I ditched my thickly cushioned basketball shoes for the new minimalist running shoes – even less padding. And I noticed better leg workouts immediately due to firing the extensor reflex.
Then I remembered that legendary trainer Vince Gironda used to demand that people at his gym train calves barefoot. (We heard he even threw some people out for not taking his advice, so he was serious!) He knew it made a striking difference in results, although he probably didn’t know about the extensor reflex. He chalked up his knowledge to decades of experience, saying it was a waste of time to train calves wearing shoes.
Well, unfortunately it’s taken me decades to figure it out also. I always thought Vince was just being a little eccentric (or that maybe he had a foot fetish). I didn’t think that such a small detail could make such a striking difference – till I actually tried it, inadvertently.
Now we’re both sold on the idea, and we’re both suddenly building more calf size – and it appears our quad size is improving as well.
The minimalist shoes I switched to were Nike Free running shoes, advertised as “like running barefoot.” They are the new breed of running shoe, almost slipper-like with minimalist bottoms—the soles are lighter and heavily corrugated for more freedom of foot movement. That’s as close to barefoot as I want to go when tossing around 45-pound plates (not to mention the sharp edges on some calf blocks).
The reason those shoes are helping me build calf muscle may be because I have to grip the calf block with my toes, which creates extra pressure on the inner side of my feet. Trainees are usually advised to “come up on the big toe” for inner calf development.
I noticed immediately that the new shoes allowed that to happen more naturally, which is no doubt why I now have more inner-calf flare.
Another reason the lighter-soled shoes build calves: minimal rebound effect at the key semistretched point, or X Spot, near the bottom of the stroke. End-of-set X Reps are much more intense and calf specific, as there’s no recoil from thick soles near the stretch point.
The Nike Free shoes have slices all along the soles, so it’s very close to training barefoot—just like the Iron Guru suggested, er um demanded.