I’m doing nine to 12 sets of 25-30 reps in my calf workouts, split between standing and seated raises, with no real results. How did you get such great development in your calves?
I never cease to be amazed at the number of bodybuilders I’ve encountered who seem to think that the muscle tissue in calves differs in biological composition from that of other muscles. Skeletal muscle is skeletal muscle, no matter where it is in the body, and in order for it to hypertrophy, or grow, it needs to be trained in the same manner.
For bodybuilders, that means heavy and intense.
The high-rep theory for calves — i.e., performing 25-30 reps per set — has been around for years, but it never made sense to me, nor does it bear the logic of bodybuilding. To force a muscle to grow, it must be taken to total fatigue through heavy, low reps. Think about it: your calves are already conditioned to high reps — you’re doing hundreds of them all day long as you walk.
My strategy is to fatigue a muscle as quickly and efficiently as possible, calves included. So, instead of training calves on a separate day than legs, when the calves are at full strength, I work them last on leg day, when they’ve already been pre-exhausted by an arduous thigh workout. All that’s needed to finish the job are two exercises, one set of 10-12 reps each. After that, every muscle in my calves has been totally enervated.
The most effective calf exercises are standing and seated calf raises, so you’re right on track with your choices. Standing raises primarily work the gastrocnemius, the main calf muscle. Seated raises, with legs bent, also hit the gastrocnemius, but they isolate the soleus, that thin band of muscle underneath the gastroc. Together, these two exercises chisel your calves with those deep, rocky strata and jutting promontories that indicate total development. Adding other movements, sets and reps is superfluous and may even amount to overtraining.
For any calf exercise, keep your toes pointed straight ahead; don’t get fancy. Remember, calves have a relatively short range of motion, so it’s crucial that you use all of it. For any calf-raise exercise, lower your heels all the way to the bottom and raise them all the way to the top.
Standing raises are heavier, so I start with those. My knees are ever-so-slightly bent, and to avoid premature fatigue, I do only one warm-up set of 10-12 reps and follow that with one all-out failure set of 10, plus one or two forced reps. The pace is smooth and only my heels are in motion — there’s no leveraging upward with my back or springing with my knees. When I get to seated raises, a warm-up is no longer necessary, so I start with one all-out set to failure for another 10 reps,
plus one or two more forced reps.
After every set of every exercise, I stretch out the muscle and let it relax. If I don’t, my calves will cramp so severely that I won’t be able to finish my workout — and I don’t want to waste even one good repetition.
YATES' CALF WORKOUT
- Standing Calf Raises | SETS: 2* | REPS: 10-12
- Seated Calf Raises | SETS: 1 | REPS: 10-12
NOTE: It took Yates nearly 10 years to evolve to his one-main-set-per-exercise strategy. Beginners and intermediates should perform two or three sets per exercise.
* First set is a warm-up.