This tip is a bit of a change of pace… no pictures…no video (this one would be tough to show in a picture or video but is pretty easy to explain).

If you’re looking to really build your calves, this one little piece of advice will help TREMENDOUSLY. Yet you rarely, if ever, see anybody mention this when you get instructions on calf exercises.

So what is this advice? It’s a simple thing…when you do a calf raise exercise and you’re coming to the top of the movement, be sure to COME UP ON THE BIG TOE KNUCKLES (on the bottoms of your feet, of course).

This activates the gastrocnemius (calf muscles) muscle bellies strongly. The difference contraction and fiber activation will surprise you!

Next time you do calf raises, don’t use this technique and just do them as you regularly do them. Notice how your feet move as you come. Chances are, as you do the calf raise, your feet roll to the OUTSIDE.

This is typical because this is the path of least resistance for the biomechanics of your calves. If you look at how your feet are shaped, the big toe is longest and furthest up. As you move towards the outside of your feet, your toe knuckles slope “downwards”. Naturally, your feet will roll to this side unless you force them not to.

This doesn’t need a picture because you can look down at your own foot and see this sloping!

I want you to stand up and try this right now doing just a bodyweight calf raise on both feet just on the floor – you’ll feel the difference.

When you’re doing the regular calf raise, the body naturally wants to follow that path of least resistance and will roll towards the outside. Do a few reps of this, just letting your body take the natural path when doing the calf raise. Look down at your feet as you do it – you’ll see even though your toes are all pointing straight forward, the downward slope of your toe knuckles make your ankles roll out to the sides.

Granted, you can still get a LOT of tension on the calves even when you roll out like this. And you can build good calves this way.

Now to use the big toe technique. (when you use this in training, lighten the weight up so you get the form exactly right). Now, when you come up, try to put ALL the pressure on the big toe knuckles of your feet and push down hard with the big toes.

Your goal here is to try and put as much tension as possible on the big toes rather than letting your feet roll out to the outside as is the tendency. In fact, I want you to place NO tension on the rest of your toe knuckles other than those big toes as you come!

Come up and squeeze hard. Feel the difference? MAJOR contraction in the calves. Now imagine adding weight to this technique!

This is the secret to getting those beautiful, just UGLY looking calves that really stand out and mark you as a serious trainer! I don’t know about you, but my goal with my calves has always been to have regular “non-training” people go “eww” when they see them. 🙂 That’s when I’ll know I’ve reached my goal.

Honestly, this big toe thing is one of the reasons ballet dancers get such great calves. They dance on point, which is basically on the big toes. The other toe knuckles don’t play as big a role.

So give this technique a try in your next calf workout. Lighten the weight and come up on your big toe knuckles. It’ll make a BIG difference!

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4 Comments
  1. Austin 9 years ago

    The Big Toe Theory! There’s nothing better than a good burn in the calves. I think this topic is important to cover because a lot of people tend to underestimate the true power of the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles.
    Well covered Nick.

  2. Jim 9 years ago

    I'm looking forward to trying this technique the next time I work calves. Calves are my toughest body part to get to grow, so I'm always looking for new techniques that will help put some more size on them.

  3. Logan 9 years ago

    Very interesting article. I have a lot of trouble developing my calves and I will be sure keep this in mind next workout.

  4. Terry 9 years ago

    Thanks Nick for the assist on calve training. I have added the technique into my last 3 workouts and have definitely appreciated the difference. In my first two workouts reps (for same workout) dropped by -30% , but have started to come back in workout #3. Also noticed I need to continue to focus on technique….end result calves are getting a better workout.
    Nick, what happened to your Stiff Legged Deadlift post (toes up on 25 lb plates) ??? seems to have been removed ?? I have a deadlift workout tommorow andw as checking back in for technique ???
    Why removed ??

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