Nearly every cartoon representation of a bodybuilder shows a man with giant shoulders, huge biceps and a wide chest that tapers down to…not much else. Unfortunately, the chicken leg body shape exists in real life, too. Smart men avoid this by training the glutes, thighs, hamstrings, and even the calves - perhaps the most ignored muscle group.
But when it comes to lifting weights, many give up on calf raises because they don’t see the results they hoped for. Resistance band calf raises, when done the right way, can improve balance, mobility, and tendon strength. They can also build muscle.
Why Train the Calves?
The calf muscles sit at the back of the lower leg. This tear-drop shaped bulge is actually made of three parts.
- The gastrocnemius originates at 2 separate points at the base of the femur, then come together at the achilles tendon. This muscle is primarily what gives the calves their size and shape.
- The soleus is a relatively flat, smaller muscle which lies underneath. Although it contributes less to size, it’s very important for function.
- The plantaris, often ignored, is an even smaller muscle which runs along the outer portion of the calf. It may play a role in telling the central nervous system where your foot is.
Together, these three muscles make up what we generally refer to as ‘the calf’ and the strength of each is important. The calf is involved every time we bend our knee or flex and point our feet. It helps us stabilize when standing and contributes to walking, running and jumping. There are several reasons why we might want to strengthen our calves.
- Looks: A voluminous calf muscle balances the overall look of a strong leg.
- Speed: A stronger calf muscle helps your feet push from the ground when running.
- Function: Nearly everything we do involves standing or walking, activities which rely heavily on the function of the calves.
- Safety: Strengthening the calf muscles not only improves balance, but keeps the achilles tendon mobile and strong, resulting in fewer injuries.
Resistance Band Calf Raises
With traditional calf raises, you lift and lower your heels while pushing against a calf raise machine or leg press, or while holding free weights in your hands or on your shoulders. Many soon give up on these methods, as training with weights to build muscle is a slow, inefficient process.
Variable resistance using bands offers better results, sooner. Variable resistance recruits far more muscle fibers during each movement and when done correctly with heavy bands, gives us the time under the tension we need to trigger muscle-building hormones.
Resistance Band Calf Raise Don’ts
Search the internet for resistance band calf raise and you’ll find all types of awkward and unsafe suggestions. Each begins with the user standing on the band, the latex closed loop or the rubber tubing running underneath the balls of their feet.
Standing directly on the bands creates an immediately unsafe and inefficient compromise. Your own body weight prevents the band from stretching as it needs to. But give the band a little space to move and you’re risking a slip and snap back.
The grip is a problem too. You’ll see users attempting to hold closed loop bands in their hands, or wrapping the bands over their shoulders. Some wrap rubber tubing around their wrists to shorten bands that have handles. Or, they try holding these triangular handles at shoulder height or overhead as they lift and lower their heels.
There’s only one thing that makes any of these techniques possible. You simply cannot choose a band that has much strength.
Select a strong, superior, closed-loop latex band and it becomes near impossible, if not dangerous, to stand on it with both feet or hold it in your hands while doing the hard work that’s needed to build your calves.
Resistance Band Calf Raise Do’s
In order to build muscle, we need to use strong resistance bands. For building bigger calves with resistance bands, the X3 is a must. The grounding plate and grip bar make it possible to perform resistance band calf raises with the strongest, closed-loop latex bands around.
The X3 Ground Plate allows the thick, strong resistance bands to freely stretch underneath your feet, without compromising your balance or your stance. You’ll get the most benefit from Variable resistance when the band can move in this way. As your calf muscles engage, the band stretches further, challenging your strength.
The X3 Steel Bar lets you maintain a familiar, safe grip. Your calf raises won’t be limited by your ability to safely grab a stretching, thick band with your hands.
Doing resistance band calf raises with the proper equipment completely changes the game, making your workout far more safe and effective.
How To Build Bigger Calves with X3
To use X3 to do calf raises, double up the band of your choice and thread it underneath the center channel of the ground plate. Connect each end to the loops at each end of the bar.
Place the balls of your feet directly over the center channel of the ground plate and stand with your feet at least hips-width distance apart. Some find it more comfortable to keep their big toes parallel, while others find greater balance with toes turned slightly out.
Stand tall, roll your shoulders slightly back to open your chest, and hold the bar firmly against the front of your legs.
Take a full 2-second count to lift your heels, then slowly lower your heels toward the ground plate again at this same pace. Without locking your knees at the top or resting your heels at the bottom, continue the movement until failure.
Follow these instructions, and you’ll have spent enough time under tension to have triggered the exact hormones needed for muscle growth.
Band Choice: If it’s your first time doing calf raises, begin with the lightest band. Once you can complete 40 full slow and controlled reps, you’re ready to move on to the next heaviest band.
Remember, to fatigue the maximum amount of muscle fibers and promote both myofibril and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, choose a band that will allow you to perform a minimum of 15 full repetitions plus however many partial reps you’re able to do on top of that. Each rep should be slow and controlled at a cadence of 2-3 seconds up, and 2-3 seconds down.
Balance: Always make sure the balls of your feet are directly over the band channel in the ground plate before you put any tension on the bands. If you’re having trouble with your balance as you lift and lower your heels, try a slightly wider stance, or experiment with a lighter band. Keep your knees slightly bent and notice your core and lats engaging. Calf raises are in fact, a total body exercise! Find one single spot on the floor or wall ahead of you on which to concentrate your gaze.
Grip: Users frequently comment that their grip gives out before their calves do. That’s ok. Grip strength will improve as your total body strength improves. If you’re worried about losing your grip, put safety first and experiment with returning to a lighter band. It might take you longer to reach total fatigue, but it won’t slow your progress or hold back your results. In fact, if it allows you to spend more time under tension, using a lighter band can be a benefit.
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