How to develop your calf muscles

Written by Mark Coles - Follow on Google+ | Facebook | Twitter

It’s such a common thing to see in gyms - men who look like they’ve never trained their lower body.  When you get talking to them, they either tell you that they never train calves or that they just can’t get them to grow. Well let me tell you, I was one of those guys who used to say that they simply won’t grow. Now I’m going to tell you that I was completely wrong. A lack of knowledge is all too often the reason why people don't change.

"The more you know, the more you grow"

I’m not writing this article saying that I’ve got the biggest calves in the world, far from it!! But being someone who thought he was genetically doomed when it came to calf development, things have certainly changed.

Back in the early days of my training, I used to do 3 sets of 8 – 10 reps or 3 sets of 12 – 15 reps for most of my calf training. I always trained them right at the end of my workouts and I always only trained them once a week. So guess what happens when you do the same thing over and over and expect to get results? You stagnate, you don’t get results and you often regress.

It’s all good and well writing out a program for you to try, sure you won’t be able to walk until next week but I want to give you a list of variables that you can apply to your training. After all, a one off program isn’t going to help you see a huge amount in the way of results, but implementing some of what I know into your programs will be of more help to you in this case.

Here are the methods I’ve used with great success:

1.      For a period of time, train calves every other day. I mix between high load and high volume. The calf muscles require less recovery than a lot of the larger muscle groups, so training them frequently often delivers a lot better results.  Week one I would train standing calves and the leg press calf raise with low reps and high load and then use the seated calf raise with high reps and a lighter load. Week two I would switch it round and keep up that rotation for 4 weeks before taking a break (see point 9).

2.      Train the calf muscles according to their fibre make up. The gastrocnemius is composed of mainly fast twitch muscle fibres and the soleus is composed of mainly slow twitch muscle fibres. So in this case, the gastroc would respond well to lower reps (6 – 8 reps) with a higher load and the soleus would respond well to higher reps (20 – 25 reps) and a lighter load.

calves

3.      Place a pause in the most stretched position. You often see guys bouncing up and down with no care to lifting speed (tempo). Try pausing in the stretched position for 2 seconds on each rep the next time you train.

4.      To develop the medial part of your gastrocnemius (the bit that stands out when you raise up onto your tip toes), make sure you raise right up onto your big toes. With so many people having ankle issues, it’s very common to see people rolling onto the outside of their feet.

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5.    Train the calf muscles through their full range. It’s very common to see guys doing partial rep calf training for every set, the main reason they do this is all to do with ego. Because they’re training with their mates they have to load the machine up with as much weight as possible. They actually end up only being able to do very little in terms of range. The next time you train, drop all the weight off, as well as the ego and try and do the same number of reps using full range (impossible!!). Now you will know what it feels like to not be able to walk for a week!!

6.      Use the 100 rep method. This is as simple as the name implies, pick a calf exercise and perform 100 reps in as little sets as you can. The next time I come to do the workout, I try and beat the number of sets that I did last time. So I might do the standing calf raise with the 100 rep system and then follow it with 4 sets of 25 reps in the seated calf raise.

7.      Never train your calf muscles with fewer than 200 reps. This may sound a lot but my calves only really started to change when I implemented this strategy. You’re on your feet all day, your calf muscles get used to working hard, that’s why it usually takes a shock treatment to get them to respond.

8.      Train all the calf muscles, the gastrocnemius, the soleus and I also add in the tibialis anterior (the muscle that sits on the front of the shin and is responsible for ankle dorsiflexion).  Training the tib anterior can assist with the calf looking fuller at the front. If you do not have a tib anterior machine, you can attach some bands around the bottom of a power rack, sit down on a bench and place your heels onto a 20kg plate. You then put your toes under the bands and pull up so your feet come off the ground. With these, aim for no less than 25 reps. I know a lot of people who only use the standing calf raise as their primary lower leg exercise. When you focus on the soleus as well (using the seated calf raise), you will add a lot more depth to your lower leg. After all the gastrocnemius sits on top of the soleus. Therefore the bigger the soleus, the more it will push out the gastroc.

9.      I vary my foot position from feet slightly wider to feet more narrow. The more narrow your feet, the more you will emphasise the medial part of your calves. The wider you stand the more emphasis you will place on the outside of your calf muscles. In the case of the 100 rep system, I change my foot position for every set.

10.  I take a week or two off from training my calf muscles every 8 – 10 weeks. After all, the time when you rest is when you grow the most.

If you’ve been struggling with your calf development up until this point, apply some of my tips to your current program and please let me know how you get on.  Or download a copy of our popular 8 week muscle e-book.

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