Here's what you need to know...
- Hit your calves from all angles by changing your stance and exercise choices.
- If you just "throw in" some calf work every once in a while, they won't grow. Train calves at the beginning of every workout.
- Calves recover very quickly. They can and should can be trained often, especially if yours suck.
- Don't go too heavy or accentuate the eccentric (lowering) action. A muscle can take a beating pretty much every day if you stimulate it, not annihilate it.
- "Knockout sets" involve a form of rest-pause training. The goal is to perform 75-100 reps using a 20RM load.
Mama Said Knock You Out
Calves are stubborn. They're like that boxer with an iron chin. If you want some knockout growth, you need to hit them hard with methods that work, you need to hit them from all angles, and you need to hit them often.
Hit Them From All Angles
When it comes to calf training, most people seem to be creatures of habit. How can you expect different results if you keep doing the same things over and over again?
When you do standing calf raises, for instance, do you ever adopt a close or wide stance, or are your feet always hip-width apart? Do you ever do seated calf raises one leg at a time? Do you ever train the tibialis anterior, the muscle on the front part of the lower leg?
For maximum growth, you need to hit your calves from all angles, including front and back, wide and close stance, feet rotated out and in, unilateral and bilateral, and seated, standing, and bent-over.
Hit Them Often
Success leaves clues. If you want to build a nice set of arms and shoulders, train like a gymnast. For glutes and hamstrings, train like a sprinter, and for serious calves, train like a dancer.
I'm serious. The dancer's secret for well-developed calves is that they perform rep after rep of bodyweight calf raises almost every day. The high volume performed on a frequent basis results in monstrous calves.
If you train your calves once a week at the end of your workout, there's no need for them to grow. Train your calves at the beginning of every workout, though, and they'll get the message.
Don't worry about overtraining. Smaller body parts such as calves and forearms recover very quickly and can be trained often, especially if they're a lagging body part. The key to high-frequency training is to use an appropriate load and tempo.
You don't want to go too heavy, nor do you want to accentuate the eccentric (lowering) action. That type of training induces a high amount of muscle damage and soreness and prolongs recovery. A muscle can take a beating pretty much every day if you stimulate it, not annihilate it.
Here's a great calf training method that incorporates the "dancer's secret." In effect we're combining a boxing approach with a dancing approach, which is probably something that Muhammad Ali could appreciate.
These "knockout sets" involve a form of rest-pause training, or basically one long set with inter-repetition rest intervals. The goal with this method is to perform 75-100 reps using a 20RM load. If incorporated properly, you could do them every workout. Use a 3-day rotation that looks like this:
Day 1: Standing Calf Raises
Day 2: Seated Calf Raises
Day 3: Tibialis Raises
For each exercise, you'll do one extended set of 75-100 reps at the beginning of every workout. Here's how it works:
- Load a calf/tibialis raise machine with a weight that you would normally use for a 20-rep set.
- Start the set and do as many reps as you can using a quick, steady tempo with no emphasis on the lowering part of the movement.
- Once you hit failure, rest 10 seconds, and then continue until you can't do another rep.
- Proceed in this manner until you achieve a total of 75 reps.
You may only get a few reps out at a time toward the end. That's fine. Just keep going until you get 75 reps. It should take you no longer than 4 or 5 minutes to get there.
Aim for a total of 75 reps on the first workout and increase the number by 5 reps each workout until you reach 100 reps on the sixth workout for each calf movement variation. It should look something like this:
Workout #1 75 reps
Workout #2 80 reps
Workout #3 85 reps
Workout #4 90 reps
Workout #5 95 reps
Workout #6 100 reps
After you hit 100 reps, increase the weight the following workout to your new 20RM load and start over again at 75 reps.
You can use the 3-day calf rotation with any whole body routine or body part split routine, just make sure to start every workout with one of the calf movements listed and keep cycling through them each training session.
A Word of Warning
Although the intensity of this program isn't that high, the volume is, so take care of your workout nutrition. Also, try to incorporate a restoration method every day.
Self-massage (I use a tool known as The Stick for this purpose), contrast showers (point a removable shower head toward your calves and cycle between hot and cold for a minute each), salt baths, arnica cream, and so on work well.