A Useless Exercise

I’m a people watcher sometimes. OK, maybe more than just sometimes. Blushing

I take interest in how some people choose their workouts. I often notice we as a society suffer from the ‘copy-cat’ syndrome. We see an ‘in-shape’ person, or someone who looks ‘fit’. Something about them, you’re wishing you had. Whether it’s their physique, or how slim they are, or maybe it’s how strong they look, or how much weight they lift. Irregardless we want to emanate them, be like them, or simply look like they do. So simplicity tells us, that if I do what they do.. I’ll look like they do! RIGHT?! Nerd

If only that were true.

I love how the lay-person wants to workout like the professional bodybuilder. If they do what the bodybuilder does, then they too will have that chiseled, massive look. Heh heh.

If you’re aspirations are to become a bodybuilder, then by all means GO FOR IT! I wish you the best. If on the other hand you are looking to lean down, or get stronger, or be more fit, lose weight, etcetera, etcetera. Then you may want to rethink your plan of attack in the gym.

Take for instance the seated calf raise.  

A great exercise for the bodybuilder, a useless exercise for the lay-person.

WHY?! I can only imagine the reaction I’m going to get from some individuals.Talk to the hand

Let’s talk anatomy.

The calf muscle, yep that mass of muscle behind your shin. It covers from the back of your knee to the back of your heel. I won’t go into the gross anatomical structures of the knee other than the two muscles that compromise the ‘calf’. You have your Soleus muscle and the every popular Gastrocnemius muscle.

The Soleus muscle outlined in Green and the Gastrocnemius (Gastroc) outline in red. We all know about and love to look at the Gastroc, its the show stopper muscle. That muscle that everyone sees on athletes and bodybuilders. However the Soleus is not well known. Probably due to the fact it has no physical appeal.

Ironically the Soleus is the work-horse of the calf complex compared to the Gastroc, but that’s a whole other subject.

So, whenever someone wants to ‘build’ their ‘calf’, they are usually referring to the Gastroc. So they do what everyone else does, calf raises of course.

Well unfortunately the action of the muscle is dependent upon the position of the knee. Calf raises can be seated or the better and more effective exercise would be standing calf raises.

Irregardless of how you ‘stand’ when doing this exercise the main point being that your knees need to be in the extended position and not flexed at the knee. They do not have to be locked in extension, but must be extended instead of flexed.

Why you ask?

Back to anatomy basics of the calf complex. The seated (flexed knee) as opposed to the standing (extended knee)calf raise, recruit and isolate the two different muscles in your calf. This is due to the origin and insertion sites of each muscle.

The Soleus originates below the knee joint, on the fibula and tibia as shown above on the right hand side. The Gastroc originates above the knee complex, on the ends of the femur (your thigh bone) as shown on the left hand side. These two pieces of information are CRITICAL in determining which muscle is trained during a seated calf raise and a standing calf raise.

During the standing calf raise your are using both your Gastroc and Soleus. In most cases the majority of the movement is from your Gastroc muscle complex. Now sit down. When you sit down and do the seated calf raise, you are actually removing the Gastroc muscle from the movement. You are now isolating your Soleus muscle complex. It may look like your Gastroc is being worked, and yes your ‘calf’ will feel the burn, but the only muscle being worked will be your Soleus. The Gastroc is simply an assistor muscle now, and helps stabilize your ankle complex and support the Soleus during plantar flexion of your ankle (which is the raising of your heels off the floor).

Still don’t believe me?

Try this on for size. Stretch out your calf muscle, by doing a static wall stretch. The run of the mill stretch, lean on the wall place one foot forward and the knee bent and place one foot back with the knee straight. Keeping your back heel on the floor bend with your front knee to stretch out the back calf. The farther forward you lean, or the farther back you put that rear foot the more you feel the stretch in your calf on that back leg.

Well now while your in that position, bend the posterior knee, ever so slightly. You only have to bend it maybe15 degrees, just enough to take your back knee out of extension. Did you notice the difference in the feeling of the stretch? You went from feeling the stretch in the meat of your calf muscle (your Gastroc), to feeling the stretch farther down your calf towards your heel (your Soleus).

That feeling changed because you bent your knee and removed the ‘meat’ of your calf’ (your Gastroc) out of the equation.Anyone who is an avid or competitive runner knows this first hand and has felt the difference.

The same principle applies when exercising those individual muscles.

So back to my original statement. A great exercise for the bodybuilder, a useless exercise for the lay-person.

You get the benefit of exercising this muscle during the standing calf raise, in fact your working both muscles, the Gastroc as well as the Soleus. Why would anyone other than a bodybuilder need to isolate their Soleus muscle?

I’m willing to bet, the majority of individuals who do this exercise are performing it simply because someone told them it ‘works your calf muscles’, or they suffer from the copy-cat syndrome I spoke of early in this post.

The next time you’re wanting to ‘work’ your calf muscles, be sure to find an exercise that leaves your knees straight, and not bent. You’ll be glad you did.

 

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12 Responses

  1. Wow, an expert dissection. Thank you.

  2. @Ken I wouldn’t say expert, but you are welcome.

  3. Great post. It’s very detailed and I like the way you have fully explained your point both technically and illustratively (so that non-technical people can understand your point). I never knew there was a difference even though thinking about it that I really should have figured it out. The calf naturally feels much more stretched when your legs are straight.

    Luckily for me I have never used the seated calf raise machine (well I do use a seated version but it is one where you’re legs are fully extended, similar to a leg press machine. My gym got rid of the standing calf raise machine and replaced it with the seated version I just described).

  4. @Tom I tried to appeal to all audiences with this one. I guess I just wanted to make sure everyone understood the ‘why’ portion of this. Thanks.

  5. Thanks. Never work my calves with any weight machines- just a jump rope.

  6. @Rachel Jump rope work is GREAT for your calves. It can also knock out your cardio if you can sustain it!
    Thanks for visiting.

  7. am printing this out for my husband…he has ‘little calf syndrome’ and is always coveting mine 😉

  8. @Fitarella Heh heh. Take some advice from Rachel and try the Jump Rope. Thanks for visiting.

  9. Generally I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so! really nice post.

  10. thanks alot for this great post!

  11. Wow! what an idea ! What a concept ! Beautiful .. Amazing

  12. Maybe you could make changes to the post name A Useless Exercise To Be A Strong One to more specific for your webpage you make. I liked the post yet.

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