Well developed calves are one of the deciding factors in competitions and probably one of the most overlooked body parts by lifters. The calves are one of the densest muscles in the body and probably one of the hardest to develop for most people. But with proper training, recuperation, and dieting anyone can develop a pair of head-turning calves.
- 1. GENETICS. Don't be discouraged, but there rare individuals who are genetically gifted in the calf department. I must concede that I have been blessed in the calf department. I only train my calves prior to a contest now but I have done work on them in the past. If you aren't genetically blessed, you can make great strides. But if you have them, you still have to work to bring as close to perfection as you can.
- 2. EXERCISES FOR THE CALVES. The following is a list of the basic calf exercises, and all of them should be used at some time or other, more than one calf exercise in each calf workout.
a. Standing Calf Raises - barbell on shoulder, balls of feet on wooden or other block so you can stretch fully on the down side. This puts a lot of pressure on the ball of the foot, though, and it is harder to get to a full burn.
b. Calf Raise (Standing) --stand on a calf-raise machine with your shoulders under the pads. Place the balls of your feet on the foot platform so that your heels are free to move through a full range of motion. Keep your toes pointed straight or slightly out to the sides. Straighten your legs completely and extend your body so that you feet, hips and shoulders are in alignment. Lower your heels at a moderate speed until you feel a strong stretch in your Achilles tendon and calf muscles. As you reach the bottom position, inhale slightly more than usual and hold your breath as you push off vigorously to rise as high as possible. Hold the top position for up to two seconds to ensure maximum muscle contraction. Relax slightly, lower your heels under control and exhale. Don't pause in the bottom position unless you are trying to increase your ankle flexibility. Don't bend your knees. Don't bounce in the bottom position.
c. Seated Calf Raises-weight across thighs (or pads on top of the knees if it's a seated calf machine).
d. Standing Individual Calf Raises-holding a dumbbell in the same hand as the calf you are working and let it hang at your side. Switch dumbbell to other hand and work other calf.
e. Leg Press Machine Calf Raises-laying on back, do calf raises on the platform you usually do leg presses on and stretch them to maximum.
f. Some gyms have a calf machine which purports to duplicate the Donkey Calf Exercise. It's not bad, but it does not isolate the calves like actual donkeys. You place your hips under this machine and do the calf raises like you would with donkeys. At best it's just another extra exercise device for calves.
g. Donkey Calf Raises-see no. 3 below.
- 3. BODYBUILDING'S BIGGEST CALF SECRET: DONKEY CALF RAISES. Many bodybuilders do Donkeys, but it is a seldom-publicized exercise-as if it is a secret to be hoarded. Some guys are shy about it, but it will ISOLATE THE CALVES more effectively than any other exercise, without putting pressure on the balls of the feet or the arches, and you can bring them to complete failure. You may or may not want to use a block to stand on. Just lean over with arms supporting you, but don't lean so far as to have your back parallel to the floor. Put legs back, but don't extend them so far they aren't comfortable. Now you need a training partner to climb up on and straddle your hips. Do calf raises to complete failure. If your partner isn't heavy enough have someone hand a barbell plate (25-50lbs, or whatever you need) to him and he holds it against his chest. NOTE: I've seen Arnold in Pumping Iron doing calf raises with multiple women on his back NEVER more than 1 person-it will either distribute the weight wrongly or if seated in front of the hips put excessive pressure on the spine.
- 4. FOOT POSITIONS. All the above exercises can be done for sets, but each set should be broken into 3 subsets of the following foot positions: a. Toes angled outward approx. 30 degrees. This hits the inner head for that diamond shape. b. Toes angled straight ahead. This hits the back of the calves. c. Toes angled inward approx. 30 degrees. This hits the outer calf. Thus, 3 sets of calf exercises for any of the above exercises is actually 9 sets.
- 5. ATTACK & SHOCK THEM! Since calves are the most stubborn muscle you will likely work, you will have to assault them and drive them to muscle failure. If you do a 4-day/week regimen, work calves three of those days, 5-day, work 'em 4, etc. But it will take even more. Do at least two different exercises per workout, and periodically change the exercises to fool and shock those calves. Rest between sets should be minimal, no more than 30 seconds. Remember, additional stress is needed. After all, you work the calves every time you walk (although that won't give you good calves). Make some days high rep days with 20-30 reps to sets. Other days low reps with 10-15 reps. This provides additional shock to those stubborn muscles.
- 6. EXCUSES. So you say you don't have time to work calves. Well, I think you're shortchanging yourself. Try doing this: Start your workout with calves. You will suddenly discover you have plenty of time. You get them over with early and go on to the exercises you love so dearly. See?!? No excuses, just great calves.
- 7. THE GOAL - SIZE, SHAPE AND SHREDDED! The calf should measure at least the size of your biceps. The objective is to try to achieve the diamond shape if possible. Also strive for the split up the middle of the calves, and a deep ridge at the bottom running from left to right. Whether genetically gifted with natural calves or just one of us who has to work hard for them, they are a muscle that will stand out and be noticed. In competition, they will win points.