Been trying to coax your calf muscles to grow without any success? If so, you’re not alone. The calves are one of the most difficult muscle groups to stimulate in the entire human body. One reason for this is the resiliency of the muscle tissue found in the calves to the stress imposed on it by hundreds and hundreds of daily repetitions from walking and other common activities.
The training response that you get from a muscle depends on the kind of demand that you place on it during exercise. If you force a muscle to work against a resistance of hundreds and hundreds of pounds, you’ll get one result: the muscle will develop tremendous power.
If, on the other hand, you force the muscle to contract under a lighter load for hundreds and hundreds of repetitions, you’ll get a different result; endurance. I still remember, as a young man attending Northwestern University, training my calves fervently in the school gym using hundreds and hundreds of repetitions, at the end of my leg workouts.
Because of a lack of equipment, I was limited to toe presses on a Universal machine, followed by one-legged standing calf raises on a wooden block. I would literally do hundreds and hundreds of repetitions on each leg, one leg at a time, bobbing up and down mindlessly on the wooden block. Although I would get a tremendous “burn” and “pump” in my calves, the results were not spectacular.
Remember, the calves are subjected to hundreds of repetitions daily. They’re used in walking, climbing stairs or almost any activity where you are mobile. The adaptation of the calf muscles to hundreds and hundreds of repetitions is increased endurance. Consequently, calves are resistant to any calf program involving high repetitions.
The “training threshold” (the point at which the cumulative stress you place on a muscle is large enough to produce growth) for calves is extremely high. For that reason, I’m going to reveal a secret tip which I have used in the past to blast the intensity in my calf muscles to new limits, resulting in quick size increases. Read on to find out what this “secret” is.
Let’s look at the anatomy of the calves for one moment. We’re going to focus on the two major muscles of the calves, namely the gastrocnemius (“gas-truck-knee-me-us”) and the soleus (“so-lee-us”). The gastrocnemius is the large calf muscle that is readily visible from the backside of the leg. The gastrocnemius crosses the knee joint. This is going to be a significant fact as we examine our calf routine.
The soleus lies underneath the gastrocnemius; it does not cross the knee as the gastrocnemius does. It is most readily visible from the side of the leg and, fully developed, can add considerable thickness to the girth of the calf muscle.
My calf routine consists of two exercises; one for the gastrocnemius and one for the soleus. The gastrocnemius cannot be exercised without calling the soleus into play because of the interdependency of the two muscle groups. When you work the gastrocnemius, you use both the gastrocnemius and the soleus.
However, when you train only the soleus, you use only the soleus. That’s why it’s important to train the gastrocnemius first. One of the most effective gastrocnemius calf muscle developers that I know of is the standing calf raise. This exercise is performed with a standing calf raise machine.
To perform standing calf raises, rest the shoulder pads of the calf machine on your shoulders, position your feet approximately 8″-10″ apart on the calf block, pointing your toes slightly outwards, and lift. Raise and lower the weight slowly, keeping tension on the calves throughout the entire range of motion.
As an alternate exercise to the standing calf raise, you may perform donkey calf raises with a partner. Position a wooden block so that you can stand on its edge; place the balls of your feet just in front of the edge of the block; keeping your legs straight, bend at the waist, supporting yourself on a bench or table at just above waist height. (Your body will look like an upside down “L.”)
Have a partner climb onto and straddle your lower back (it will look as if he/she is riding you like a horse!) Raise and lower your partner, allowing your calves to come to a full stretch at the bottom and a complete contraction at the top. It’s important to maintain tension on the calf throughout the entire exercise.
To work the soleus muscle, I use seated calf raises. This exercise isolates the soleus muscle more intensively than any other calf exercise. It does require a seated calf raise machine. To perform this exercise, sit in the seated calf machine; place the knee pads just behind your knees; place your feet approximately 8″-10″ apart; the balls of your feet should rest just in front of the edge of the calf block. Slowly lower and raise the weight by coming up on the balls of your feet. Keep your calves under tension at all times. The angle of the legs should be kept at 90 degrees at all times.
If you don’t have access to a seated calf machine, you can simply place a barbell across a pad on your lap, just behind your knees. This is a less preferable option because of the amount of weight necessary to stimulate the soleus is fairly significant.
Now let’s put our calf routine together. After doing one set of each exercise (standing and seated calf raises) for a warm up, select a poundage which will allow you to perform 10 repetitions. Perform 4 sets of standing calf raises to failure (the point at which you cannot perform another repetition.)
After completing four sets of standing calf raises, you will perform four sets of seated calf raises, again utilizing as much weight as possible for 10 repetitions but never stopping before reaching the point of muscular failure.
Rest taken between sets should be kept to no more than one minute.
Now, remember that I mentioned earlier that I would reveal a secret which would be extremely useful to you in your calf training? Because of the great deal of endurance that calf muscles naturally have, it’s important to continually generate more and more tension on them with each succeeding set during your workout. Here’s how…
In-between sets of calves, rock up and down on the balls of your feet to maintain tension on the calves in-between sets. In-between your sets of standing calf raises, while standing, rock up and down on your toes. You will experience a burning sensation.
In-between sets of seated calf raises, drop down into a squatting position, balancing yourself on the balls of your feet; it’s OK to hold onto a bench or chair to stabilize you; then rock up and down on the balls of your feet from this squatting position.
In both cases, you’ll maintain a high degree of tension in the calves during the rest periods. Because of this, the intensity of this calf routine gets very high.
WARNING: This is not a routine for the mild mannered! The good part is the fact that this is a very short calf routine that will create sufficient stress in the calf muscles, which will cause them to respond.
Here are some other tips to keep in mind:
1. Stay in control of the weight throughout the entire exercise.
2. Ease into the bottom or stretch position on calf exercises under control. There have been many a trainee who have pulled an Achilles tendon due to sloppy form or allowing the weight to jerk the calf muscle while it’s under tension.
3. Stretch your calf muscles in-between sets, after rocking up and down on the balls of your feet, and prior to performing the next set.
4. Keep in mind that you can shift the stress around your calf muscles by slightly shifting your weight from the outside of your foot to the inside ball of your toe. This is an advanced maneuver which takes conscious effort and is a subtle, yet very seldom utilized technique that can create extra intensity.
5. Don’t rest any longer than 60 seconds in-between sets.
Well, there you have it. A calf routine that is sure to catch your calf muscles on fire, creating a burn like you’ve never felt before, best of all, giving you tremendous results in calf development in the shortest time possible.
Remember that calf muscles are used to tremendous numbers of repetitions and, hence, have a very high degree of endurance. By using a low intensity calf exercise (rocking up and down on the balls of your feet) in-between heavy sets of calf raises, we can create the level of stress necessary to cause the calves to grow.
Here’s to turning your calves into cows!
Until next time, I am
Your Lean Body Coach™