A Routine For The Shankless Many!

The most glaring weakness tends to be two muscle groups - namely the calves and hamstrings. Calves will be my focus here. Try my sample routine and see if you can start making new gains!
When you see a local bodybuilding contest you see trends in developments and what the general weak areas are for the majority of bodybuilders. As the level of competition gets higher these weaknesses are usually not as evident as the competitors get better.

In my opinion, the most glaring weakness tend to be lower body orientated with two muscle groups being the usual suspects - namely the calves and hamstrings. Hamstrings are a no brainer as they are the most out of view bodypart and we are all guilty to a degree of training what we see.

Anatomy Of The Calves
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Anatomy Of The Calves.

However, calves tend to be trained regularly so this explanation falls flat. I will go out on a limb here and say there are two reasons why we don't see as much calf development as we should. Firstly the calves aren't trained to the volume as other bodyparts - be honest, have you done as many sets for calves as you have for biceps?

It's doubtful and even if you did, it would not account for the indirect work the biceps take in all pulling movements. Most people have an entire day devoted to arms yet the calves can potentially hold as much muscle mass but get stuck on the end of a lower body session when you're totally wiped from already doing hard work such as squats and such.

The second reason would be due to how the calves are trained. Most people take some time to consider the various different actions of the back, chest, and arms, etc., to ensure they are trained through every possible avenue.

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Calves tend to be worked by just doing standard calf raises and if they are lucky they will have some seated calf raises as well. Yet one of the calves' muscles is a biarticulate muscle which works in several lower body actions and this doesn't even take into account the synergistic actions they contribute to in other movements.

Below I have outlined my routine for calves training which has proven its efficacy - I actually had to stop training my calves as their size started to negatively effect the balance of my physique!


But What About Genetics?

You hear it stated endlessly that calves are a genetically-determined muscle group and some people have them and some don't. I say this is only half true, sure some people are genetically fortunate to develop calves easier than others, but training makes a large difference.

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I, for one, am in this group - both my mother and daughter also seem to have good calves - but the high level of development is due to this coupled with a smart plan of attack when it comes to training my lower legs. Whatever your genetic disposition, you can improve your calves if you follow a dedicated program to work these areas.


Calves Training Routine

I split my leg training up like many do into hip extension and knee extension days. Due to their biomechanical function, I feel the calves suit being placed upon the hip extension day for reasons I will explain below.


Overview


Hip Extension Day

    1. Seated Calf Raises & Deadlifts (Superset)

      First Exercise Pairing:

      • Seated Calf Raises - 3 sets x 6-10 reps
      • Deadlifts - 3 x 6-10

      The reason I superset seated calf raises with deadlifts is because the bent knee position of deadlifts more suits soleus recruitment which compliments the specific loading patterns of seated calf raises.

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Seated Calf Raises.

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      I once read that the calves take around 20% of the load in the initial pull of the deadlift and it makes sense as in this position the ankle is dorsiflexed and will require the soleus to work heavily to pull the lower leg into a straight position.

    What Does Dorsiflexed Mean?
    Having the toes and top of the foot bending upward (toward the tibia).

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Deadlifts.

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      To make this harder for the calves, if your back doesn't like heavy deadlifts you can do it off a platform which will decrease the load employed but cause greater dorsiflexion at the ankle.

    2. Standing Calf Raises & Leg Curls (Superset)

      Second Exercise Pairing:

      • Standing Calf Raises - 2-3 sets x 8-12 reps
      • Leg Curls - 2-3 x 8-12

      This one is more for the gastrocnemius. As the gastroc crosses the knee and is a weak knee flexor it will receive work during leg curls. As such, I do a set of calf raises followed by leg curls which gives the calf a lot of work.

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Standing Calf Raises.

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      To make this exercise more efficient at working the gastroc rather than the hamstrings, you can ensure you keep your feet dorsiflexed so the gastroc is not inhibited and can take some of the brunt of the workload.

      By combining the calf raises with leg curls, you have more or less pre-exhausted the gastrocnemius before doing the leg curls which will mean it will have to recruit extra fibers when you push hard on the leg curls to aid the movement.

Click Image To Enlarge.
Leg Curls.

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Knee Extension Day

    1. Weighted Calf Stretches

      With a dumbbell or barbell on your shoulders or in a calf raise machine just stay in the stretched position of a calf raise machine for a minute or so.

      This causes a large mechanical loading on the calves in a stretched position which some believe to be beneficial for growth. It also ensures you maintain ankle flexibility which for many is a culprit in poor squatting technique.

    2. Wave Squats

      On my knee extension days, I will possibly also do wave squats where you squat down as deep as possible and explode up onto your toes. This is a good finisher for quads, but hits the calves heavily as well and allows me to get two sessions in for calves.

      I normally performed one or two sets of twenty or more reps which allows a different stimulus for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy rather than the myofibril hypertrophy seen in on hip extension days.

    Hypertrophy Vs. Hyperplasia
    Hypertrophy refers to an increase in muscle size, due to the enlargement of the size of the cells, as opposed to an increase in the number of cells (by cell division, a.k.a. Hyperplasia). Hypertrophy is most commonly seen in muscle that has been actively stimulated, the most well-known method being exercise.


Conclusion

That's the routine I have found to work for me. From a personal point of view, I never see anyone put calves first in a routine and they never seem to have the same volume as biceps or other bodyparts and, to be honest, the effort put forth isn't worth the time either.

In addition, there is the extracurricular activity that calves can benefit from. A good example of this is the calf development of overweight individuals because they have to carry around the heavy weight regularly.

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This extreme weight places a constant workload on the calves and will help with development. Other examples include: walking uphill, and other non-gym based activities and sports can certainly impact the development of the calves.

There it is, the routine that I use. If you have a calf weakness, try it and let me know how you get on! Just remember if you want good development you have to put forth the same effort as other body parts and with a rational plan of training.