Calves remain one of the most elusive body parts among most physique athletes. A thick, shapely set of calves adds stylistic emphasis to a physique – not just to the legs, but to the entire flow of the body – They complement the Delts to create a dramatic, proportioned physique.
Here are my top 3 tips for training the Calves.
1. Train Calves barefoot
This serves multiple purposes. Firstly, it enhances proprioception and innervation of the calf muscles. Secondly, without the false base support of a shoe, you will be forced to stabilise far more around the ankle joint and be aware of where you are placing pressure – be it on the inside, outside or even spread throughout your foot (hint, aim to push through your big toe like a ballerina for a full contraction!). Thirdly, it will provide a much more stable grip – No more sliding back off the edge of the step or in your shoes by the last repetition.
2. Don’t neglect your Soleus
There are 2 calf muscles – the Gastrocemius; which is the main belly you’ll see to the calf, and the Soleus – which sits directly beneath it. Aesthetically, a well developed Soleus gives width and a 3D look to your calves, especially down closer to the ankle joint. Functionally, improving the activation, length and size of your Soleus will improve your ability to squat to depth. To hit to Soleus, perform bent-knee calf work such as the Seated Calf Raise
3. Variety is king
With calves, everything has it’s place. Emphasise the peak contraction and stretch for lower repetitions, taking the calf through a full range of motion – or switch this up completely and perform short, fast pump reps for high repetitions and occlude blood into the region. Play with your foot position to place emphasis on the outer head of the calf. Perform a variety of movements – bent knee, straight leg, flexed hips, extended hips etc. Use intensifiers such as forced stretches, iso-holds, and drop sets. The possibilities are endless.
Bonus Tip. Increase your frequency
John Meadows likes to train calves every day, particularly in pre contest phases. For the first few days you’ll find yourself limping around with the inability to touch your heels to the floor – but the calves will adapt quickly. Blast them daily and watch them grow into Bulls.
Try the following routine and watch your calves explode – I would do a full high intensity routine like this twice or three times in a week – interspersed with bodyweight feeder sessions, or lower intensity work on the other days.
Superset 1 – as many rounds as required
A1. Standing Calf Raise – Work up in sets of 10, maintaining a 2 second contraction and a 2 second pause in the stretched position. At the end of each set, perform a 10-second isohold in the stretched position. Keep adding weight until you reach a failure point at 10 reps. Once you reach this point, perform 1 more set – lower the weight by about 30% and rep out to failure with fast, pump reps, taking the set to complete partial failure – Aim for 50 or more repetitions.
A2. Stiff Leg Deadlift – Between each set of Standing Calf Raises, perform Stiff Leg Deadlifts with a slight bend in the knees – you’ll be surprised just how much of a role the calves play on this movement. Perform sets of 15, incrementing weight on every set.
Superset 2 – 4 rounds
B1. Seated Calf Raise – Perform sets of 30 reps. The first 15 reps are to be performed with a slow tempo – forcefully contract and hold for 10 seconds in the top position and hold the stretch for 2 seconds. The last 15 are to be performed at a fast pace – maintain a deliberate contraction, but no pauses.
B2. Donkey Calf Raise – Using bodyweight only, perform sets of 100 reps. Donkey Calf Raises are fantastic for not only developing your calves, but improving active range of motion and flexibility through the hamstrings. Keep the knees locked at all times and maintain an arch in your back to emphasise that stretch through your hamstrings. Keep the reps fast – but maintain a full range of motion.