While in a recent blog post I talked about how you can strengthen your feet, here are some of my favourite ways to strengthen my calves:
1) Heavy prowler sled pushes (max to date is 550 lbs)
2) Weighted single leg heel drops (eccentric component only): I usually do 3 sets of 8-15 reps
3) Calf raises with a focus on both the eccentric and concentric component (this video): I usually do 3 sets of 8-10 reps (I do both single leg holding onto a weight, and double leg using the standing calf raise machine. It is one of the few machines I use).
Below is a video of calf raises with a focus on both the eccentric and concentric component. I take a few seconds to lower my heel down, and then try to push up to my toes as explosively as I can, but while maintaining control and full body alignment. While this is helpful to me and my soccer and other goals, press up to your toes more slowly, at least until you gain the requisite levels of strength, stability and mobility to do so safely and effectively. This exercise also offers aesthetic benefits but that is not why I do it.
Some key points to this exercise:
1) Use your full range of motion. If you do not go through your full range, you are essentially shortening your muscle, and will be much more susceptible to injury and impaired performance. In many instances, this might mean using a lower weight. It doesn't matter if you are focusing purely on aesthetics or on function. Using a full range will yield significantly better results than skimping out on range.
2) Make sure that you press through all of your toes, and do not allow any (particularly your big and baby toe) to leave the surface. You will commonly observe the foot and ankle falling out (everting) and this is often because the big toe has picked up. This occurs during calf exercises, but also during activities like running, jumping, landing, and strength training exercises. This will reduce the strength you are able to generate, and the stability in your overall body, and will make you more susceptible to injury, including ankle and knee injuries, muscle strains, and other acute or overuse injuries.
3) Maintain full body alignment the entire time. This includes your feet, ankles, knees, pelvis, thorax, spine, shoulders, and neck.
4) Do not arch your back and allow your rib cage to flare.
5) Only add weight once you are able to do all of the above.
Now go and strengthen your calves!!