Bringing Up The Calves

Calves are historically considered to be extremely difficult muscles to develop yet are tied in directly to proper physique proportions. Wide deltoids, wide lats, a small waist, good outer thighs and calves that are about the same size as your arms are the hallmarks of a symmetrical physique and help create proportion and width. It wasn’t always this way. Back in an era where legs didn’t matter guys had great upper bodies on stick legs. Arnold helped change this as he improved his own weak calves to an outstanding level. Chris Dickerson, 1982 Mr. O, had amazing calves that were actually a little larger than his arms. Dickerson was not a big guy but he did have fantastic proportions.At the top levels today it would be rare to see a guy with weak calves although you do see it in lower level competitors. But, for all of us out there aren’t competitors, how do we get those calves to respond? It doesn’t have to be as hard as you think.

Weak calves can be brought up if you understand what you are doing. The first step is to take a look at what the calf muscles are all about:

The Soleus – the largest calf muscle, serves to extend and rotate the foot. The soleus is best targeted when your knees are bent, as in seated calf raises.

The Gastrocnemius – this muscle actually has two heads ( medial and lateral)

It also overlays the Soleus muscle. The function of the gastrocnemius is to flex the foot.The Tibialis Anterior, which actually runs up the front of the lower leg by the shinbone. The function of the tibialis anterior is to elevate and flex the foot. This muscle is best developed by doing reverse calf raises.

The next step is to look at some of the reasons the calves are weak in the first place:Often, it’s just neglect. Sometimes it’s hard to be willing to give the same attention to calves as you would to biceps. So the solution here is to be willing to apply some hard (and painful) work to get them up to par.

Genetics play a large role in all aspects of muscle growth but I believe you have to focus on what you can actually control. The more knowledge you have the better, this allows you to approach any problem with the best solutions because you understand what to do.

Lack of change can also play a part, remember, that variety is one of the keys to progress: everything works, some things work better than others, but everything only works for awhile.

Poor blood flow can be a factor, the high rep sets as well as the intensity techniques, maximize the pump. Also there are two nutritional aspects to this: be sure you eat adequate carbs in the hours leading up to your workout so your muscles have enough stored glycogen. Not enough glycogen means no pump. If you are cutting carbs, use a cycling approach that has you eating more carbs on workout days and less carbs on off days. Finally, add a Nitric Oxide supplement, they work great at enhancing blood flow.

Strength and muscle growth have a strong neural component. Poor neuromuscular pathways to the muscles result in poor development. This refers to the mind muscle connection and ties into blood flow, which we just discussed. Leaning to feel a muscle when it’s working takes deliberate focus on that muscle: stand and flex your calf, go up on your feet to get a good stretch- what does that feel like? Do several sets of light weight and a overly slow, deliberate rep performance, up and hold and flex, down into a deep stretch. Focus intently on what is happening in the muscle. Now begin to increase the weight without losing focus on how the muscle feels and responds. This exercise will build the mental aspect so you can feel the muscle work.

One final thing – often a weak muscle, any weak muscle may be tied into an unwillingness to push it. Tough sets means pain and some people don’t like pain. Hard calf work will be tremendously painful but you must work through it for best results. You want that intense burn, don’t shy away from it!

Now, the calves are a high endurance muscle. After all, they support your bodyweight every time you walk. Many of us walk quite a bit through out the day, yet the calves do not tire easily. If you think about what is happening in the calf muscle as you walk or run, you can see that the calves can tolerate a lot of work, they are tough muscles. This means therefore that you have to take your training beyond what they are typically used to.

There are not that many exercises you can do for calves, so you have to make your exercises count. The most important principle is to use a lot of weight. Don’t be afraid to load up the standing calf machine ( after warming up) with a lot of weight. Many guys use around 1000-1200 pounds on this machine! You also have to get a full, complete range of motion and you have to fry them with intensity! Then, as much as it’s possible since they are always being put to use, you have to let them recover. You don’t want to train calves any more than you train your other body parts, you want to allow recovery to happen so growth can take place.

Stretch after each set!
Routine ideas:
Standing calf raises – 3 warm up sets, 3 working sets- 25-50 reps per set, slow, full movements, hold the stretch, use partials
at the end to extend the set.
Seated calf raises – 3 sets of 25-50 reps as above.
Reverse calf raises – 2 sets of 15 reps.

Tri-set:
standing calf raise – 30 reps each exercise.
seated calf raise
leg press calf raise

Standing calf raises – drop set super set with rest pause.
Seated calf raises
You will super set these two exercises. Each one will be a drop set, meaning you go as long as you can, using rest pause to extend the set, then drop weight and continue for one more drop, then go right into seated calf raises and repeatAlternate this combo with donkey calf raises and leg press calf raises, for donkeys, the drop happens if you have 2-3 guys on your back and each one slides off. Use a machine if you can.

Rep performance:
Slow and controlled, full stretch, hold at the top for a few seconds then lower, stretch out at the bottom.Alternate this style with a more explosive style on the way up but still under total control, holding for a few seconds to get that stretch, then lower slowly getting that stretch at the bottom. Here, it’s not as important to go continuous tension as it is to get that full range of motion and the stretch at the top and bottom.

These are shock routines designed to get the muscle to grow quickly, do not use this type of training for the long term.For a regular routine, it’s a good idea to train with heavy weight for both low reps and higher reps to stimulate all muscle fibers, as the calves are a combination of both slow and fast twitch fibers ( the soleus is mostly slow twitch and both heads of the gastroc is a combination of fast and slow), add some intensity techniques periodically for variety and to stimulate faster results and change up your exercises!

Vince DelMonte is the author of No Nonsense Muscle Building: Skinny Guy Secrets To Insane Muscle Gain found at www.VinceDelMonteFitness.comHe specializes in teaching skinny guys how to build muscle and gain weight quickly without drugs, supplements and training less than before.


Jim Brewster has over 30 years experience in bodybuilding and
is known internationally as an authority in the fitness field.
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