Calf Training 101
Feb 15, 2019
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Calves. Them tight little muscles at the end of your legs and are the bane of many bodybuilder’s lives. How often does conversation focus on them at the gym?
“I’ve tried everything. and they don’t respond!”
“They just get stronger, but they never get any bigger!”
So why are calves such an issue? Why do so many people have trouble adding mass to their lower legs?
The honest truth is they don’t train them as effectively, or with as much focus as every other body part. The toughest muscle group in the body to stimulate is all too often trained in a totally half-hearted manner.
Well, guess what? The calf fairy isn’t going to drop down and bless you with great calves! You’re going to have to work for them! It’s time to be honest with yourself and stop neglecting your pins!
Stop whining about your calves being underdeveloped and do something about it. The calves are the hardest body part to build, so they need special attention. No more just throwing a few sets at them right at the end of leg day when you’re beat and dreaming of your post-workout shake and the shower. Those babies need attention now, or you will be forever doomed to moan about your small calves!
Before we get into training techniques, you need to understand how the calf muscles work. The main part of the calves, the showy, bulky, most obvious muscles are the two headed gastrocnemius. Each head originates on either side of the femur (thigh bone), before converging on the Achilles tendon and inserting at the heel. The gastrocnemius muscles do most of the work when the legs are straight.
The deeper soleus muscles originate at the rear of the fibula (one of the lower leg bones) before also joining to the Achilles tendon and inserting at the heel. The soleus does most of the work when the legs are bent.
For good calf development, train both sets of muscles effectively. So many lifters are guilty of thinking a few sets of either standing or seated calf raises will suffice. This is fundamentally wrong. The calves need shocking and working from all angles just like any other muscle group.
Taking Sheer Strength Labs Sheer NO2 Nitric Oxide Booster helps you get huge pumps and smash your calves to their full potential. Nitric Oxide (NO) is a potent cellular signalling molecule primarily responsible for dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the muscles. Increasing NO production engorges the working muscles with blood, so they can contract harder and longer.
So, where is it that many people go wrong with their calf training?
The calves are probably the hardest working muscles in the body, especially for those who are on their feet all day. They spend hour after hour doing high volumes of partial reps with light weights, and they do it well. Their powers of lactate clearance and recovery are second to none; they can go for hours before they begin to ache or tire.
There is absolutely no point in replicating this type of work in your calf training, and this simple mistake is where many go wrong. To stimulate your calves to grow you have to hit them hard and heavy, with a full range of motion, and massive intensity. There is no point in stepping into the calf raise machine and bobbing up and down twenty times. Your calves will just laugh at you, they see that all the time. They need to be shocked!
If you have a body part that is lacking, you need to give it special attention. The best approach is to train it at the beginning of your workout. So instead of half-heartedly bobbing your calves around a few times at the end of leg day when you’re half dead, train them at the start, when you’re fresh.
Begin with a couple of sets of super high reps to get everything warmed up and the blood flowing. Establish the essential mind-muscle connection. Two sets of 50-100 reps should do it, starting with either seated or standing calf raises. But make sure every one of those reps utilises the full range of motion available. All the way down, and all the way up. Squeeze at the top for a second or more to really feel the muscle contracting, then lower the weight, feeling the calf muscles stretch all the way down. Once your calves are pumped, it’s time to get into your working sets.
Begin with a heavy set of 10. Again, use a full range of motion and squeeze at the top. Squeeze for up to 3 seconds on your working sets. Stretch between sets and rest for no more than 30 seconds. Keep the intensity high, shock those calves into growth. Your big sets should be in the 6-8 rep range, but don’t be tempted to use a weight that is too heavy, and compromises form. Keep it strict, keep the range of motion full, and squeeze hard at the top. Finish each exercise with a drop set. Keep dropping the weight until you can barely move. Pump those calves until the skin feels like it’s ready to burst.
There really aren’t many exercises that effectively isolate the calves and stimulate growth. There will be no big secrets revealed here, it’s just the old favorites. Once again, the emphasis is on form, range of motion, and feeling the squeeze deep in the muscles. That cannot be stressed enough.
Standing Calf Raise
Every good gym should have a standing calf raise machine of some description. If yours doesn’t (aside from thinking about finding a new gym), you could use the Smith machine or hack squat machine, with a wooden block under your toes.
Choose a weight that is heavy, but allows for good form and range. Set your back into a strong position, pull your shoulders back, keep your head up, and slowly drop your heels back towards the floor, feeling the muscles stretch. Now push up powerfully, feeling the calves contract. Squeeze at the top for 2-3 seconds and keep pushing as if you’re trying to reach the ceiling. Slowly drop and repeat. As mentioned before, the standing calf raise primarily hits the bulky gastrocnemius muscles. You can try varying the angle of your feet to hit them from slightly different angles, working the entire muscle group.
Taking Sheer Strength Labs Super Pure Creatine Monohydrate helps you push out that extra, muscle-shredding rep or two. Creatine works like a relay team, by immediately refuelling your muscle fibers to keep them working hard.
Seated Calf Raise
The seated calf raise is the perfect compliment to the standing version, as it effectively targets the deeper soleus muscles. Well developed soleus can add serious thickness to your calves.
Begin with a high rep set to get the blood pumping and then get down to business. Set yourself up so your lower legs are at right angles to the ground. Now, using the same technique as with standing calf raises, attack those calves!
Donkey Calf Raise
The only other exercise worth mentioning here is Donkey Calf Raises. This strange looking exercise hits the gastrocnemius in a slightly different way. While there are machines available, they are rare, so you will probably have to resort to getting your mate to sit on you. Make sure they sit on your hips, not your lumbar area.
Leg Press Calf Raise
Leg press calf raises mechanically resemble donkey calf raises.
As mentioned previously, calves are extremely resilient muscles recovering rapidly. For this reason, you should train them twice per week. As deadlifts also hit the calves, right after a deadlift session would be a good time for some extra calf training.
You may even find that you can train calves three times per week.
Sample Calf Workout
- Standing Calf Raises
- 2 x warm-up sets – 100, 50
- 3 x 6-8
- Drop set
- Seated Calf Raises
- Warm-up set – 50
- 3 x 6-8
- Drop set
- Donkey Calf Raises
- 2 x Burnout
Leg day is probably the toughest day of the week. Taking Sheer Strength Labs BCAA’s (Branched Chain Amino Acids) can help fuel the muscles and prevent muscle breakdown.
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.
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