HFT 2.0: The Good, The Bad, and How to Build Bigger Calves

In the first installment, I outlined ways to increase reps with any body weight exercise along with parameters that will add new muscle to any body part with high frequency training (HFT).

Now you're about to learn all the other pertinent information because HFT is often the missing element in your quest for bigger muscles. Read this information and give the HFT calf program in this article a try and you'll see what I mean.

I've already covered the first two benefits of HFT in last week's article, so now it's time for the third.

Sometimes you don't need to add reps to the pull-up or inches to your upper arms, but you could benefit from training a muscle group more frequently. Maybe you need to enhance local recovery between strength workouts? Or maybe you're undergoing a physical therapy plan to restore your rotator cuff strength? HFT can enhance the physiological properties of a muscle group so it recovers faster.

Since successful physical therapy hinges on the frequency you can perform the corrective exercises, building up your frequency is an effective strategy for bringing a joint back in balance or correcting orthopedic dysfunctions.

Research by Dr. McGill and other specialists demonstrates that people get better results when they do rehab exercises every day, especially for muscle groups that require endurance such as the low back, rotator cuff, anterior calf, and outer hip muscles, just to name a few.

Now, it's not my place to prescribe a rehab protocol for you (that's your therapist's job), but remember that performing a corrective exercise every day, and adding reps to that exercise, will get you back in top shape faster.

Build Muscle

Now, the two situations when HFT isn't ideal.

There's a reason why body weight exercises that are minimally taxing on your central nervous system (CNS) work best with HFT plans: maximal strength training and HFT don't mix.

Let's say you can only do three pull-ups and you decide to give this HFT thing a run for its money. Day 1 was easy, Day 2 wasn't too bad, Day 3 kinda sucked, and then it fluctuates between not-so-good and crappy days because you can't add quality reps.

The problem? Your starting load was too high. If you can only do three reps you're actually training maximal strength, a type of training that requires at least 72 hours of recovery between sessions. This is the reason why being able to perform double-digit reps of a body weight exercise right from the start yields superior results.

Remember, the further you are from maximal strength loads, the better.

I frequently get asked, "I want to increase my deadlift and bench press lifts. Should I start doing those exercises six times per week?" Absolutely not. The guys who can pull that off have spent years building up their joint integrity, their local and systematic recovery, and they're probably genetic freaks that are juiced to the gills.

And yes, it's likely their joints constantly hurt like hell, too.

An HFT plan for the deadlift adds endurance to muscles that need explosive maximal strength, a strength quality that requires short sets of heavy or fast lifts. "Why not train the deadlift heavy once per week, and then perform five other days of light, explosive strength training?" is another question I've been asked. Because the deadlift is too taxing on the nervous system for six sessions each week, even when the load is light.

Bottom line: HFT will not boost your maximal strength.

You might want a pair of triceps that makes John Cena jealous, but you should only add a HFT exercise for your triceps if your elbows can take it. The same is true with any other exercise that works a joint that's currently aggravated. HFT will only make it worse.

HFT doesn't cause joint problems, but it can amplify orthopedic issues. For example, it's not uncommon for a guy to have posterior shoulder pain when he embarks on a HFT plan for the pull-up.

"My rear delt started hurting during the first week of HFT pull-ups," is a sentiment I've heard a few times from readers. When this happens it always comes back that the guy in question had soft tissue limitations that weren't known before he started (the teres minor is a usual suspect). As soon as he exposes his muscles to a higher frequency, the pain in his rear shoulder becomes painfully evident.

Training with a high frequency forces your muscles to work through incomplete recovery, a necessary fatigue component that triggers muscle growth. However, when you follow the parameters I outlined in the first HFT 2.0 article, your nervous system will recover, and that's all that matters. You'll be surprised when you can knock out more reps on Tuesday than you did on Monday, even when your muscles are stiff and sore. This is an indication that the nervous system did recover, even though your muscles didn't.

That's why it's important to only do exercises that challenge healthy, balanced joints. Indeed, HFT will challenge your soft tissue structures like no other. Put simply, an HFT plan will either add muscle or amplify soft tissue limitations very quickly.

As Gray Cook likes to say: "Don't try to build fitness on top of dysfunction."

When you have joint pain it's also likely that you have too much inflammation throughout your body. Decreasing inflammation is key to success on any training program, whether it incorporates an HFT plan or not. Therefore, it's wise to quickly reduce inflammation before you embark on HFT. How do you accomplish this? With a vegetable juice fast.

When you do a vegetable juice fast for just one day before undergoing an HFT plan, it can significantly improve your results by lopping off a big chunk of systematic inflammation right from the start.

Here's what you'll need: a juicer, for starters. I use the Juice Fountain Elite by Breville, but any juicer will work. Then, head to your local farmer's market, or grocery store that carries organic vegetables, and purchase this:

  • 10 large carrots
  • 5 beets (stems included)
  • 15 large celery stalks
  • 1 bag of Celtic Sea Salt
  • 1 apple

Juice two large carrots, a beet, and three large celery stalks and add a pinch of sea salt to the drink. Do this every three hours for a total of five servings. Then, eat an apple before bed. Drink 80-100 additional ounces of water and you're good to go.

The next day your body will have less overall inflammation so you're better prepared for intense training. Of course, a longer, more aggressive strategy is required for severe inflammation, but that's another article altogether.

Now here's the bonus I promised.

Now that you've learned when you should and shouldn't use HFT, it's time to put the proverbial wheels in motion by adding size to a muscle group that's caused many bodybuilders and ectomorphs sleepless nights: the calves.

The calves are considered the most challenging or easiest muscle group to build, depending on your parents. Most of the guys who have great calves have them whether they train them or not. The remaining pool consists of a group of guys where 99% of them never get those bastards to grow.

One of the reasons why the calves are so growth-resistant is because we're constantly stimulating them at very low levels throughout the day. A muscle's job is to respond to the stimulus that's placed on it.

You know that maximum muscle growth requires maximum motor unit recruitment, but if you give a muscle nothing but low-threshold stimulation it becomes more difficult to recruit the high-threshold motor units. Yep, I'm talking about those motor units that have the most potential for growth.

The two best ways to achieve maximum motor unit recruitment are with fast lifts and short, intense contractions. So that's exactly what this simple program is based on, and that's why it works so well. With each rep you'll tap into the motor units that have been lying dormant by retraining the nervous system to fire your strongest, high-threshold motor units. I've had clients gain up to an inch on their calves in one month with this plan, and it requires no equipment.

Why am I singling out the calves? Because, as mentioned, they're considered the most stubborn body part. If HFT works for your calves, imagine how well it'll work for your biceps or chest.

The other reason I'm outlining a calf plan is because it requires a more aggressive approach with double training sessions for four days each week. Yes, they are stubborn bastards. Without further ado, here's the HFT calf plan.

Schedule: perform the following twice-daily workouts for two days in a row followed by a day of rest (2 on/1 off cycle). Continue the plan for one month before taking 5 full days off from calf training.

Note: Start with your weakest/smallest calf first and perform the following 1A/rest/1B/rest sequence three times. Then perform the same sequence for your other calf. It's imperative that you do these workouts barefoot for maximum motor unit recruitment.

AM Workout

A1. Single leg hop with body weight for 10 reps

Key points: Jump as high as possible, minimize your landing time, and keep knee flexion to a minimum each time you land.

Rest 5 seconds

A2. Single leg standing calf raise for 3 x 5 with 5 seconds rest between each rep

Description: While standing on one leg, perform a single calf raise and hold the peak contraction for five seconds by pushing through your big toe. It's essential that you squeeze your calf as hard as humanly possible – try to get it to cramp. After five seconds of contraction, rest for five seconds and then repeat the contraction/rest sequence two more times (be sure to rest 5 seconds between each rep).

Rest 60 seconds and repeat A1-A2 two more times before switching to the opposite leg

PM Workout

A. Standing double-leg body weight calf raise to failure

Explanation: In the evening, or at least six hours after your first workout, perform one set of calf raises with both feet at the same time (double-leg standing calf raise). Perform each rep as fast as possible and don't pause at any point of the movement, just crank out as many double-leg standing calf raises in one set as you can. Do these calf raises off the edge of a step to achieve a full range of motion.

B. Calf stretch for 2 x 30 seconds with each leg

Description: Stand on the edge of a step with your right leg and let your calf maximally stretch. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat with the left calf. Repeat the stretch with both legs one more time.

By now you surely understand the importance of workout nutrition. Cramming key nutrients into your muscles before and after your workout can double your gains. Therefore, make sure that you do either the AM or PM workout at the beginning of your regularly scheduled workout when you're getting the proper workout nutrition.

Let's say you train in the morning and you're currently using the Anaconda protocol. Put your AM calf workout at the beginning of your workout when your nervous system is fresh and your muscles are flooded with pre-workout nutrients.

For your PM workout, you don't need workout nutrition but it certainly won't hurt to take 5 grams of BCAAs, or a scoop of whey protein, before and after. If you train in the evening, the same holds true: you can do the AM workout with BCAAs or whey, and the PM calf exercises will be placed in the workout that includes the Anaconda protocol (or whatever workout nutrition plan you're using).

Also, get a deep tissue massage for your calves at least once per week to ensure adequate recovery.

With this new information, you now possess the tools to achieve maximum results from HFT. I've never used any method that works as well - when you do it right – so give it a shot!