Tip: The Calf Exercise That Gym Bros Screw Up

Build your calves, not your Achilles tendons, dummy. Here's how.


If you're like most gym bros, you've probably been doing a hell of a job training your Achilles tendons. Yeah, that's what you're hitting with those bouncy, shallow reps during calf presses.

The Achilles tendons are powerful elastic bands which spring load your ankles through rapid calf raises. Athletes depend on this quality for running and jumping, but when it comes to building massive calves? Sorry, no dice.

If you allow this type of movement to dominate your calf training, you'll reduce its effectiveness. Pausing your end ranges of motion on any calf raise will limit the elastic rebound of the Achilles and force your calf muscle to do more work.

Paused Calf Press

Pause at the top and bottom of the press for at least two seconds. Dorsiflex your ankle (by bringing toes toward shins) and stretch the calf at the bottom as much as you can without pain. Then push as high onto the balls of your feet and toes as possible.

If you want to develop better strength and mobility at the end ranges, spend time controlling the movement into these end ranges under load. Your ankles and feet will grow stronger as you gain more control in these end ranges. This is actually true of squatting, benching, or any other exercise.

Choose a load you're able to control and press with full ankle dorsiflexion or you'll default to bouncing the weight. Apply the same approach to all calf raise variations.

What If My Calves Are Tight?

If your calves are tight and don't allow a deep stretch at the bottom of your press, then alternate between foam rolling them for 10 rolls and static stretching them for 20-30 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times then try flexing your ankles.

The combination of myofascial release and stretching should temporarily relax some neutral tone of your tight calves long enough to train into the restricted range of motion. Loading with control into the otherwise restricted range should improve your ability to access this range in the future.

Vary your rep ranges and train your calves more often. Calves are designed to be walked on all day, so 4 sets of 8-10 reps once a week won't cause muscle growth.

Andrew Coates is a trainer who is focused on strength development for everyday people and young athletes. He’s a fitness writer, speaker, and host of The Lift Free and Diet Hard Podcast.

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