Ok, I will concede that I have been genetically gifted in several areas especially my calves. Everyone asks me what I do for calves and I tell them what I do during various phases of the training year. Sometimes it will be high reps, low poundages and sometimes it will be low reps and heavy poundages. It is always changes and there is no set number of reps or sets.
However, one thing will remain the same in calf training: the types of exercises I choose. In my experience, to get the best results for any body part, you have to hammer away at it using the heaviest poundages as possible.
Your calves might seem to be one of those no-brainer muscles to train. You just do calf raises and you've got them covered, right? Wrong! When I plan my calf training, I consider both the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.
The gastrocnemius is the major mass you can see in the back of your leg; the soleus, which lies underneath the gastrocnemius, can be visible from the front.
Anatomy & Physiology
This is just some basic Anatomy & Physiology and if you don't believe me, just look it up in any A & P textbook. The basic function of these muscles is to raises your heels or point your toes.
From a training perspective, you need to realize that the gastrocnemius originates from the back side of your thigh bone, whereas the soleus originates from your lower leg bones. Yet both muscles run together into your Achilles tendon and insert on your heel. Why is this important?
Both your gastrocnemius and soleus will be active in straight-legged calf raises, but in a bent-leg version, such as on a seated calf machine, your gastrocnemius is pretty much dormant and your soleus does most of the work.
If you've been around a gym for any length of time, you've undoubtedly heard that turning your heels in or out in calf exercises will change the growth pattern of your calves. This works to a certain degree.
Check out the anatomy & exercise page for calves Here.
I believe that your full genetic potential including the shape of your fully developed muscles are predetermined by where your muscles attach.
I'm sure this statement is open to criticism and research so take everything I tell you with a grain of salt. With that being said, I bring you back to square one. So if we do calf raises with bent and straight legs, we've got things covered.
If you like to do the straight-leg version and you load the machine with weight, you might find that the machine's padding isn't sufficient. The metal may press through the padding onto your shoulders in a way that can limit your exercise intensity b/c it hurts so much. Instead, give the Smith-machine version a try.
Calf Building Exercise Pointers
Your calf training won't be limited by the degree of discomfort you can stand in your shoulders. This exercise is also good if you're looking for something new and slightly different in your calf training weaponry. Here are some simple pointers:
2) Position your hands wider than shoulder-width apart on the bar and hold it at the base of your neck.
3) Place the balls of your feet at the edge of the raised surface with your feet about shoulder-width apart and pointing straight ahead.
4) Take a deep breath and, with your knees locked, raise your heels to a point where you can unlock the Smith-machine mechanism. Then lower your heels for a good stretch to a point where your heels are below your toes.
5) Forcefully push up on your balls of your feet for a maximum range of motion and hold for a brief moment. Squeeze!
6) Exhale toward the end of the lift and inhale as you lower your heels for the start of a new rep and the start of new calf development.
If you've never tried Smith-machine calf raises, I would strongly suggest that you give them a whirl especially if your calf development is lacking. Hey, you've got everything to gain and nothing to lose. Train hard, train smart, think BIG!