CRANK UP THE INTENSITY WITH THIS POWER PACKED TRAINING ROUTINE TO GENERATE NEW GROWTH
There are many misconceptions about calf training. Some people believe you should train them at least 3 or 4 times each week in order to get good growth. Others advise you should do at least 15 sets each time in order to properly exhaust them. Other times you will hear that because of the nature of the muscle, you must train in a very high rep range in order to reach full muscle failure to stimulate significant muscular growth. Often times, the people making these recommendations have calves that are “normal” or otherwise unimpressive. I constantly get asked what the heck I do to get such large and freaky calves.
I usually just give the short answer, “heavy weight with high reps,” but that usually doesn’t satisfy the person who asked the question. I have been asked to break down the details in an article, so for the first time ever, here it is:
First, it’s important to realize that the calves are composed of two major muscles – the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the larger of the two muscles and is composed of two heads (medial and lateral). It extends from the knee joint to the ankle joint and this muscle is what forms the well-known diamond shape you see in competitive bodybuilders with low body fat levels. The soleus is the smaller muscle, which lies under the gastrocnemius and contributes to the width of the lower leg. So, what is the importance of these two muscles? Well, if you want stellar calf development, you must focus on training both of these major muscles with equal intensity.
Okay, but what about the training details for maximum growth? How often should I train them? What exercises should I use? How heavy should I go? What rep range should I focus on? How many sets? Etc, etc, etc. Well, calm down because we’re going to get to all that.
It’s important to understand that there’s nothing special or magical about the muscles in your lower legs. Many people believe that because you use them walking everyday that they are somehow composed of special muscle fibers, which require extra special and extensive stimulation in order to grow. Hence the misconception about training calves 3 or 4 times per week or for 15 sets in a row in order to stimulate the “stubborn” muscles into growing. This could not be further from the truth. We also use our quadriceps and hamstrings to walk just as much as our calves, but we don’t train those 3 or 4 times per week. For those of us who do cardio daily, which muscle are you more likely to pull if you’re jogging on a treadmill
YOUR CALVES ARE ON FIRE AND STARTING TO CRAMP BAD. INTERESTINGLY, YOU THINK YOUR FEET MIGHT BE TINGLING AND TURNING NUMB. ALMOST THERE, SO KEEP GOING, DON’T QUIT!
– a calf or a hamstring? Well- you get the point. This is why I train calves like I train any other muscle group in the body (which may very well be the subject of another article, but I made my point).
Now let’s assume you’re like most other people who train each muscle group once every 4 to 7 days. That’s how often you should train calves. No more, no less. Okay, fantastic. Now, what exercises?
Let’s return back to the two major muscle groups, which comprise the calves – the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Since it’s important to train both of these muscles with equal intensity, it would be impossible to train them both on the same day. (The muscle going last will always be at a disadvantage in terms of weight, intensity, lactic acid buildup, fatigue, etc.) So, don’t do it. One day you should train your gastrocnemius and the next calf workout (4 to 7 days later) you should train the soleus muscle. You may be wondering, which exercise targets each of those muscles. Any calf exercise where your legs are straight will target the gastrocnemius (e.g. standing calf raises or donkey calf raises), and any calf exercise where your knees are bent will target the soleus (e.g. seated leg raises). Although there are multiple exercises to choose from, you will only choose one exercise per workout and you will blast that exercise HARD. Make sure your calves are properly warmed up before really cranking up the weight. Do a few light sets before working your way up to your heaviest sets. Add weight after each warm-up set until you reach the weight you have chosen for your working sets. One may ask, “how many sets, how heavy, and what rep range?” This is when things become a little more individualized, but basic human physiology principles apply. If you follow this protocol correctly, you’ll find that you won’t be able to do more than 3 or 4 hard sets (this does not refer to the warm-up sets where you are not going to failure but simply warming up the muscle). After your warm-up sets, use enough weight in order for you to hit failure at 10 reps with a controlled but deliberate movement. Get a good stretch at the bottom of each rep and then explode in a controlled fashion (no bouncing at all unless you desire to rip the muscle off the bone) to the top concentric portion of the movement. Give the calves a good strong squeeze then slowly lower the weight back to the stretched position and repeat. Strong mental focus is the KEY. Focus on feeling your calves contract as hard as possible on each and every rep! You’ll get to 10 reps and feel that you have reached muscle failure but don’t quit yet. Squeeze out another couple of reps continuing in the same fashion as above. Nice job, but you’re not done yet. Take a few deep breaths and continue with the exercise-13 reps, 14 reps, 15 reps… Your calves are on fire and starting to cramp bad. Interestingly, you think your feet might be tingling and turning numb. Almost there, so keep going, don’t quit! 16 reps, 17 reps… Take a deep breath, and yes, your calves have never hurt so bad before. 18 reps, 19 reps… The pain is unbearable. Last rep… 20! Rack the weight.
Your calves are cramping and they’re cramping bad. It’s very important to stretch them at this point one at a time and very carefully. If you go too deep on the stretch too quickly, you can actually tear and damage the muscle. So, gently drop into a stretched position and hold for a minimum of 30 seconds straight. Switch legs and repeat. Now immediately go back to the same calf exercise for the next set. This set will be identical to the first (get to 20 reps with that heavy weight that you wanted to quit with on 10 reps), and then you will stretch again. Despite the incredible pump and pain, you will repeat again for a third set of the exact same regimen of 20 heavy reps. Congratulations! You didn’t think you would get more than 8 reps on that last set, but you fought your way all the way up to 20. Even though your calves feel like they’ve never hurt so bad before, you can’t help but smile knowing you just made it through all that. You now have one final set which is optional. If you decide to continue, take about one third of the weight off of the calf machine. Get back in the machine and repeat what you did for all the previous sets, but you must hit 30 reps, not 29- but 30. You will have to fight hard to get a good stretch, a strong contraction in each and every of those 30 reps. When you are done with that, roll out of the machine and shake out your legs. You now need to slowly stretch each calf for a minimum of 60 seconds straight. This serves several purposes. It removes lactic acid build-up in the muscle, which will speed recovery and allow you to be able to still walk tomorrow. It also will stretch the fascia (the sheath of connective tissue surrounding the muscle) allowing the muscle to expand and grow from the intense stimulus you just provided it.
Your calf training session is over. Next time pick an exercise, which trains the other major muscle of your lower legs. If you trained gastrocnemius this session, then next time you will train the soleus muscle and vice versa. Feel free to alternate between different calf exercises and try to keep track of your weights over time. Your goal is to slowly get stronger on each of these exercises as you keep those reps high in order to continue to stimulate calf growth. Each time you train calves, you will train them in the same high rep and high weight manner as above.
If you strictly follow these protocols you should see some significant progress over the next few months. If no progress ensues, you may just be genetically challenged and can always take up golf.
After posting this I also realize that one set program does not necessarily give everyone the best results. Following the above protocol may yield exceptional gains, modest gains or little gains depending on the individual. So lets explore some variations and in your training try them out if you are not satisfied with your results or if you want to just do something different.
1) Calve raises.. pick a weight you can do for 15 reps.. and do it for 100 in shortest time possible.
2) Do work on your front calves (tibial) on Monday, Do seated work on Wednesday, then standing work on Friday.
3) Try doing calf work on the days you DO NOT do your legs. Consider your squats and leg pressing as an indirect attack on your calves.
4) This may as well be another post on calf work but screw it, this will just be one really long post that is turning into a mish mash of different protocols…………
2 of my favorite ways to hit calves are……
5 second negatives + 5 second holds in the stretched position.
You can literally destroy your calves in one set of these.
Basically you just pick a weight you can usually get 15 reps with when performing them with a normal tempo.
Lower into the stretch position as slow as possible (5 seconds), hold the stretch at the bottom for a 5 second count, then squeeze/contract as hard as you can. You should fail at around 8-10 reps.
It should take you a good amount of time to complete the entire set, but it’s excruciating.
After completing the set you can either drop set and immediately go again using the same method or rest pause to extend the set. If your rest pause, aim to hit about half the amount of the reps you did on the first. So if you got 10 reps, rest 30 seconds and go again…you’ll probably hit 5 or 6 if you’re lucky.
One all out set like this is enough.
Good thing about this method is it allows you to use a decent weight but also increases the time under tension significantly.
3×3 way circuit
Pick a weight you can do 10 reps with using a normal tempo. Place a block or stack a couple of plates on top of each other next to the machine you’re using to create a platform.
After completing the 10 reps on the machine, immediately follow that up with 10 reps on the block with just body weight. Do these using the same method as above (5 seconds on the way down, 5 second stretch, explode up)….then finish off the first “round” by performing standing raises without the block from the floor…as many reps as you can until you can’t physically lift your own body-weight anymore. This usually equates to about 10-12 reps.
10 reps on the machine
10 reps off the block with body weight (slow negatives/hold stretch)
10-12+ reps body weight off the floor (normal pace…just pump them)
That’s the first set done
Rest a minute or so, then go back to the machine. Reduce the weight by about 25% and follow the same method – 10 reps machine, 10 reps off block, 10-12+ reps off the floor.
Second set done
Reduce the weight by a further 25% and repeat the above process.
3 “rounds” of this and your calves are guaranteed to be well and truly fucked up.
Both the above methods only take maybe 10 minutes.
Even more ideas;
The one tip that’s worked a treat for me when training calves, is before I start my set, tilt my ankles inwards. Then when I do my reps, keep this tilt angle and push up through the ball of the big toe, ensuring the foot doesn’t lean outwards…
I had to drop my weight considerably at first, but I stuck with it and made small progressive increases using this stricter technique, and I’ve seen good results in overall mass gain.
For me man its all high reps with low to no weight (bodyweight). I like to look at it this way and call it bro science or whatever you want but aside from bodybuilders who has the biggest calves? Cyclists….runners…..soccer players etc etc. And what are they doing? Working them over and over and over day in and day out with literally no weight other than their bodyweight. Of course these athletes weight train but Im sure you get what im tryin to say.
A bodybuilder named Ben Pakulski has a ridiculous calve workout that im my opinion is the most brutal thing I have ever done for calves. Pick a machine, prefferably one where you are seated. Pick a weight (it will most likely be fairly light) Do 10 reps rest 10 secs, do 20 reps rest 20 secs, 30 reps 30 secs, 40 reps. That is it. Do that 3 times the first week. The second week start at 20 reps and work your way up in the same fashion and the third week start at 30 reps and same thing again. That is some serious shit!