form. The idea is to strengthen your calf muscles as you build them and in doing so, you’ll reduce the chances of injury if you participate in sports in addition to training in the gym. Stronger calves will also help support your knee joints, reducing their wear and tear. Living with stronger calves will help you jump higher, run faster and of course, form the foundation of a well-sculpted physique.



Alkner BA and Tesch PA. Knee extensor and plantar flexor muscle size and function following 90 days of bed rest with or without resistance exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2004.

Bobbert MF. Dependence of human squat jump performance on the series elastic compliance of the triceps surae: a simulation study. J Exp Biol, 204, 533-542, 2001.

Carlsson U, Lind K, Moller M, Karlsson J and Svantesson, U. Plantar flexor muscle function in open and closed chain. Clin Physiol, 21, 1-8, 2001.

Dupont L, Gamet D and Perot C. Motor unit recruitment and EMG power spectra during ramp contractions of a bifunctional muscle. J Electromyogr Kinesiol, 10, 217-224, 2000.

Kubo K, Kanehisa H, Kawakami Y and Fukunaga, T. Influence of static stretching on viscoelastic properties of human tendon structures in vivo. J Appl Physiol, 90, 520-527, 2001.

Kuitunen S, Avela J, Kyrolainen H and Komi PV. Voluntary activation and mechanical performance of human triceps surae muscle after exhaustive stretch-shortening cycle jumping exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol, 91: 538-544, 2004.

Magnusson SP. Load-displacement properties of the human triceps surae aponeurosis in vivo. J Physiol, 531, 277-288, 2001.

Nicol C, Kuitunen S, Kyrolainen H, Avela J and Komi PV. Effects of long- and short-term fatiguing stretch-shortening cycle exercises on reflex EMG and force of the tendon-muscle complex. Eur J Appl Physiol, 90: 470-479, 2003.

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By: Stephen E. Alway, Ph.D., FACSM
Title: Get Bigger, Stronger Calves
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Published Date: Tue, 01 Mar 2022 00:18:12 +0000

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Ripped Leg Blast for Carved Thighs



Powerful and thick thighs require gut-busting exercises like squats and leg presses. However, once you have acquired adequate thigh mass and strength, you should consider adding some balance and sharpness to the muscle bellies in your thighs. Although tough to accomplish, leg extensions provide a great way to carve the separations between the muscle bellies, and to accentuate the “teardrop” shape of the four quadriceps muscles of the anterior thigh.

Active Muscles in Leg Extensions

The three vasti muscles comprise most of the anterior thigh.1 The vastus medialis covers the medial (inner) part of the femur bone (thigh bone). When it is well developed, it forms a teardrop-like shape over the medial side of the knee joint. The vastus lateralis muscle attaches to the lateral (outer) part of the femur bone. The vastus intermedius connects to the femur bone between the vastus lateralis and the vastus medialis muscles. The fibers of all three vasti muscles come together at the quadriceps tendon, which crosses the patella (kneecap) to attach to the tibia bone just below the knee.1

Together, the three vasti muscles extend the leg at the knee joint, although the vastus intermedius may be more fatigue resistant than the vastus lateralis.2 The vastus medialis oblique (VMO), which is a small part of the vastus medialis muscle, attaches to the medial part of the patella. It is thought to help the patella track properly during movement of the knee. Improper tracking can increase the likelihood for knee injury.

The vastus medialis and especially the VMO part of this muscle are primarily responsible for tibial rotation (rotation of the tibia bone of the lower leg on the femur) during knee extension. This rotation or “twist” has been shown to increase the activation of the VMO portion of the vastus lateralis even more than doing knee extensions with the hip adducted (thigh rotated so that the medial portion of the knee is facing mostly upwards).3 Dorsiflexion of the foot (moving the ankles so the toes are pointing towards your head) also increases the activation of the VMO by more than 20 percent.4 Likely this is because the dorsiflexor muscles stabilize the tibia during knee flexion and resist rotation of the tibia on the femur as the knee straightens.

The fourth muscle of the quadriceps group is the rectus femoris muscle. It attaches to the anterior part of the hip bone just above the hip joint.1 The largest bulk of the muscle fibers are located on the upper three-quarters of the thigh, whereas the largest belly of the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis are more inferior (i.e., closer to the knee). The distal end of the rectus femoris muscle becomes tendinous and it creates a deep valley between the lateral and medial vastus muscles as it approaches the knee.1 It assists the other quadriceps muscles by extending the leg at the knee joint, although it is less effective when the hip is flexed than if it is straight.

Leg Extensions

The three vastus muscles of the anterior thigh are strongly activated by single-leg knee extensions. The rectus femoris is not activated as strongly, but it does undergo some overload when the anterior thigh is under contractile effort, about halfway up to the top of each repetition.

1. You should always warm up your knees with some stationary cycling prior to getting into leg extensions. Furthermore, the resistance on your first set should be fairly light to allow the joint to fully warm up before you get to the heavier stuff.

2. Adjust the knee extension machine so that the pivot point of the lifting arm is directly adjacent to the center of the side of your knee joint.

3. Position the ankle roller/leg pad over the lower part of the leg (above the ankle joint).

4. Take about three seconds to slowly extend (straighten) both leg so that the weight is lifted upward from the stack.

5. Continue upwards until the tibia and the femur bones form a straight line and the knee angle is straight. Hold this for two seconds at the top.

6. Slowly lower the weight (about four seconds down) towards the starting position. Once the knee has reached 90 degrees, start the upwards extension phase again. Continue for 12-15 repetitions for the first set. Lower the number of repetitions but increase the resistance for subsequent sets.

7. On the next sets, lift the weight upwards until the knee joint becomes almost straight, but just slightly short of a total knee lockout. Be careful that you do not “jam” the knee joint into a fully locked out position, because this could cause knee cartilage damage5, especially with heavy weights. Hold the top position for a count of three before lowering the weight.

8. Lower the weight slowly (four to five seconds) towards the starting position where your knee is flexed to 90 degrees. Just before the weight stack contacts the remaining plates at the bottom, start lifting it upward for the next repetition.

The downward movement should be slower than the upward phase because you are resisting the pull of gravity. The slow lowering of the weight stretches the muscle under a resistance and this is a great stimulus to improve muscle shape and size.6

Make sure that you do not hold your breath during the lift upwards.7 Rather take a breath at the bottom (start) of the lift, and exhale as you extend the knees/legs. Take another breath at the top and slowly exhale as the weight is lowered. Take another breath at the bottom and repeat the sequence.

This is a mechanically simply exercise, but it really can be very challenging and blood depriving8,9, especially if you try to control the weight as it is moving up and down. However, if you are willing to work through some discomfort, you will be soon enjoying your new shape and slabs of carved thighs.

GettyImages 674163248 600


1. Moore K.L. Clinically Orientated Anatomy. Third Edition. Williams & Willkins, Baltimore, 1995; pp 373-500.

2. Watanabe K, Akima H. Neuromuscular activation of vastus intermedius muscle during fatiguing exercise. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2010;20:661-666.

3. Stoutenberg M, Pluchino AP, Ma F et al. The impact of foot position on electromyographical activity of the superficial quadriceps muscles during leg extension. J Strength Cond Res 2005;19:931-938.

4. Coburn JW, Housh TJ, Cramer JT et al. Mechanomyographic and electromyographic responses of the vastus medialis muscle during isometric and concentric muscle actions. J Strength Cond Res 2005; 19:412-420.

5. Senter C, Hame SL. Biomechanical analysis of tibial torque and knee flexion angle: implications for understanding knee injury. Sports Med 2006;36:635-641.

6. Alway SE, Winchester PK, Davis ME et al. Regionalized adaptations and muscle fiber proliferation in stretch- induced enlargement. J Appl Physiol 1989;66:771-781.

7. Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2011;43:1334-1359.

8. Denis R, Bringard A, Perrey S. Vastus lateralis oxygenation dynamics during maximal fatiguing concentric and eccentric isokinetic muscle actions. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2011;21:276-282.

9. Ueda C, Kagaya A. Muscle reoxygenation difference between superficial and deep regions of the muscles during static knee extension. Adv Exp Med Biol 2010;662:329-334.

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By: Stephen E. Alway, Ph.D., FACSM
Title: Ripped Leg Blast for Carved Thighs
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PRIMAL Preworkout



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A Better Pump

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30 minutes prior to training, consume 2 rounded scoops (20.3g) with 8-12 oz of water or your
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(10.1g) to assess tolerance.

PRIMAL Preworkout

• Enhances energy and endurance†
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PRIMAL is a pre-workout that will power your performance and enable you to crush it every time you train.

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†These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This product is not
intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Title: PRIMAL Preworkout
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