I’ve heard my calves need to be strong and that they are the most important contributors to a high vertical jump. Should I be doing calf raises, platform shoes or any other exercises that strengthen the calves instead of squats, deadlifts, etc?
There is a rather simple method to test this out for your-self. Stand completely flat- footed and without bending your knees jump up as high as possible. How high did you get? Now do the same thing but bounce up and down on your toes without bending your knees and make an attempt to isolate the calves. Again how high did you get? Chances are that relative to your vertical jump with a deeper knee bend, you didn’t get very high at all did you? In reality the muscles of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and lower back), and the muscles of the quadriceps are responsible for 80% of your leaping power with the quads and posterior chain contributing approximately an equal 40% to vertical jump performance. The small 20% remainder is split up among the calves and muscles of the upper body. So, if you want to jump high your training would be much more economical if you spent it working on developing a nice butt instead of a nice set of calves!!! Don’t get me wrong, the calves do contribute to vertical jump performance, but having strong calves alone isn’t going to do anything spectacular for you. The calves need to be strong enough to stabilize forces from the ground and transfer forces from your hips, hamstrings, and glutes. This means they mainly act as stabilizers. By themselves they contribute little. If you lack strength and stability in your calves, then yes, you will notice some benefits by training them because they enhance your ability to use the larger hip muscles by increasing your ability to stabilize and transfer force.
You may also notice that many good leapers and sprinters tend to share calf development characterized by long lower legs, long Achilles tendons, and high, short, muscular calves. With this type of build these athletes have an advantage in reactive strength because of their long achilles tendons. Those long tendons transfer energy from the entire body down into the ground. During a high-speed movement they can also store and transfer involuntary force without much involvement of the muscles. In other words, those long achilles tendons lend that particular build an advantage when it comes to being quick and springy off the ground. Unfortunately, there’s not a thing in the world you can do about your natural bone, tendon, and muscle structure. All you can do is simply train with what you got. Strengthen the muscles important to the task and increase their power, speed, and firing capacity. The muscle groups that contribute the most to the vertical jump are the posterior chain and quadriceps so spend the majority of your time on those. Your calves tend to get plenty of work with all the hopping around you do during workouts or sport specific work. Sprinters don’t train calves at all yet they surely don’t struggle when it comes to vertical jump performance or running speed.
What about platform shoes?
But what about strength shoes you might ask?? In reality I’ll admit that people DO increase their vertical jumps using platform shoes. However, the improvement is because of the drills and exercises they do not by the magic of the shoes. In scientific studies,
folks using the exact same training program without the shoes gain just as well if not better. In fact check out this study. It was a study involving 2 groups, one group did exercises in normal shoes. The other group did exercises in special platform (Strength) shoes. The workout was provided by the manufacturer. It randomized 12 intercollegiate track and field participants to a Strength-Shoe group and a normal-shoe group. After 8 weeks of a training program supplied by the manufacturer, the normal-shoe group showed a tendency to improve more than the Strength-Shoe group on all performance measures!
The individuals training in regular shoes improved more in the 40-yard dash (8.3% vs
6.9%), vertical jump (9.2% vs 3.3%), strength at slow speed (16% vs 10%), and strength at fast speed (13% vs -5%). Only calf circumference tended to improve slightly more in the Strength-Shoe group (2.3% vs 0.2% in the normal group). Two of the six athletes in the Strength-Shoe group complained of shin splints, and one of them had to drop out of the study because of the pain. None of the normal-shoe group complained of pain or dropped out. The study actually showed people training in normal shoes with the same training program gained more then those training with the special shoes!
In their promotional literature, Strength Footwear Inc. claim that up to 0.2 seconds can be taken off the 40-yard time (about 4%), nine inches can be added to the vertical jump (about 40%), and calf girth can be increased by two inches (about 15%). These claims were clearly not supported in this study. In fact, any slight gain that might be possible
with Strength Shoes would appear to be more than offset by the higher risk of injury.
If you’re dead set that you want to use platform shoes anyway you can do so. In fact, you can use the shoes for every plyometric exercise and non-weight room drill in this program. For best results you should only wear the shoes on ½ of the sets that you do. For example, lets say a program calls for you to perform 4 sets of a certain exercise. For best results you’d wear the shoes for 2 sets, and then take them off and wear regular
shoes for 2 sets. By training like this you’ll find you get an enhanced effect on all the exercises.