I've barely been working at these for two weeks and I'm dumbfounded and stunned as to how fast my calves responded to my GHR work. I'm not doing full-blown GHR's at the moment. I can get about halfway down before I drop and I can push myself up off the ground with my hands. Either way, My calves are really starting to respond. What's going on here? I thought that this was supposed to be the most stubborn muscle to grow?
Well, I was walking around, thinking about my achy calves when it hit me what's going on here...
We all know that the heel raise is the standard method to getting the calves bigger. The trouble is, it works for some people and seemingly not at all for others. The common answer is to add more weight. It's the same situation: for some it works, for others it still doesn't. This is what hit me: it's not that some people aren't adding enough weight. The problem is that their feet have the wrong leverage to make the move work for them!
Note that I didn't say bad leverage. I said WRONG LEVERAGE. Open up any anatomy book and there will be a section discussing the three classes of levers. The heel raising up off the ground is a classic, class 2 lever...
This may not makes sense from here on out unless you do a little reading.
***Disclaimer: I'm not an expert on leverage in relation to the body. I only understand this if I read it and study it enough, over and over and over. I only get what I'm talking about because I experimented and read about it!***
Class 2 levers are more efficient at moving a load if the lever itself is longer. A good example is nail clippers. They're class 2, just like a heel raise. We use toe nail clippers because they are bigger and apply more force to cut through the much-thicker toenail. So, if a person has long feet, relative to their ankles, then the lever is more efficient.
The trouble with that relative to strength training is that the gastrocnemius (calf muscle), in turn, doesn't have to work harder. Remember, muscles only get bigger only when forced to do something really hard. So, good second class lever/long foot equals small calves! This is why women often have more muscular calves than men: smaller feet!
Are you with me so far?
So, unless a person with long feet has the capability to pack on some ungodly amounts of weight on a bar, a calf raise is probably not a good exercise for them. So, where do we turn? You guessed it: Change the leverage... ENTER THE GLUTE-HAM RAISE!
We get so caught up in the heel-raising experience of the calf that we neglect it's other job: It also helps flex our knee. Take a look at this picture of the calf muscle...
See how it connects to the femur, above the knee? By doing a GHR, it's not working as a class 2 lever anymore. Now, it's working as the much less efficient class 3 lever (did you read that page like I told you to?) Since it's functioning in a more inefficient manner, it really has to work. More work=more strain=bigger muscle!
The knee joint is the fulcrum, the force comes from the calf muscle's origin at the femur, and the load is the body. Get it?
That isn't to say that the GHR is the only exercise that forces the calf to work as a class 3 lever. Anything that forces it to flex the knee helps. This is why hikers and bicyclists have such muscular calves too!
Sure, it takes some technical reading to understand all of this stuff and I hope I've done a decent job of simplifying it enough for the masses to understand. What I don't get is why on earth this isn't mentioned more often by the people we (half) expect to know this (our trainers, books, etc). Is it ignorance or willfully holding back quality information? I leave it to you to speculate.
In the meantime, I'm going to keep plugging away at the GHR's. It's always nice to see results!