Monthly Archives: October 2012

Why Your Calves Suck (and what to do about them)

Calves are one of the most genetically determined muscle groups but that’s no excuse to have sticks for legs. Well-shaped calves look dynamite in a pair of shorts and keep you from looking ridiculous with a giant upper body and ski poles down below.

In my experience, it’s not the lack of genetics; but improper training that keeps people from reaching their genetic potential.

Mistake #1 Going Too Fast

I see it all the time in the gym: people using the calf machines and bouncing up and down. Not only does this take the targeted muscle group out of the equation; it can be extremely dangerous. Go slow–you’re working with a relatively small range of motion, so take your time.

Mistake #2 Not Using Full Range of Motion (R.O.M.)

Along with ballistic motions, people often use short motions, not taking full advantage of the machine’s build. Go all the way up and down for a complete lengthening and contraction of your lower leg muscles. Only the ball of your foot should be on the machine’s footplate. It should cramp a little, and that’s good.

Mistake #3 Not Aligning Your Feet Properly

Biomechanically, feet pointed in our out don’t affect muscle recruitment. In fact, they take away from it. The ideal position is legs hip distance apart, and feet pointed straight.

Mistake #4 Not Training the Tibs

This one bugs me the most. Most fitness centers don’t equip their gyms with tibialis machines. The Tibialis Anterior are the muscles in front of your shin primarily responsible dorsiflexing your foot (think toes to shins). Uphill walking is a good natural exercise, but my favorite are one of these types of machines:

You insert the front of your foot under the pad with your heel resting on the foot plate. Then, you flex the foot upwards. Your shin muscles get a pump like they do from a good hike.

Alternatively, you can do a Reverse Calf Press on a leg press machine.

Use these tips to get your calves to grow, and get lean so you can see all your hard work.

The Truth About “Calorie Burn” on Exercise Equipment

You’ve probably been at the gym, pedaling or stepping away on one of the machines, and caught a glimpse of how many calories you’re burning during exercise. However, do you know what these numbers mean? (Explanation below)

The truth is, if you burned for example, 500 calories during an exercise bout, it doesn’t mean you burned 500 extra calories on top of your basal metabolism. It means you burned 500 calories including your basal metabolism. Confused?

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories you burn at complete rest. The reason you enter your weight into the machines is so that it can estimate your BMR. If you just do “quick start” it assumes you weigh 150 pounds.


Let’s say the machine estimates my BMR at 2400 calories per day (2400 calories burned in a 24-hour period). That’s 100 calories per hour (2400 calories divided by 24 hours). If I exercise for an hour and the machine says I burn 500 calories, that’s not 500 extra calories, it’s 500 calories total. Remember, in one hour I burn 100 calories, anyway. So I really only burned 400 extra calories.

The Real Formula:

  • Enter your bodyweight into the machine if you want an accurate calorie count.
  • Use the BMR formula to estimate your daily calorie burn.
  • Divide this number by 24 to get your hourly calorie burn.
  • You can divide further if you spend less than an hour on the machine (i.e. 30 minutes = 0.5 hours, 45 minutes = 0.75 hours).
  • Finally, subtract this amount from the number of calories the machine says you burned, and you’ll get a more accurate count of the additional calories you burned.

A typical meal at a famous fast food restaurant in California can equal a whole day’s worth of calories for a medium to large-sized individual, so it remains important to make wise food choices if staying lean is your goal.