Calves can be one of the hardest body parts to develop and train properly. Many weight trainees, from amateur fitness enthusiasts to professional bodybuilders, have life-long difficulty getting them to grow more than just a couple of inches. What’s even more frustrating is that it seems everyone who has big calves has always had them, and they hardly even have to train them. However, there are several ways in which lifters with even the worst calves can improve this stubborn body part:
Prioritize Calves; Don’t Make Them an Afterthought
You would think this would be a no-brainer for someone looking to boost a stubborn body part, but most people still treat their calf training as an “extra” at the end of a hard legs workout. While this may work for some of the more gifted in the calf department, people who really need work on this muscle group must train them hard and heavy with as much focus as any other muscle group.
You might want to place calves at the beginning of your workouts instead of the end. Some bodybuilders like to work their calves before they train the rest of their legs, but I think this presents a potential to fatigue your legs and hamper your strength on squats.
I like to train my calves at the very beginning of an UPPER body workout, so that there is no interference between muscle groups. The best training days for this are ones that might not take as long, such as chest or arms or shoulders.
Train Your Calves With Very Heavy Weight:
People have a tendency to want to hit calves with very light weight and high reps, thinking that they are somehow different from other muscle groups in the stimulation that they need to grow. Calves, like any other muscle, need adequately heavy weights to be spurred into new muscle growth.
In fact, I have found that my calves often respond well to even heavier weights that I use for the rest of my workouts. This is because calves are used to very frequent, very light stimulation of your body weight walking around on them all day. They need something new to grow bigger.
Use Plenty of Sets:
Since your calves are used so constantly, they are not only going to need some very heavy weights, but also quite a bit of training volume. You will find that they can bounce right back from a hard, heavy set of 4-6 reps and be ready within a minute or two to repeat that exact same effort. You really have to hammer them to get them to fatigue, break down, and grow bigger.
Make Them Hurt:
Unfortunately (and this may be part of the reason so few people have big calves), hard calf training can induce one of the most intense burning sensations of any muscle group in your body. In addition to hitting them with heavy weights, I have found that I need to really cause myself some pain (the good kind) in a calf workout to get them to grow.
One of the best ways to do this is to use intensity techniques, such as rest-pause, drop sets, super sets, etc. You may be using heavy weights at the beginning of a set, but don’t let that stop you from dropping the weight and getting even more reps once you fatigue. Your calves can perform very long sets, if you can fight through the pain.
Use a Variety of Exercises:
Many trainees will find one calf exercise with which they are comfortable and stick with only that one for a very long time. This makes absolutely no sense. Would you rely solely on bench press for chest? Would you do only dumbbell rows for upper back? Of course not!
My favorite calf exercise is the seated, plate-loaded machine, but I also like the standing machine, using only my toes on the leg press, and sometimes using the smith machine for standing calf raises. Find as many possible calf exercises in your gym as possible, and do them all.
Make Progress in Weight:
Again, the same principles that apply to your other muscle groups apply to calves. You must always try to progress in weight, reps or both at every calf workout. Only by getting much, much stronger at all of your calves exercises will you build some serious muscle in them.