Here's what you need to know...
• While calf size is somewhat genetically determined, a little creativity and daily training can go a long way.
• Pair every set of gastrocnemius or soleus raises with a set of tibialis anterior raises.
• Keep the reps of the standard raises fairly low and vary your foot position. For the tibialis raises crank the reps up to 15-25.
My calves have always been decent. By 2012 they measured 18 inches cold and 19 inches pumped. Not too shabby. But last year I wanted more to squeeze a little more out of my lower legs, so I started applying some logic to how I trained them.
We know training biceps with triceps is very effective as it forces a lot of nutrient-rich blood into the upper arms and, as Arnold said, a pump equals growth.
So why do we always just train the soleus or gastrocnemius? What about the other side of the lower leg, the tibialis anterior? Furthermore, what's with this "once every 5-7 days" stuff? Since we're on our feet all day, every day (or at least should be), aren't calves kind of "built" for more frequent punishment?
For those reasons I did something new in 2013.
• Every day I was at the gym I trained my calves. So for 4-5 days a week in the off-season and 7 days a week pre-contest, I'd spend 10-15 minutes pounding on my pins.
Some days I'd do standing calf raises and some days I'd do seated calf raises. The exception was days when my feet started to ache – I'd skip calf training those days.
• I paired each set of raises for the soleus or gastrocnemius with a set of raises for the tibialis anterior.
• I went heavy on the soleus and gastroc work – sets of 8-12 reps using progressive resistance – and kept the reps on the tibialis raises relatively light (15-20 reps.
• I varied my foot position on the soleus and gastroc raises, not that toes in/toes out nonsense, but foot width. Some sets I'd have my feet quite wide apart, some sets only a few inches, and some sets the standard shoulder-width apart stance.
It went like this:
A1 Standing Calf Raise 5 x 8-10 reps (vary foot position)
Rest 30 seconds
A2 Tibialis Raise 5 x 15-25 reps
The result? I put a full inch on my calves in just a few months – up to 19 inches cold, 20 inches pumped. I was thrilled!
How To Do the Tibialis Anterior Raise
To perform the tibialis raise, I initially used the awesome tibialis machine by Hammer Strength. Unfortunately, I must've been the only guy at my gym that actually liked it because the owner got rid of the machine halfway through my experiment. (Maybe a weak-calved competitor of mine paid him off?)
After that happened, I initially just said to heck with it and quit doing the tibialis work, and before long, my calves shrank back to normal! So I knew I had to find a way to perform the exercise.
Fortunately, while cruising the T Nation forums, I happened upon a kid who said to do them using a band. I tried it the next day and it worked great, and before long my calves were back up to their new size again.
Calves may not be as "sexy" as big biceps or massive quads, but few things look sillier than a bodybuilder with lower legs like matchsticks. Give this routine a shot and see how your calves respond. You just might be pleasantly surprised.