Really no secret, just a way of looking at things.
The ever elusive calf!
First, a quick anatomy lesson. The muscle termed "calves" is comprised of TWO muscles. The soleus, which lies deep, acts on the ankle joint. The Gastrocnemius(the round belly part), is more superficial, and in fact crosses the the ankle joint as well as the knee joint.
The anatomy of the muscle is extremely important when considering optimal form and execution.
When trying to isolate the soleus muscle, it is best to do so with a bent knee. This prevents the gastrocnemius from becoming too involved in the movement. The soleus is primarily made up of "slow twitch" muscle fibers which means that it best responds to a greater amount of Time under tension and slightly higher repetitions.
The gastroc consists of a much greater percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers, which means...it needs heavy weights!
***One of the points I try to stress in all educational seminars and blog posts is that whenever you train a muscle, taking a muscle through as large a range of motion as possible("peak contraction"-bringing its two endpoints as close as possible AND/OR lengthening the muscle as much as possible) is ideal for muscle building. Heavy weight DOES NOT mean smaller repetitions!)***
As mentioned, the gastroc crosses the ankle joint and the knee joint. Which means, to optimally recruit this muscle, the exercise must atleast consider BOTH joints.
Many people ask what the optimal form is for calve recruitment, well here it is....
When performing any exercise for gastrocnemius:
1)When taking the ankle into a stretched position it is necessary to do so with a slightly bent knee to maximize the stretch or lengthening of the muscle. I sometimes encourage people to contract their tibialis anterior muscle(front of shin)at the bottom of the rep to ensure maximal stretch under control.
2)For a maximal contraction of the gastroc, the knee must be fully extended(YES I said it!) as you extend to a fully plantar flexed(toes pointed) position. To ensure safety while performing this exercise, I suggest actually contracting your quads at the same time as you extend your ankles(*Whoa coordination!!).
Give it a try, the contraction is ridiculous!
T R O U B L E S H O O T I N G:
1)if you have overly tight hamstrings, you will never develop big calves-stretch!
2)One of the most common mistakes is people raising up onto their outer toes rather than extending their ankles fully. I suggest raising up onto your BIG toe and even keeping your legs slightly "knock knee" (squeezing your thighs together while keeping feet shoulder width).
3)When trying this new program PLEASE slow down and be careful. Yes, taking your knees to full lock out can put you a slightly more risk. NOT if youre conscious and CONTROLLED!
4)Small range of motion=small calves. Yes heavy weights are cool, but not as cool as huge calves. Slow down, lighten up and learn the form through a full range. Weights will go back quickly.
REMEMBER-your body moves in patterns. It is necessary to teach your body how to move and learn these patterns before you can start increasing weight.
.Time for Growth Baby!