If you struggle to grow your calves and want to know how to grow thick, diamond-shaped calves like the genetically elite, then you want to read this article.
Except for the genetically elite, one muscle we all struggle with, from the gym neophyte to the reigning Mr. Olympia, is calves. For some reason, no matter how many sitting, standing, or donkey variations of calf raises you do, those little bastards never seem to grow a centimeter.
So, what gives?
Are you just cursed with poor calf genetics? Maybe you’re just a “slow responder”?
Whatever the case may be, we’ve got the solution to your puny calf problems with this savage method of growth.
It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be pleasant either. But, follow the pointers in this article and you will experience calf growth like never before.
Before we get into the calf workout, let’s briefly review the structure and function of the calves to see how we might better be able to train them for superior growth and performance.
The calves are made up of two powerful muscles:
The gastrocnemius (or gastroc for short) is the large two-headed muscle you see when looking at your calf, or it should be the large one, at least. The soleus lies under the gastroc and works in tandem with the gastroc to perform the two main functions of the calf:
Plantar flexion, in case you weren’t aware, occurs when you “point” the top of your foot away from your leg. You use plantar flexion whenever you stand on the tip of your toes or point your toes. The other type of flexion that can occur is known as dorsiflexion, and during dorsiflexion, you try to pull your toes up towards you. This action is caused by several muscles in the foot along with those running along the front of your lower leg, including the tibialis anterior and extensor digitorum longus.
But, before we get to carried away on things that aren’t the focus of helping you get bigger calves, let’s get back to the topic at hand -- getting bigger, beefier calves.
When concerned with aesthetics, you need to focus on the gastroc as it’s the more superficial and larger muscle. But, to make the muscle really “pop” don’t neglect the soleus, as both support the function and size of the calves. And, by making both as big and strong as possible, you can train with heavier weight and ultimately continue to progressively overload.
Speaking of making the calves big and strong, let’s discuss how to go about training the calves next.
How to Train the Calves
Calf training is pretty simple….you do one of two types of moves:
Presses -- where your pushing weight away from you (i.e. calf presses on a leg press machine)
Raises -- you’re raising your body (or weight) with your calves (i.e. standing calf raises with a barbell on your back)
You can further divide the calf raise exercises into standing and seated variations. Both are important, and should be included in your calf training, at least if you want to maximally stimulate the muscles of the calf, that is.
The reason we say to do both standing and seated calf raise variations is that standing exercises (legs straight) place greater emphasis on the gastroc, while seated exercises (legs bent) emphasize the soleus to a greater degree.
Remember, both muscles should be trained if you want to develop your calves to be as big and strong as possible, but since the gastroc is the bigger of the two muscles, you probably want to devote more of your calf training to standing calf exercises than seated one. But still keep some seated ones in there!
One last thing, make sure to use full and controlled range of motion with your calf training, it’s vital to strength and size development. Using a full range of motion generally means more work is performed, which means more results.
And that brings us to our next topic regarding calf training….
Common Calf Training Mistakes
Poor Foot Placement
We’ve all heard the quintessential calf training tip that you need to point your toes in, out, and straight ahead to work all the different aspects of the calf muscle. And, while this is certainly true to some extent, the angle you point your feet in or out at doesn’t need to be all that big.
When you overly rotate your feet in or out, you actually limit yourself from achieving maximal calf contraction and activation, all while placing unnecessary stress on your joints, ligaments and connective tissue.
For better results, don’t worry so much about the angle. Find a comfortable foot angle in whatever standing or seated calf variation you are performing that allows you to maximally contract and elongate the calf most effectively and get after it! Most lifters will get all they need from rotating their feet an inch or out at most.
Bouncing the weight
As with all exercises, calf presses and raises are simply about getting the weight up and down in any old fashion. Remember, your calves don’t know how much weight they’re actually moving, they only sense tension.
Bouncing a lot of heavy ass weight up and down doesn’t place a lot of actual tension on the calf muscles themselves. More than anything it places undue strain on the ankle, achilles tendon, and foot.
A more effective, and safer approach, is to use a moderate amount of weight that you can raise and lower under control through a complete range of motion. Doing so means the muscles are performing more work, which translates to a more effective workout and ultimately greater results.
Training Them at the End of Your Workout
Calves are the rear delts of the lower body. Much like you save face pulls and bent over flies for the end of your shoulder and back workouts, so too do you do with calves on leg day...assuming you even have a leg day!
Relegating calf training to the end of your workout, when your drained both mental and physically, not to mention hungry like the wolf, means you give substandard effort and focus on those 3 or 4 sets you so generously devote to your calves.
Suffice it to say that this half-assed training attitude leads to half-assed results in your overall calf development. If you’ve struggled for quite a long time to build your calves, flip your workout order on its head. Rather than save calf training for the end of your workout, place it at the beginning when you’re mental and physical reserves are at their fullest. This way you can honestly devote all of your energy towards really growing those absent calf muscles.
Training Calves Only Once Per Week
When it comes to hypertrophy, volume is king. At the same time, research has also shown that muscles grow best when trained multiple times per week. So, not only do we need to hit the calves with a good amount of sets and reps, we need to perform that “good amount” at least two times per week, and for some of you up to three times a week.
For most trainees, this could mean performing a standing calf exercise and a seated one each training session for 3-4 sets.
Using Only One Rep Range
When it comes to calf training, most lifters tend to stick in the 20-25 rep range. The reason for this is that, the calves are looked upon as an “endurance” muscle simply due to the fact that we’re up on our feet and walking all day long. And while, high reps can be effective, and necessary at times, to grow the calves, they can also benefit from some lower rep, heavier weight work in the 8-15 rep range.
Use both rep ranges in your training to develop muscular, powerful, and strong calves.
Not training both muscle equally
We addressed this up top, but it bears mentioning again -- train both the gastroc and the soleus. Far too often, lifters focus on building their calves with only standing barbell calf raises. While this is a great exercise for building the calves, it’s not the only exercise you should be performing.
Remember your calves are made of two muscles and to target both as effectively as possibly, you should be using a mix of standing and seated variations.
Savage Calf Workout
Perform both of the following calf workouts before your leg training sessions each week.
For example, perform calf workout A before your first leg workout of the week, and workout B before your second typical leg workout.
Calf Workout A
For this workout, you’ll be performing a giant set.
Perform each exercise for 15 reps before moving to the next exercise. After performing all four exercises, rest for 1-2 minutes, and then begin the giant set again.
Complete a total of 4 rounds of the following:
Seated Shin Raises
Seated Calf Raises
Standing Calf Raises
Donkey Calf Raises
Calf Workout B
For your second calf workout of the week, we’re going to utilize 1-½ rep training to increase time under tension for the muscles along with the weighted static holds to further increase the intensity of overall amount of work your muscle must perform.
Using the seated calf machine:
Pick a weight you can do for 20 reps and perform 1-½ reps for two minutes straight. After the two minutes is up, perform another calf raise and hold the point of peak contraction for 30 seconds, then lower the weight to your maximum stretch position at the bottom and hold for another 30 seconds.
After the final 30 seconds, you have completed one round.
Rest for one minute and then perform 3 more rounds for a total of 4 rounds of seated calf raises.
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