Since this is a calf training article it would really easy for me to make a few puns about turning calves into cows or steers but I’m going to pass and get right into the topic at hand.
Calves are a bodypart that genetics will tell the tale on.
Either you were born with amazing lower leg development and can knock out a couple of sets occasionally to get them to pop or you were born with calves that appear to be on a witness protection program because they can’t be seen anywhere. (Ok, I had to make one joke but at least it wasn’t about cows.)
Unfortunately, many of us fall into the latter category and struggle for any sign of life below our knees.
It can be real easy to fall into the trap of hating and talking trash about that other guy in the gym that was blessed with great calves.
Instead, I propose that we devote that energy into maximizing the potential we do have to making our own calves as great as possible.
This plan can help you target and train them effectively and doing this routine once a week for eight weeks should yield positive results for you.
Breaking Down the Calves
There are two major parts of the calf muscle – the soleus and the gastrocnemius. When you flex your calf and see that diamond-like shaped muscle appear, you’re seeing the gastrocnemius. That diamond like shape are the two heads of the muscle. The gastrocnemius is more involved when you’re working the calves while your legs are straight.
The soleus is a flat and smaller muscle that lies underneath the gastrocnemius so it isn’t visible. Think of the soleus like the sole of your shoe. The soleus is called to duty when your legs are bent. Both of these muscles taper and merge at the bottom of the calf. There is connective tissue that connects the calves to your Achilles tendons.
Now that you have a brief overview of what the calves are, you should know it isn’t as simple as hitting them with a few different sets of calf raises and calling it a day. The calf is responsible for pulling the heel up to allow movement forward. That means when you walk, run, or jump, the calf is called into action so your calves are worked a lot over the course of the day.
Related: 5 Brutal Calf Workout Finishers
So three sets of 10 isn’t going to get the job done if your goal is put some meat on them. You’re going to have to do some serious work and you need to focus on a sound strategy as well.
How to Train the Calves
Since you do walk, run, and jump a lot, the gastrocnemius sees a lot more action since its primary function is to handle the load when your legs are straighter. It’s also the more visible muscle of the calf so it would make sense for you to make the gastrocnemius the priority when training calves. As Lee Corso of ESPN would say “not so fast, my friend.”
Since the soleus isn’t used as often, this is exactly why you should focus on training it first. If you pre-exhaust the gastrocnemius which are larger and already sees a lot of action, then you’re not able to fully target the soleus like you should so you won’t yield the results that you would like to.
It is also easy to train them after quads and hamstrings since they all are leg muscles but then you aren’t training them when you have the most energy and that also could mean lackluster results. So for this program, we’re going to do two things. We are going to train the calves on their own day and we’re going to train the soleus first.
This 300 rep program will be intense and leave your calves burning but a couple of months from now you’ll be glad you did it because you will see results that will make you want to wear shorts in December.
Seated Calf Raise - 4 sets of 25 reps
Let’s get one thing straight before we even begin. There is no seated calf raise powerlifting competition so the weight you use here should not be the priority. You should use enough weight that you’re challenged and fatigued by the end of the set but don’t stack plates on just because it looks cool. You won’t get quality reps and you might get injured.
What you should do instead is make sure you get 25 quality contractions and stretches. This means you will squeeze the calves when you perform the rep for one second, lower it for two seconds, and let it stretch for two seconds before performing the next rep. So your tempo is 1-2-2.
If you can get 25 reps easily using this tempo then by all means add weight. If you catch yourself banging out reps faster because you’re about to fail, humble yourself and lower the weight. Rest for 90 seconds between sets. Make sure you stretch the calves between sets.
Standing Barbell Calf Raise - 5 sets of 20 reps
Now that the soleus feels some love, we can focus on the gastrocnemius. It would be real easy to use a standing calf raise machine or a Smith Machine but we have to do something different if we want to see different results. So we’re going with a free weight option here.
You can stand inside of a squat rack with the racks high for safety. Set up a bar like you would for squats. Place an one inch thick board or plates on the floor inside the rack. Unrack the bar with the weight on your shoulders and place your heels off of the plates or board so they are resting on the floor.
The top half of your foot should be on the plates or board. Now perform standing calf raises like you normally would. This will be a challenge at first because you have to handle the weight and keep balance so go light at first and focus on each rep.
Use the same tempo as you did with the seated calf raises. One second to squeeze in the contracted position, two seconds to lower yourself, and two seconds for a stretch at the bottom. As you get more comfortable with the exercise and the reps get easier, add weight but don’t go crazy. Rest for 90 seconds and stretch between sets.
Single Calf Raise on Step - 2 sets of 50 reps
They’re probably burning at this point but remember we need to push ourselves because our genetics aren’t as great as that one dude you know that can look at a calf machine and have 20 inch calves. So we’re now coming to the last movement.
Find a step or set up a box you can stand on. Place it so you have a way to keep yourself balanced. Keep one foot raised and the other on the platform with the heel off. At this point you should know how to perform a calf raise but this is where the workout differs from the first two movements.
You’re going to do 50 reps per leg but they will be in rapid fire fashion. It should take you no more than two seconds to perform a rep. As soon as you finish your 50 reps with the first leg, get right into it with the other leg. As soon as you finish with the second leg, go right back to the first leg.
Keep going until you’ve done two sets of 50 with both legs. This is going to pump lots of blood into the calves and shock them so they have no choice but to recover and grow.
300 Rep Calf Shocker Routine
|1. Seated Calf Raise||4||25|
|2. Standing Barbell Calf Raise||5||20|
|3. Single Calf Raise on Step||2||50|