Five Strategies to Beef Up Your Calves

5 approaches to calf training to help you maximize your growth.

Even many easy gainers have difficulty building their calves, because, to a larger degree than other muscles, their size and shape are genetically predetermined. Don’t fret about what you can’t change. Get busy changing what you can, with these five approaches to calf training.

STRATEGY ONE: LOW & HIGH

A common myth is that calves are made up primarily of slow-twitch fibers. This leads to two divergent approaches: high reps (20-25) to exhaust the muscles’ great endurance capacity or lower reps (eight to 12) to shock muscles that are already accustomed to the endurance work of walking. In fact, both approaches are correct, precisely because the original premise is incorrect. Although the soleus has more slow-twitch fibers than fast, the gastrocnemius is built for both endurance and power, with approximately equal quantities of slow- and fast-twitch fibers.

So, it would follow that a two-pronged attack of lower and higher reps would be most effective. Alternate a low-rep workout with a high-rep workout, or combine the two as in our low/high routine.

 LOW/HIGH ROUTINE 

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  • Standing Calf Raises | SETS: 2 | REPS: 8-12
  • Standing Calf Raises | SETS: 2 | REPS: 20-25
  • Seated Calf Raises | SETS: 2 | REPS: 8-12
  • Seated Calf Raises | SETS: 2 | REPS: 20-25
  • Leg-Press Calf Raises | SETS: 2 | REPS: 20-25
  • Leg-Press Calf Raises | SETS: 2 | REPS: 20-25 

STRATEGY TWO: MEGAREPS

Although gastrocnemius muscles have approximately the same percentage of fast- and slow-twitch fibers, there is an abundance of empirical evidence that endurance sets work for calves. In fact, with the possible exception of abs, calves are the bodypart most likely to be trained with high reps.

How high is too high? Very high reps can send signals to your muscles to increase their endurance capacity, and one way they do this is to shrink in diameter, so the nutrients for energy production can more quickly travel through cells to be burned as fuel.

To avoid the marathoner look, some warn against regularly doing sets of more than 25 reps. As an occasional shocker, high reps can jump-start complacent muscles, but don’t perform a megareps routine more than once per month. Instead of stopping at a predetermined rep, work through the burn and go to failure.

 MEGAREPS ROUTINE 

  • Standing Calf Raises | SETS: 3 | REPS: 40+
  • Donkey-Machine Calf Raises | SETS: 2 | REPS: 40+
  • Seated Calf Raises | SETS: 3 | REPS: 40+

STRATEGY THREE: ALL UNILATERAL

Try working calves unilaterally. One-leg calf raises allow you to concentrate more on the muscles and, according to research, you are stronger when training unilaterally than when training bilaterally. Incorporate one unilateral exercise in each calf workout or, to truly get a leg up, try our all unilateral routine.

 ALL UNILATERAL ROUTINE 

  • One-Leg Standing Calf Raises (holding a dumbbell) | SETS: 4 | REPS: 12-15
  • One-Leg Seated Calf Raises | SETS: 4 | REPS: 12-15
  • One-Leg Calf Presses | SETS: 3 | REPS: 12-15 

STRATEGY FOUR: PIGEON TOES & DUCK FEET

The premise goes like this: point your toes inward while doing calf raises and you work your outer calves; point your toes outward and you work your inner calves. This is indeed true, but it’s too often overstated. In fact, no matter what direction you point your toes, you work the entire gastrocnemius when doing standing calf raises; you simply focus more emphasis on one area or another. The position of your toes is not as important as getting a full stretch and contraction for each rep —don’t stand so awkwardly that you limit your range of motion.

 PIGEON TOES & DUCK FEET ROUTINE 

  • Standing Calf Raises (toes in) | SETS: 2 | REPS: 10-12
  • Standing Calf Raises (toes out) | SETS: 2 | REPS: 10-12
  • Seated Calf Raises (toes in) | SETS: 2 | REPS: 12-15
  • Seated Calf Raises (toes out) | SETS: 2 | REPS: 12-15
  • Calf Presses (toes in) | SETS: 2 | REPS: 15-20
  • Calf Presses (toes out) | SETS: 2 | REPS: 15-20 

STRATEGY FIVE: UNIQUE LIFTS

One reason calf training is frequently performed halfheartedly is the utter boredom of using the same standing and seated calf machines each workout. If you train in a gym with several types of calf machines, try them all. The following four unique exercises can be done in virtually any gym. Add one to your current routine, or try our routine of all four.

 UNIQUE LIFTS ROUTINE 

  • Hack-Squat Calf Raises | SETS: 3 | REPS: 12-15
  • One-Leg Standing Calf Raises | SETS: 3 | REPS: 15-20
  • Rocking Calf Raises | SETS: 3 | REPS: 15-20
  • Tibialis Raises | SETS: 3 | REPS: 15-20

 

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