I was born and immediately drafted by #teamsmallcalves. No matter how many sports I played growing up, or how much I worked on my calves when I was young and dumb the damn things never grew.
Hell, even in high school that was the one muscle group I wanted to see developed more than anything else. I was always envious of dudes who have great calves, and was always pissed off by how much I could seemingly work my calves and never see any change in them.
This continued well into college. I always trained legs. I was always squatting and deadlifting. So in that sense, I didn’t fuck around in the weight room. But if you looked at my calves, you’d never be able to tell.
There was more than one point where I would try out some calf specialization routine that promised to bring my chicken legs up to par, but nothing ever seemed to work.
And it wasn’t until I really started learning about training, muscle groups, and their purposes that I understood why.
The size and shape of your calves are going to be heavily influenced by genetics. Unfortunately for some, that’s just a fact of life. It’s why you see some guys who never lift with massive calves, and hardcore gym goers who look like they’re walking on stilts.
But even the most genetically cursed of guys can still manage to build respectable calves. It just requires a smart approach, an understanding on the purpose of your calves, and a whole lot of work.
Why your calves aren’t growing.
The calves are designed to take a beating day in and day out. They carry you around all day long. Walking, running, going up and down stairs, no matter what you’re doing if you’re moving they’re working.
Because of this they have an extremely high endurance threshold. They can take a beating and keep on functioning, because they’ve been doing that since the day you first started walking.
That’s years and years of accumulating a tolerance to volume, and most of that volume is done within a very small range of motion.
Unfortunately when most dudes start training their calves they begin training them in the very way they’re used to; quick and explosive movements done in a very small range of motion.
I mean, how many times have you seen a guy bouncing around on a calf machine like he’s jump roping?
This is completely wrong.
In order to properly train the calves, you’ve got to hit them in a way they’re completely unfamiliar with. This involves an emphasis on not only the range of motion you’re working with, but especially paying attention to tempo.
Calves and range of motion.
When you train the calves in a short range of motion, the calf muscle itself isn’t actually performing much work. Instead, you’re placing much of the emphasis on the Achilles tendon, and relying on the stretch reflex to perform the movement.
This is part of the reason why a ruptured Achilles is such a tough injury to come back from. In all of your movements, it’s performing a ton of work.
So in order to fix this, and in turn grow massive calves, you have to take the Achilles tendon out of the equation. How do you do this?
By paying special attention to the range of motion you’re working with. You need to stretch the calves as far as you possible can at the bottom of the movement. I’m talking stretch until the point you feel an insane tightness in both your calves and your Achilles tendon.
But that’s not enough.
Remember, I mentioned range of motion and tempo. While getting a full range of motion is important, tempo is equally as important. The Achilles has an incredible ability to store energy and make use of it thanks to the stretch shortening cycle. Which means you have to somehow get around this.
And how do you do that? By getting a full range of motion, and staying there for a while.
For example: getting to the bottom of a calf raise and staying there for 3-4 seconds will cause most of the stored energy from the stretch-shortening cycle to dissipate, meaning that when you actually perform the calf raise you’re now forcing your calves to perform all of the work. Which is exactly what you want.
Both of these principles should be applied to all of your direct calf training. Anytime you’re using a calf raise or calf machine, you need an extended range of motion and you need to pay special attention to tempo. Any sort of fast paced calf training should primarily be done via athletic movements like skipping, running, or jump roping.
How often should you train calves?
Remember, the calves have an extremely high endurance threshold. So not only do you have to train them properly, you have to absolutely hammer them to force them to grow. And by hammer them I mean train them right around 4x per week, with about 10-15 sets per session.
This may sound insane to most, but that sort of frequency is exactly what most people’s calves respond to best. As a general rule, if your calves aren’t sore, you can go ahead and keep training them.
Getting monster calves may not be in the cards for many of us, but no matter what your genetic circumstances are you can still manage to build a respectable set of calves. It just requires the right approach, and enough work. Here’s to a summer of awesome calves, bros.