Targeting Calves in Gym-Based ME

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  • #37383

    I’m about to start a 6 week gym-based ME cycle and was wondering about adding an exercise to target my calves more directly.

    My calves are always the muscle group that feels the burning sensation most acutely on steep uphills, and they’ve almost always been my first lower body muscle group to fail during maximum exertion, both now and in my past athletic life as a basketball player. I’ve noticed that the gym-based ME protocol doesn’t generate a ton of calf activation relative to climbing steeply sloping terrain with a heavy pack since everything happens on flat footing. Would it be appropriate to add in sets of high-tempo deficit calf raises in the same EMOM format as the other exercises? Or is there another exercise that you all think would target the calves more specifically to steep climbing? Really the concentric contraction during climbing is pretty limited, its more like continuous isometric contraction to support the concentric contraction of glutes and quads. But a series of weighted isometric calf holds would be a totally different kind of protocol from the other ME exercises, so I’m not sure it would have the effect I’m looking for.

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    Anonymous on #37427

    My calves are always the muscle group that feels the burning sensation most acutely on steep uphills…

    Hiking uphill? Or front-pointing steep ice?

    By your description, it sounds like the former. If that’s the case, then I think you need more calf flexibility, not strength. You want to hike uphill with your heels on the ground. You’ll get much more drive from your posterior chain, which are the most powerful muscles for upward movement.

    WillB on #37428

    Hiking and scrambling steep slopes was what I meant. Often in crampons, but usually not front-pointing.

    The flexibility thing is interesting and something to think about. I do always hike with my heels on the ground, but even so getting up hill requires some level of calf contraction to support the much stronger driver higher up the chain. That’s what I was reference talking about isometric contraction in the last post. So it’s not like just getting my heels to the ground on steep terrain is particularly difficult, but maybe it does tax my calves if they’re too tight. I’d also be a bit surprised if that were it since my dorsiflexion is pretty good, but it’s a good thought. Maybe I’ll add in some more aggressive and higher volume calf-stretching.

    So you think it’s a no on adding in a calf-targeted exercise to the ME workout, even if what feels like a ME endurance deficit is not in fact actually a flexibility deficit?

    Anonymous on #37500

    Interesting… I thought for sure that you must be walking on your toes. The next thing I wonder is if you’re “toeing off” with each step?

    Either way, I would investigate mechanics and flexibility first. Strength training your calves will make them tighter, so while that may provide some relief, it may not solve the problem.

    WillB on #37742

    Cool, that’s helpful.

    Anonymous on #38065

    I agree with Scott on the flexibility. Hiking steep terrain naturally creates flexibility through eccentric loading and stretching which is a benefit. But, if your that tight, you will likely end up with achilles tendonitis if you push too much through the tissue restrictions constantly.

    Other things to think about. Barefoot running/walking. Start gradually and this can be a huge benefit for the calves barring any foot issues to begin with. Go for as short as a 2-3 mile run barefoot and you will know what I’m talking about. Vibrams are nice for this, or Altra’s as they are zero drop shoes. All of my treadmill work is done in Vibrams currently and will be transitioning to more outdoor work in them once it warms up. It sucks at first but eventually your feet get very strong. Just be smart about the progression, something similar to the endurance model with adding 10% per week barefoot would work.

    The calves are a muscle group that tends to recover quickly from strength work. An easy protocol to follow for maintainence is just doing 5-10 sets of 10 single leg heel raises every day. Takes <10 minutes, can be done anywhere. Do it with the toes elevated so you get that stretch once you get strong enough. You can also start by doing eccentric heel raises (2 up, 1 down) with the toes elevated as well which is great for strength and flexibility.

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