A great calisthenics workout tones and strengthens the entire body, from the neck down through the shoulders and arms, the chest and abdominal muscles, the back, thighs, and calves. One of the chief advantages of these workouts, truth be told, is that they build up the whole body and leave no “weak points” where a harm can happen due to lack of adequate muscle support.
The question of whether or not to include calf raises in a calisthenics routine is one that is sometimes debated by experts in the calisthenics field. The reality of the matter is that calf raises are exceedingly focused isolation exercise, which develops only one pair of muscles and leaves the rest of the body inert while it is being carried out.
Squats, on the other hand, are compound exercises which use a variety of different muscles with each momevent, and still work out the calf muscles. In effect, the time you use doing squats is significantly more effective than that used on calf raises, because squats contribute to your general stranght while calf raises do not.
In other words, squats are general preferable exercises than calf raises, and you should only use calf raises under extraordinary circumstances. The most obvious of these are if your legs are too weak to perform squats and you need to build up your calf muscles enough to do the more demanding compound exercise! The other situation where calf raises are useful is if you are specifically trying to “sculpt” your calves to look as attractive as possible. Squats will tone your calves, however calf raises will make them look even more like something from Greek statuary or a Renaissance anatomical sketchbook.
Calf Raise Techniques in Calisthenics
If you decide to include calf raises in your exercise regimen – either because you want exceptionally sculpted calves, or because you need to tone your legs enough to be able to do squats in the first place – then there are several different approaches which you can take.
The first is a simple standing calf raise, in which you stand flat with your feet on the floor, then raise your heels by flexing your feet and calves, hold for a moment at the “top” of the raise, and then lower to a standing position again. Do not “snap” your heels up and down – lift your calves with a steady, deliberate motion, since this will work the muscle rather than using momentum to do part of your work.
In particular, lower your heels back to the ground rather than just letting gravity pull you down again. This is just an extension of the same principle in all calisthenics – never let gravity do your work for you when you can substitute muscular effort instead.
Alternatively, you can stand with the front part of your foot on a stair, a thick book, or another object that leaves your heels suspended in midair, and perform your calf raises in this stance. This increases the pull of gravity (that is, the resistance that your body weight offers to the calf raise), and also means that you will need to exert continuous muscular effort rather than periodic effort.
Although some people recommend placing weights on the shoulders or back while doing this, avoid such practices entirely – you can all too easily sprain or injure your Achilles tendons, and maybe even snap them outright, which will put a major crimp in your bodybuilding plans.
Squats and Calf Raise Combination
For those who want the greater overall benefits of squats but still want to sculpt their calves into something classical-looking, it is quite easy to combine squats and calf raises, though more concentration is needed to carry it out successfully. Simply carry out a normal squat, and at the point when you return to a fully standing position at the end point of the exercise, perform an additional calf raise. This will have the added benefit of stretching your leg muscles after the squat and limbering them for the next repetition.