You hear it all the time, “My calves are never going to grow, it’s genetics!” The problem with this statement is it’s TRUE. It’s not the genetics part of the statement that’s true, it’s the part about your calves never growing that is true.
The reason for this is that the genetics argument is just an excuse not to train your calves hard. When you say my calves are never going to grow you have already put yourself in the frame of mind that they aren’t going to grow. I guarantee that if you change your way of thinking about calf training you will see new growth in your calves.
Forget About Genetics
We can sit here all day and debate whether being genetically gifted determines your potential to build great calves. Or, we can get busy and start some hard-core calf training. The key to calf training can be summed up in one word – intensity.
If you just go through the motions, up and down on the standing calf raise machine, your calves will not grow. The reason calves do not respond to low-intensity training is that they are used to be worked all day long, every day.
Think about it, the weight of your body is on your calves every time you walk upstairs, get up from a chair or just walk to your car. Therefore, it is important to really raise the intensity level when training calves.
Before we move on to the actual calf workout, let me attempt to explain to you what I consider intensity. Intensity is basically having the mental stamina to break certain pain barriers.
For some reason (most likely due to the type of muscle fiber), calves are extremely painful to train once you have gotten to that last rep. The bad news is that is when your calves start growing. When your calves really start burning, that’s when we start counting reps. Remember what I said about intensity, it’s the ability to break through pain barriers.
Tips to Successfully Train Your Calves
Don’t worry we will get down to the nitty-gritty, but first I want to share some important techniques with you. After reading this, you will inevitably see people in the gym making the same mistakes that you may be making now.
First, train calves in flat-soled shoes such as Otomix footwear. Even better, train your calves in bare feet. You got it, take your tennis shoes or boots off before you start your calf routine.
Second, your stance is very important when training calves. Probably the biggest mistake that I see people make when training calves is having your knees bent too much. Remember, we want to take the quads out of the movement and isolate the calves.
Slightly bent is alright, but I prefer your legs to be as straight as you can get them. Your feet should be positioned with your heels a little wider than your toes. It is very important that the pressure of the movement is directly on your big toe. Having the weight over your big toe will really help you get a full contraction on every rep.
Another tip that is often overlooked is calf stretching. I really like to stretch my calves hard before training them. As a matter of fact, I have seen two different apparatus’ designed to specifically stretch the calf muscles.
Without getting too technical the calves are made of the soleus and the gastronomies. To stretch the soleus, use a seated calf machine with no weight and stretch. To stretch the gastronomies use the standing calf raise and stretch your heels to the ground. Also, I try to stretch my calves frequently between sets.
Finally, you want to concentrate on getting a full contraction on each and every rep. When you go down you will literally feel like you are sliding off the calf machine. When you are at the top of the movement you will almost be standing on your big toes. You may have already noticed the guys who use huge weights and bounce every rep have small calves.
If you thought I was kidding about training intensity, you are about to get tested right away. This first movement will teach you what I mean by having the mental stamina to break through pain barriers.
Since most people like to do standing calf raises first then that’s where we will begin. The difference is we are going to do a set of fifty reps. You will perform all fifty reps consecutively, but it will be broken down into 5 mini sets of ten reps. Set up the standing calf raise with a weight you ordinarily can get for twenty reps.
Now, perform 10 slow, strict reps followed by 10 bounce reps (literally bounce up and down for ten reps), then 10 slow, strict reps, then 10 bounce reps, then finish with 10 slow strict reps. Do not rest in between the strict and bounce reps.
You are doing 50 straight reps. If you do not feel like puking, then you did not go hard enough. Your calves should be burning so bad that it feels like someone stuck a knife in the back of them.
This time we are going to concentrate on one calf at a time. This exercise may seem a little strange at first, but you will really like it. Have you ever gone out for the day boating and the next day your calves are really sore?
This soreness is from using the stabilizing muscles for balance that you are not used to working in the gym. To begin this exercise you will need a platform such as the bent-over row platform and a dumbbell. Use a dumbbell that is about the same weight that you usually start dumbbell curls with.
Now, stand on the platform with only your toes on the edge and hold the dumbbell in one hand.
Go up and down slowly with the dumbbell held by your side. You will probably need to hold onto the side of the platform for balance. Once you have mastered this motion, begin to move the dumbbell to the front of your body in a different position for each rep. The key to counting reps on this exercise is to only count the reps that burn.
Once you start feeling pain then start counting. After you have completed one calf, switch the dumbbell to the other hand and work the other calf. Perform three sets on each calf (remember only count the reps that burn).
Some people prefer to do this exercise at the beginning of their routine because it really works the stabilizing muscles. I have had people tell me that their calves still feel fresh after crushing them on this movement.
The final exercise in this calf routine is the donkey calf raise. Unfortunately, some gyms are not equipped with a donkey calf to raise machine. If your gym does not have a donkey machine you can do the same movement on a platform with your training partner on your back.
If you have a donkey machine you will be doing three drop sets. Use a relatively heavy weight for your first set. Without rest, pull the pin and switch to a lighter weight. Once again go till failure. Without rest again, pull the pin and go very light for a high rep set. This is referred to as a triple drop set. You will have tears in your eyes when you are through.
If you do not have a donkey machine, simply have your partner sit on your back while your toes are on a platform. You may use a weighted belt or have your partner hold some plates. On your first set go until failure and then have your partner drop the weight.
Do another set until failure. For your final set have your partner get off your back and do a high rep set. People in the gym may look at you like you are crazy, but just wait until your calves begin to explode.
Workout Two – The Gauntlet
I recommend training calves twice a week. Do not train calves as an afterthought. Treat calves like they are biceps, triceps, or chest. In other words, train them consistently and intensely. Speaking of intensity, workout two is quick and painful. It consists of two giant supersets. Most gyms have their calf equipment situated next to one another.
You will need to occupy three different pieces of equipment for this routine. You can use the donkey calf machine, seated calf machine, standing calf raise machine, leg press calf raises or angled calf raise machine. If your gym only has two of these machines then you can always substitute one-legged standing calf raises (described above).
This workout consists of doing the first exercise, then jumping on the next piece of equipment, then jumping on a final piece of equipment. Each set will be with a weight that you can handle for at least 10 reps but always go until failure.
As soon as you are finished with your first set immediately jump on the next two machines and do the same thing. It is necessary to set up all three machines prior to your giant set so that you do not rest while loading plates. When you are finished with your first giant set your calves will burn so bad they will be numb. That’s what you want!
My Calves Are Killing Me
There is no doubt that if you train your calves correctly with the necessary intensity they will grow. You will be cursing me all the way to the water fountain and when trying to drive your stick shift car home, but it will be worth it.
I believe that so many people have mediocre calf development because of the extreme pain that is required to build quality calves. Also, building huge calves takes time and patience. Hopefully, after some grueling calf workouts of your own, you will be able to laugh at the person who says they train their calves hard.
The payoff for the tears rolling down your face when you finish a set of 50 reps is simple. First, you have built up the mental stamina to break through pain barriers. Second, your calves will be immediately noticed and commented on by people who see them.
There is no mistaking who trains their calves hard and who goes through the motions. I don’t know of a more impressive sight in the gym then a pair of stacked calves.