Many of you know the few "common" exercises for calves and hamstrings all too well. If you train your calves and hamstrings regularly, give some of these forgotten exercises a try, they may be just the ticket to shock these stubborn muscles groups into new growth. If you've been neglecting these bodyparts, these exercises are a great way to incorporate some unique, effective movements in your leg training. The results you'll see in balance and symmetry will make you glad you did.
First, lets talk sets and reps. In many people, the calves and hamstrings are primarily composed of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which in my experience respond best to higher rep range, somewhere between 15 and 20. Depending on your training experience, choose anywhere from 2-4 exercises for each bodypart and perform 2-4 sets per exercise. Always use a very controlled, slow tempo and fully contract the muscle on every rep. You must also properly warm up and after each movement
FORGOTTEN CALF EXERCISES
Leg-Press Calf Raise
This movement is an effective mass-builder because heavy weight can be used. The exercise also eliminates the risk of neck or back injuries that could occur with the traditional standing calf raises with weight on your shoulders.
- Position yourself as you normally would in the leg-press machine.
- Place only the balls of your feet on the foot plate.
- Keep the safety racks in place throughout the exercise to prevent an injury should your feet slip off the foot plate. (Some machines may not allow you to do so; if that's the case, have someone spot you.)
- Begin the exercise by pushing against the weight until your legs are straight, but not locked. From this start position, extend your feet and push against the weight with your toes until you reach a peak contraction in your calf muscles.
- After a brief pause at the top, slowly return to the starting position and allow for a good stretch.
Standing One-Legged Calf Raise With Dumbbell
If you rely too heavily on bilateral movements (using both sides of the body at the same time), a lagging bodypart may never catch up because of the overcompensation of the stronger side. Incorporate unilateral (one-sided) movements to eliminate this problem plus increase your focus and concentration on one muscle rather than splitting your focus between two.
- Stand on one foot on a calf-raise block. Cross your opposite foot behind your working foot at the ankle.
- With one hand, grasp a stationary object for support; with the other, grasp a moderate-weight dumbbell for extra resistance (if necessary).
- Slowly relax your ankle until you feel a stretch in your calf muscle, then rise up on your toes until you feel a peak contraction in your calf. Do reps, and then switch sides.
Donkey Call Raise
Before a machine or apparatus existed for every single exercise known to man, calf exercises were performed with a partner to add extra resistance. The original donkey calf raise is very effective for working the calves in a stretched position. If you saw the movie "Pumping Iron," you couldn't have missed Arnold Schwarzenegger doing donkey calf raises with two women on his back. Now, I can't promise that you can get two women on your back every time you try this exercise, but hey, it never hurts to ask.
- Place only the balls of both feet on the calf-raise block.
- Lean forward at your hips to a 90-degree angle onto a flat bench or any convenient object. Have a partner straddle your hips for extra resistance.
- Lower your heels by relaxing your calves. After you feel a frill stretch, rise up on your toes and flex your calves until you feel a full contraction.
- For even more resistance, have your partner hold a weight plate or dumbbells in each hand.
Squatting Calf Raise
You probably do concentration curls for biceps, kickbacks for triceps and pec deck for chest, right? These exercises work each muscle by allowing for a maximum peak contraction. This is exactly what the squatting calf raise is all about. It's the only exercise I've ever seen that works the calves in a shortened position yet allows for peak contraction.
- Do this exercise on a Smith machine for better balance.
- Start with just the bar to get a feel for the movement. Place the bar on your shoulders behind your head as if you were going to do a Smith-machine squat. Stand on a calf-raise block like you would in a regular calf raise.
- Move into a full squat with your heels down as far as possible; this is the starting position.
- Push against the calf block with the balls of your feet until your calves contract maximally. Hold for a second, and then return to the full-squat position. Repeat for reps.
- If you have bad knees, this probably isn't the ideal exercise to add to your program. If not, go ahead and experiment with this movement, it will definitely shock your calves into new growth!
FORGOTTEN HAMSTRING EXERCISES
Decline Bench Dumbbell Leg Curl
This exercise gives you a good stretch at the start and an extremely powerful contraction at the top. Because you don't use a machine, it also allows you to move through your most natural range of motion.
- Lie facedown on a decline bench. Grasp the front of the bench for stability.
- Extend your legs and have your partner place a dumbbell between your feet.
- Bend your knees and slowly lift your feet up until your lower legs are perpendicular to the floor; going past this point will cause you to lose the contraction and will actually recruit your quads a little.
- After briefly squeezing hard at the top, lower the weight back to the start position and repeat.
This exercise works the hamstrings from the top down instead of from the bottom up. Similar to the back extension, movement should primarily take place at your hip joint, not your lower back. If you do only exercises like the traditional leg curl for your hamstrings, you're missing out on the benefits of working the muscles from another direction.
- While standing, grasp a barbell with a shoulder-width, overhand grip.
- Lean forward at your hips, push your glutes back and feel your hamstrings stretch. Remember to keep your hack arched, shoulders back and chest out throughout the exercise.
- While descending, keep the bar in contact with your thighs and shins by shifting your weight hack on your heels. You may have to take a step back from time to time to keep yourself from falling back. That's an indication that you're doing this exercise right. After 2-3 sessions, you'll learn how to keep your balance.
- Return to a standing position. Concentrate on flexing the hamstrings and allowing them, not your lower back, to pull your torso up.
Weighted Back Extension
Most exercises for the hamstrings involve moving your legs. This exercise actually involves stabilizing your legs, with movement at your hips. Because the hamstrings cross two joints, they can be and should be worked from the bottom up, as in traditional leg curls, and from the top down, as in back extensions and Rumanian deadlifts.
- Face forward on the back-extension apparatus so that the hip pad is just below your hips. Place your lower legs firmly against the supporting pads at the bottom of the machine.
- Hold a weight plate across your chest with crossed arms.
- Keep your back arched, shoulders back and chest out throughout the exercise.
- Limit movement to your hip joint only don't move your lower back. This takes practice and is essential to the exercise.
- Bend at your hips to lower your torso toward the floor until you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings.
- When you reach the bottom of the movement, contract your hamstrings and push your lower legs back against the pads to return to the start position (where your body is in a straight line). Don't go past this point. Repeat for reps.
Slight variations in foot placement on the leg press might help some people emphasize different muscle groups. With the duck press, you re not talking about the single best exercise to develop your hamstrings, but hey we're discussing forgotten exercises that just might "shock" you into growth because of their novelty.
- Place your feet high and wide on the leg-press foot plate. Your toes should be placed at the corners of the foot plate. Because foot-plate angles and sizes may vary, be sure that your knees remain over the bridge of your foot when you perform this exercise. You don't want to experience any undue stress on your knees.
- Slowly lower the weight as low as possible without having your hips come off the seat (which can cause excessive strain on your lower back).
- Do the exercise slowly and under control to avoid injury and prevent momentum from taking over.