How to Get the Most Out of Your Calves Training

Calves.  Along with the forearms and the neck, they form..

How to Get the Most Out of Your Calves Training

Calves.  Along with the forearms and the neck, they form an ancient trinity of forgotten muscle groups.

When was the last time you gave your calves a thorough pounding in the gym?

When was the last time you did more than three sets of 10 on a calf raise machine at the end of your workout?

The sad truth is, if you are not genetically gifted to have an amazing set of “cows” just by thinking about lower leg training.

Then you’re never going to get big calves if you don’t start training them religiously.

And let’s face it, even if you have a well-developed physique, it would be a mockery of your hard work to simply allow yourself to walk around with chicken calves.

You don’t just need to train them regularly, you also need to emphasize the lagging body part.

This means programming your calves training into your workout routine just like you would your squat, bench, or deadlift work.

However, it goes beyond that. Here is the essential guide on how to get the most out of your calves training, and force them to grow.

Training frequency

In order to understand how many times per week you should be training your calves, you first need to understand their basic anatomy.

The calves are comprised of two powerful muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the bigger muscle you typically see when you look at a well-developed calf.

The soleus is the muscle underneath the gastrocnemius which, if trained, can push the gastrocnemius out to look even bigger.

Why is this important?

Because both of these muscles have an extremely high recovery rate, much like the biceps or the triceps, meaning they can be trained twice, thrice, or even four times per week!

The combination of type 1 and type 2 muscle fibres found in these muscles not only allow them to be trained with heavy and light weight (more on that in a bit).

But they can also be trained more times per week without the fear of overtraining or injury.

So instead of hitting your calves once in whenever you feel like it, make a schedule to train them every time you’re in the gym.

But frequency is but a single piece of the puzzle.

Training intensity

The second crucial variable in all of bodybuilding and strength training is intensity. And sadly, calf size, aesthetics, and density will directly depend on the amount of weight you use.

Now, we’ve concluded so far that these muscles are a mixture of type 1 and type 2 muscle fibres.

However, the prevalence of these fibres varies from person to person.

You might have 60% type 1 muscle fibres, or you might have an even 50-50, but the point still stands that calves should be trained with both heavy and light weights.

But how do you know how much weight to put on the machine?

Well, for your heavy sessions, you need to work with the amount of weight that allows you to execute proper form and range of motion throughout the set.

This means going below parallel and squeezing at the top of the movement. No half-reps here.

We will address proper form and tempo later in depth, but for now, let’s stick with intensity.

As a general rule, you want to have at least two heavy sessions and two “lighter” sessions per week, working anywhere between 60% and 90% of your one rep max.

However, one exercise is not going to cut it.

Adding variety to your workouts

Much like you would hit your biceps, chest, or back from a multitude of angles using a variety of movements and different exercises.

You need to hit your calves with exercises that emphasize different parts of the muscle.

This will produce the maximum hypertrophic effect.

In order to maximize your muscle growth potential, make sure you’re using a variety of gym equipment including barbells, dumbbells, and machines in particular for that extra push at the top.

Mind-muscle connection is also important here. So make sure you’re able to control the weight throughout the movement in order to recruit all motor units of the calf region.

This leads us to the next crucial point.

Blasting the volume

Volume management. If you’re an avid lifter, by now you are well-aware that volume is the key driver of hypertrophy. Adequate volume=muscle size.

There is no way around it, and if you want big calves, you need to train them in a variety of rep ranges, including going as low as six, to as high as 50.

No, it’s not a joke, you’re going for maximum burn here.

Given the fact that these muscle regions are extremely susceptible to growth and recovery, you can spread out your weekly volume across numerous training sessions.

In fact, spreading out your volume will not only allow you to avoid fatigue, but it will also induce higher muscle-protein synthesis on a weekly basis needed for growth.

In essence, train your calves multiple times per week, with multiple sets ranging from six heavy reps up to fifty lighter reps.

Proper form and pace

Finally, it’s important that we address proper form and tempo of execution.

All that we’ve covered so far will be for nothing if you start swinging the weight up and down, using only your connective tissue to bounce the weight to infinity.

You need muscle tension and recruitment throughout the movement and that requires steady, controlled execution.

As a general rule, go for 2-1-2-1, or two seconds on the eccentric, one second pause at the bottom, two seconds on the concentric, and one second squeeze at the top.

You can slow the tempo down even more if you want to make the exercise harder and feel a deeper burn.

As you can see, proper form and tempo go hand in hand in inducing the biggest hypertrophic effect, and, when complemented with proper volume, intensity, training frequency and exercise selection. They form a powerful tool that will force your calves to grow.

If you want to complete your physique and give your quads and hamstrings something to be proud of, make sure you follow these essential tips and you will have no problem building massive calves in no time.

Author: Peter Minkoff


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Daniel Messer, RNutr, CPT

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