“Paul, I am 47 and in really good shape. My weakest muscle group is calves. They never seem to grow. Do you have any advice? It seems as though I have tried everything.”
First, calves are muscles that are very tricky for some; while others have magnificent diamond-shaped gastrocnemius (lateral and medial) without ever having worked them with resistance training at all. A perfect example of a guy with huge diamond-shaped calves before training with weights would be Mike Matarazzo, former NPC Mr. USA, and former Professional IFBB bodybuilder. Mike walked into the gym for the first time with those monstrous calves in plain site. All he had done for exercise to that point was boxing, and waling but had trained with weights very little—one his calves that is.
On the other hand, I had to build my calves the hard way. First, however, I must say that how your calves are shaped; (and, how big they can become) are, mostly, genetic. In other words, where they attach and how wide and thick the fibers are will dictate potential. (As is with all muscle groups based on what I call, “Musculoskeletal Designation—(read more about it at www.paulburkefitness.com) and in my upcoming third book, coming soon, “Burke’s Law II,” Reaching Your Muscular Potential Through Musculoskeletal Designation>
In my case, I was gifted with long attaching points and well defined separations with both the lateral and medial halves of the gastrocnemius; all fairly important pieces of the puzzle of having those long, big, diamond-shaped calves. With that in mind, I knew that I could get my calves to look good and full, but for years they lagged behind my arms and thighs. In fact, they never grew really well until two, precise, albeit, coincidental actions and transitions had occurred.
When I first started training, I trained mostly my upper body because I started in my parent’s basement with little equipment. It wasn’t like it is today; with a gym on every block, or in every town. So, when I finally did get to a gym, two towns away (after getting my drivers license); and, because I wanted to be a competitive bodybuilder, everyone was quite concerned about my legs—especially my calves. My upper body was a bit larger in proportion; however, I began training calves like a madman as soon as this word started to permeate in my head that I had “no legs.” My thighs were actually quite good as I started squatting heavier, but it was my calves that needed the most work.
For years and years, I trained them very heavy 2-4 times a week. At that time, 1974-78, the idea was that calves were like forearms: In order to make them grow, you had to work them heavy and often, since we all use these muscles daily. This was another piece of knowledge that I learned from Arnold when I met him at the age of 17, in 1974.
Oddly, after those five years of training them very heavily, almost everyday, I stopped training them for a three week vacation. They started to grow that very last few days of that total lay-off from the gym. I was by now in the military and working long hours, so when I went on (TDY) temporary duty to Germany, I stopped training completely. At the time I was frightened to death; not of the mountainous region where my girlfriend and I were camping—not of the immense, ear-popping train ride to the top of the highest mountain in an area called Garmish; the mountain over 17,000 feet. And lastly, not of the then monstrous USSR Military might and prowess. No, ironically, I was scared to death that all of my muscles would shrivel up from not training, for I hadn’t stopped working out 5-7 days a week, in ten years. Strangely, each day I woke up and noticed nothing atrophying; and rather oddly, my calves looking slightly larger as we started to think about heading back to Rhein Mein Air Force Base, Frankfurt, Germany. After packing and driving an entire day, I kept thinking to myself, “How?” I wondered. “How could this be happening?” “Why would my calves grow now when I haven’t worked them in weeks?” It turns out that the years of training them heavy and often was over-training and yet; had I not done it that specific way: Working them heavy, hard and often, they may not have responded as they did when I gave them total rest. From then on, however, I trained them only when I worked my legs; and, my calves finally caught up to my 20” arms. So, here is what I suggest that you do:
First, when you said that you have tried everything, I am taking your word for it, so this is going to sound quite contrary to what I would normally say to someone about training any specific body-part. Ordinarily, I am a big believer in training each body-part just once in an eight day cycle; however, since nothing has worked for you; give this a try: Work your calves with a comfortable, upright calve-raise machine: The type where the weight is placed upon your shoulders. Make sure that you use a machine that can go up well over 500-750 pounds. I believe that you need to train them very heavy and this type of machine allows you the best chance of getting really heavy weight forcing your calves downward. When I was training them heavily, I used over 1,000 pounds and did 12 perfect reps for four sets and I did that 3-4 times a week. Granted, I was young and very strong, but my point is, as Arnold once told me, “you have to use heavy weights when training calves, for each time that you walk, one leg (therefore, one calve) is taking your entire bodyweight.” In other words, as he explained to me; if you weigh two hundred pounds and you are using one calve at a time to walk; then it will take at least double your bodyweight to make your (two) calves to respond a small amount in the beginning.
Then, once you get them to start to respond, you can go for more reps and higher weight.
So, start out with as much weight as you can to do 10-12 perfect reps, of four sets, with a one minute rest period between sets (no more than that 1 minute). Train them three times a week. Best way would be Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and if you feel like you really have it; on Sunday and then start again on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and back to Monday, and so on (this way you get four calve training sessions in a cycle). Try to train them as soon as you walk in the gym. Bang those four heavy sets out as hard as you can and then go on to whatever body-parts you are going to do that particular day.
Try to work your way up to, and past, three times your bodyweight if you can; ensuring that your calves are getting the impression that you really mean business. Do this for six months and then let them rest for three weeks. When you begin to train them again, only train them after you have trained your upper legs. That means you would be doing them no more than twice in an eight or nine day cycle. This should do two things: First, you are prioritizing and utilizing the stored glucose by training them first everyday for those first six months. If you do not get up to three times your bodyweight; then you should keep going with the priority program until you do. High reps (at least 12) and prioritizing your calves should make a big impact on what they begin to look like. When I think back on it, I think that getting to those real heavy amounts of weights that gave me the power to always be strong with calves for the rest of my life was vital because they have stayed 20” all these years later while training them once or twice in an eight day cycle. Also be sure to take a full three weeks off from training calves before you go to doing them once a week.
This is my best advice. I really believe that you will see a big difference and that more than likely will come after you reach thrice your bodyweight for high repetitions and you have gone through that initial six months (to a year) that it will take you to get your calves used to such heavy weight, high reps, and being trained so often. When you go for that vacation from all that calve training (and you can really stop training all of your body-parts for that time, if you want); then you will notice a surge in size. This worked for me and two other men whom I taught it to.
I wish you and anyone else that tries this good luck and remember: Heavy, hard and often for stubborn calves. Once you get to do them with 3-4 times your bodyweight 4-5 times a week, four sets of 12-15 reps each set; then you can back off, rest them and you should see some growth when you rest them from this all-out calve-attack.
About the author :
Paul T. Burke has a Master’s Degree in Integrated Studies from Cambridge College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is presently in a Doctorate Degree Program at A. T. Still University, and will be a Doctor of Health Education upon completion. Paul has been a champion bodybuilder and arm-wrestler; and, he is considered a leader in the field of Over-40 and Over-50 fitness training. You can purchase his book, “Burke’s Law,” A New Fitness Paradigm for the Mature Male, from his website, or the Home Gym Warehouse, call (800) 447-0008, or visit www.home-gym.com. ** His second book: “The Neo-Dieter’s Handbook,” A Guide to Finding Your Nutritional Root; Past, Present and Future, will be out in March, 2009 and his third book, “Burke’s Law II,” Reaching Your Muscular Potential through Musculoskeletal Designation (Book Surge/Amazon Publishing, 2013) will be available soon.
Contact Paul Burke: website www.paulburkefitness.com
Call Paul Directly: Toll free 855 308 2200