Q: I've got calves that look like Tara Lipinski's. Once and for all, high reps or low reps? Standing calf raises or seated calf raises? A bullet to my head or a good dose of anthrax?
A: Perhaps you should stop watching the lithe, supple bodies of young women floating along the ice as their tiny skirts are buoyed upwards by gentle drafts, their budding young breasts delineated by?oh, sorry. I digress. My point is, working calves involves all the brain work you can muster. Calves, physiologically speaking, are problematic. A lot of trainees are frustrated with their calf training because the optimum loading parameters for lower leg development are a lot more restricted than they are, for say, arm training. Contrary to something like biceps work, your calf exercise repertoire is limited. To counter this, you have to be more diligent about manipulating reps, sets, and even rest intervals to give yourself more exercise routine permutations.
Another problem is the limited range of motion afforded by calf movements. Let's say you were doing squats. The range of motion in a squat is considerable and it's easy to vary the tempo. For example, it might take you 3,4,5 or more seconds to complete the eccentric portion of the movement. However, during calf exercises, you have a limited range of motion and you can't vary your tempo as easily as you can in the squat or other exercises.
During the last Olympics in Nagano, a bunch of my athletes from different sports were riding the bus after an event. For some reason, they started discussing the merits of the calf routines I had given them, and in particular, the one I had given to Luke Sauder, one of my alpine skiers. One skier recalled the fact that Luke had come into training camp sporting a new pair of calves, and the ski company rep was freaking out because he had to remold him a new set of boots. I recalled that Luke had wanted a calf routine because big calves prevent knee injuries in alpine skiing (they actually provide a cushion to prevent the skier's knees from reaching too acute an angle as they jet down a mountain).
Anyhow, when I got home, I dug out the routine that I had given Luke from my computer archives. It's one that would serve anyone well. Here it is:
Day 1: High-Volume
Exercise A: Calf Superset *
A1. Seated Calf Raises
3 x 10-5-5 (one set of 10 reps, followed by two of 5 reps) at a 101 tempo (1 second to lower the weight, no pause, and 1 second to raise the weight)
A2. Donkey Calf Raises
3 x 30-50 at a 101 tempo
* After finishing a set of the A1 exercise, proceed immediately to exercise A2. Then rest two minutes before repeating the super set.
Exercise B: Standing Calf Raises
B. Standing Calf Raises
10 x 10-30 at a 111 tempo, ten seconds **
** In other words, you'll be doing one, long, extended set, resting ten seconds between each mini-set and lowering the weight in between.
After day one, you'll probably have to call the fire department to extinguish the fire in your calves. You may also find that you have the same walk as Homer Simpson's 80-year-old father.
Day 2: Low-Volume (to be done 48 hours after Day 1)
Exercise A: Triple Drop Standing Calf Raises
A. Triple Drop Standing Calf Raises
3 x 10-10-10 (in other words, three drop sets) at a 121 tempo, *** resting 90 seconds between sets.
*** The pause is taken in the bottom stretch position, and be sure to take the full two seconds.
This routine provides freaky size increases. As you can see, it uses a great number of total reps. I've found that in order to build calves, you need some frequency of training and some volume, but you can't have both high volume and high frequency. Therefore, I advise training them twice over a five-day cycle, one workout being very high sets (16) and high total reps (250-510 reps); and the other being low sets (3) for a low amount of total reps (90). I've known people to gain in between 5/8ths of an inch to a full inch with this routine in as little as 30 days.
If you fail to meet the aforementioned results, and as far as your suicide option is concerned, may I suggest instead that you watch six back-to-back episodes of "Gilligan's Island": you'd be braindead within the day.