Work the Stretch
The key with calf work is to hold the stretch (toes toward shins) portion of each rep for 5 seconds. Why? The Achilles tendon is the thickest tendon in the body. It’s built to handle the weight of your entire body through movement. From casual walking to dynamic and explosive movements like sprinting and jumping, the Achilles tendon has to be able to handle the torque and tension.
Avoid that bouncy rep execution that most gym bruhs use when they train calves. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t get on a calf machine and do the thing where you rock your feet up and down.
Sure, the calves might get a bit of a burn if you do this for long enough, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. And the feedback from your crappy calf development should be telling you that.
With bouncy reps, the Achilles tendon is basically saying, “Don’t worry gastrocnemius, I got this.” So it’s important to hold the stretch portion of each rep because it eliminates the stretch reflex, and it makes the gastroc do the great majority of the work during the exercise. We’re forcing the Achilles to go, “Hey bruh, it’s all you on this one.”
Loaded stretching like this does a fine job of getting a stubborn muscle to perk up and grow; it naturally increases the amount of time under tension within a working set.
Now that you’re maximizing the lengthening portion of each rep, let’s talk about how to maximize the concentric or lifting portion.
Roll to the Big Toe and Hold
Once you transition into the concentric part of the rep, the key there is to maximize the peak contraction. We want to get the calf to get as “short” as possible. Roll your feet foot inwards, toward the big toe.
Think about ballerina calves. They don’t spend a lot of time lengthening the calves with a stretch in comparison to how much time they spend with their weight on their big toes (literally). So their calves remain in a maximally shortened position and work from a peak contraction state most of the time. So there’s enormous value in maximizing that position in your calf movements.
Once you’ve rolled onto the big toe, hold that peak contraction for 3 seconds before lowering.