When it comes to calf training most people usually do one of two things. Most will just plain ignore them and figure they get a decent amount of “training” from walking around. Those that do train them will throw a few sets at them as an afterthought after tackling a different muscle group…Time willing. Then,Then, there are those who know that unless you are one of the few genetically gifted calf giants, you need to put them as a priority in your routine and hit them hard and often.
Over the years I have tried everything for calves: high volume with light weights, low volume with heavy weights, rest-pause, drop sets, etc. I can say that I gained something from each and every technique, but like all “styles” of training eventually your body adapts and the results become fewer and farther between. Well, I am here to say that I have stumbled upon a program that has stimulated over two full inches of growth on my lower legs. How did I do it?… First, let’s talk a little about calf anatomy.
There are two main muscles that everyone thinks about hitting when training calves. The first is the soles. The soleus is a muscle that is extremely important in maintaining your standing upright posture. Without it you would fall over faster than one of those guys in the “drunkest guy ever” videos on youtube. The soles, being a wide and flat muscle, originates at the upper posterior of both the tibia and fibula and inserts at the calcaneous via the Achilles tendon. It is only visible from the side view.
The second main calf muscle is the gastrocnemius. This is the two-headed muscle that is visible from the back of the calf. This muscle is broken up into two heads (medial and lateral) that can be seen when the person is lean. The heads of the gastrocnemius originate at the medial and lateral condyle of the femur and also inserts at the calcareous via the Achilles tendon. Visually it starts near the middle of the lower leg and runs all the way up to your posterior knee joint. The primary function of the gastrocs is plantar flexing the foot at the ankle joint and flexing the leg at the knee joint.
So back to the plan- knowing that there are three main muscles to work, here is what I did. I started training calves almost every day. What? Isn’t that overtraining? Wouldn’t that shrink your calves from too much work? For other body parts, probably.. but for calves, no- and here’s why. The thought behind this strategy has to do with this: Look around and notice the one population group that usually always has huge, muscular calves… It’s not a particular type of athlete. It’s not a particular race or ethnicity. Can you think of it?… Heavy people. Calves are pretty much the one body part that constantly gets stimulated. If you are carrying around an extra 100 + pounds of bodyweight over normal body mass, those calves are getting a pretty good workout just walking up the stairs. To illustrate my point, go set the shoulder pads to the standing calf raise really low and put just 100 pounds on the stack. Now stand up with your feet on the floor and march in place. That’s some pretty substantial weight. Now imagine carrying it around all day, up and down stairs, while doing your cardio etc. It’s easy to see that your calves can take a lot of physical stress and recuperate at a very fast rate. Anyone that’s every participated in a high school or college preseason, 2-3-a-day training camp can attest. While your quads and hamstrings seem to be sore and tender by day 3, your calves seem to be the one body part that is refreshed and ready to go every day.
Routine 1- Volume
The first routine that I like to do involves the standing calf machine and a piece of wood. Do sets of 10-12 reps getting as deep a stretch as possible and a full contraction up on your big toe. Make small jumps in weight until you get to an all-out heavy set of 10. From there drop to the lowest stretch position and do 20-25 parital reps out of the bottom. This might take you 4 sets to get to your top weight or it might take 10. Count your last 3 hard sets as “working” sets.
In between the standing calf raises you can do one of two things: If you are just starting to work your tibialis anterior, place your heels on the piece of wood or pretty much anything that will allow you to sink your toes for a stretch and then flex them up. Shoot for sets of 30-60 reps. You might start out with a high number but don’t be surprised if the reps come down in each subsequent set.
Note: if the tib raises become easy for you do a banded version like this one leg at a time. You can also substitute in the seated calf machine in the same method.
Routine 2- DC style
The second Routine is similar to the first one in that we are using the same pieces of equipment. Do 4-5 “warm” up sets of 10 reps until you get to a weight that is challenging for 10, but you could really get 3-5 more on. In between these sets on the standing calf machine, do the tib raises. Now it’s time for one all out hard set. The variable were changing this time… is time under tension. Were shooting for 10 to 15 reps performed like this: Take 5 seconds to lower the weight to a deep stretch. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds and then drive your body weight up and flex the calves hard for a full second. Repeat for the target number of reps. So, one “working” set that is all out and painful as hell.
Routine 3- Occlusion
Now again, this routine is similar to the first two. Start out the same way doing sets of 10-12 reps on the standing calf raise. Superset the standing calf raise with some form of the tib raise. Keep going up in weight until you get to a set that is hard for 10 reps- not crazy difficult, but hard. Now cut that weight down to about a fourth of what you just did. If you had 200 pounds of weight for the sets of 10, cut it down to 50 pounds. Now we’re going to use the occlusion technique. Get some knee wraps- yes the type you use to wrap your knees for a heavy squat or leg press. You are going to wrap them around the upper part of your calf as high as you can just below the knee. Wrap them at a 7 out of 10 in terms of perceived tightness. Now were going to shoot for 4 sets of 15 reps with only 30 seconds of rest. Good luck trying to get all 15 reps for each four sets. The amount of blood in your calves at the end of the set is staggering. Take the wraps off immediately.
Routine 4- Short on Time
Using the standing calf machine yet again, do sets of 10 with a light weight. We’re talking a third of what you could handle for a set of 10 reps. Do 2 warm up rounds. For your three working set use the same weight that you warmed up on like this: Do 10 reps and on the 10th rep hold the contracted position for 10 full seconds. From there you are not done- do 10 more reps followed by another 10 second hold at the top position. Finally, do one more round in the same manner. All that is one set. You are to do 3 sets.
In between do the tib raises again like this: Do 5 reps and on the 5th one, hold for a 5 second squeeze. Repeat this method as many times as you can to failure. That’s one set. Do 3 sets back and fourth with the standing calf raise in between.
Routine 5- Tri-set
On this calf workout pick a leg press. I prefer the horizontal pressing type but a plate loaded 45 degree angle sled will work just as well. Here, shoot for sets of 10-20 reps while keeping your legs completely locked. Shoot for a really hard stretch and don’t completely lock out at the top of the movement.
From there, immediately get up and stand on a step or something that allows you to perform standing calf raises. Were shooting for 20 reps where we really flex and squeeze at the top of the movement. Be explosive out of the bottom of the rep.
For the third movement go back to the horizontal leg press and position your heels so they line up with the bottom of the platform. Here we are going to do heel presses. Keep your legs locked out and press through the heel so that your toes move back towards your knees. Try to shoot for as many reps as you can. I usually get 40 on the first set.
Do 4-5 rounds of all of these with as little rest between rounds as possible for a massive calf pump.
Note: you can sub in the tib raises or the banded tib raises for the heel press if you want.
Routine 6- Seated Calf Substitute Tri-set
So I think I can take some credit in this one as I have never seen this done before. Using the horizontal leg press, set the moveable leg platform to 1 or as close to you as possible. Now, face away from the machine and place your knees on the butt pad and your torso against the back pad. Put your feet on the leg platform like so: picture
Press the bottom part of the platform with the balls of your feet to get a hard contraction. Bring your toes back toward you for a good stretch. That’s one reps. Do sets of 12 reps.
Finish this round with as many heel raises as you can with the same weight.Turn around and set the foot platform back to where you would for the leg press calf raise and do as many reps as you can with the same weight you just used.
Do 4 rounds and go up in weight as needed.
So there you have it. These are the workouts that I still do. Remember that like anything in life (training especially) this needs to be cycled. Currently I am, and have been, training 4 days a week and still doing calves every time. As my training volume picks up over the next few weeks so will my calf training. Eventually, I will come back down again and even take a week off.
Any questions or comments, I can be reached at berryswole.com or www.bodyberry.com
Update: Here’s one more calf workout that I have been using.
Standing Calf Raise Cluster sets- start with a light weight and do 10 reps. Rest 30 seconds and then go up a plate and do 10 more. Really contract at the top and keep them flexed all the way down to a deep stretch. Each subsequent set go up 20 pounds and repeat. Once you have done four rounds do one more set like this: 10 reps, rest 30 seconds, add a plate and do 10 more. Immediately, drop down 50 pounds and do 10 more. One more time, drop down 40 pounds and try to get 10 more.
Either Banded Tibial Raises or Heel Elevated Tibial Raises off a 2 x 4- go to failure. Really squeeze at the top for a full second.
Here’s exactly what I did:
100 x 10 rest :30, 110 x 10, superset tibial raises x 20-25 (warm up)
120 x 10 rest :30, 130 x 10, superset tibial raises x 20-25 (work set)
140 x 10 rest :30, 150 x 10, superset tibial raises x 20-25 (work set)
170 x 10 rest :30, 180 x 10, superset tibial raises x 20-25 (work set)
290 x 10 rest :30, 300 x 10, 250 x 10, 200 x 10, superset tibial raises x 20-25 (work set)
This produced a massive pump!