We've all heard people complaining at the gym that no matter what they do, their calves simply won't grow. The truth is, calves are a very small, stubborn muscle group, full of slow-twitch muscle fibers that seem completely dormant in many people.
I was one of them. For years, I would hit calves a few times per week for approximately 8-10 total sets a week but had zero growth to show for it. My calves were stuck at 15-7/8 inches for more than two years. Not "tiny," but definitely my worst muscle group when you consider that I've grown every other muscle in my body to a respectable size.
There has to be something you can do to grow stubborn calves, right?
Fed up, I decided to try something a little more drastic. On April 20, 2020, I resolved that I was going to train them for 30 days in a row at the minimum. I left the duration of the Great Calf Experiment open just in case I felt I could overtrain them for a longer period.
As I said, I wanted to try something extreme and drastic.
For years, I've read a lot of success stories about training a muscle group every single day and seeing fast growth. Many fitness enthusiasts have tried doing ab exercises every day, doing push-ups every day, and even doing biceps curls daily. There are the stories of male gymnasts doing pull-up movements every day and putting crazy amounts of overload on their biceps and having huge biceps as a result. There are ballerinas who train their calves daily and have bigger calves than most male weightlifters.
Then there is my history with overtraining muscle groups. I've always been a naturally skinny guy, so I decided in high school I would do 100 push-ups every single day for as many days as I could. I ended up lasting a year. The only day that I missed was when I got food poisoning from a taco joint.
Ever since I did the push-up experiment, my chest is by far my most developed muscle group. Flash-forward a decade, and it's still more developed than every other muscle group. How else do you explain this?
One popular concept on web forums and YouTube has been called "nuclei overload." In short, it states that if you train a muscle group every single day, your body will compensate by increasing the number of nuclei in the muscle cell, giving it greater potential for growth.
You don't necessarily grow a lot during the part of the experiment where you are training it, but the goal is to increase the nuclei in the muscle cell through overtraining, so when you go back to training it normally, it will grow much faster.
I've become so curious about the concept of nuclei overload that I even hosted an experiment inside our Superhuman private Facebook group last year. More than 100 fitness enthusiasts trained a muscle group daily for 30 days and reported their results. Some people had incredible results—more growth than they had seen in years on muscle groups such as biceps and calves. Others said it didn't work as well as they would have hoped.
This brings me to April 20. Since I've seen success overtraining other muscles groups, I figured I had nothing to lose by attempting to train my calves every day.
The Calf Experiment: Weeks 1-4
Week 1: The first seven days of the calf experiment were the hardest, as I was actually pretty sore on Day 3.
Since I was in quarantine, I simply did calf raises on my steps until failure, making sure that I got a good stretch at the bottom and a good squeeze at the top.
I performed 3 total sets until failure every single day. At the first workout, I could do about 40 in a row with my toes pointed straight on the first set, and I failed at around 30 reps on the last 2 sets.
Set 1 would be with my toes pointed straight forward. Then I'd rest for 60 seconds.
For Set 2, I would point my toes slightly out, which targets the inner portion of the calf. Then I'd rest for 60 seconds.
On Set 3, I would go until failure with my toes pointed in, to target the outer portion of the calf.
This entire workout lasted about 7 painful minutes, which doesn't sound like a long time, but some days you won't want to do it, trust me!
In the first workout I did 100 total reps, but by Day 7, I was up to 130 total calf raises on the 3 sets until failure.
I saw a pretty big difference in the number of calf raises I could do on Set 1 in just seven days. On Day 7, I was up to 57 in a row from 40.
Week 2: The only difference from Weeks 1 to 2 was that I added a fourth set with my toes pointed forward. This brought my daily calf raises to more than 150 at every workout in Week 2.
Also, by the end of Week 2, it felt like my calves were always pumped just from walking around.
I was tempted to measure my calves to see how much they had grown, but I didn't want to get frustrated if they hadn't and lose momentum in the experiment. So, I decided to wait until the end.
Weeks 3 and 4: By Week 3, my calves were never sore regardless of how many calf raises I performed.
Since I was in quarantine, I was still doing only bodyweight calf raises. I wanted to make sure the experiment became slightly harder every week. Since I couldn't add resistance, I added more total sets.
During Weeks 3 and 4, I performed 5 total sets until failure or as close to failure as I could reach. This was extremely painful and, honestly, one of the hardest things I've ever done. It takes a lot of discipline to do 5 sets of calves to failure when you're tired and you've been working all day.
Some days were flat-out torture, but I was determined to see the experiment through. I wanted to see what my results would be so I could give other hard-gainers a way to grow their stubborn calves.
Weeks 5 and 6: I finished the experiment, and on Day 30, I wanted more. I had finally bought some weights and set up a gym in my garage, so I added weighted calf raise holds and weighted calf raises to my regimen four times per week. I did my bodyweight calf workout the other days of the week.
I took my first day off from training my calves on Day 37 and ended up training my calves 43 out of 45 days. After 45 days of prioritizing my calves, it was time for a much-needed week off.
What's crazy is that my calves didn't really feel sore or as if I had overtrained them.
Rest, Recovery, and Supplements
Any time you train a muscle group that hard every day, you'd better be prepared to prioritize your recovery.
During the experiment, I tried my best to sleep eight hours per night and keep my stress low. Easier said than done on both counts, but I achieved it for the most part. You don't want stress or a lack of sleep to alter your test results, so if you try this, don't do it when you're dealing with a lot of stress.
My go-to recovery supplement throughout the experiment was Alpha Dreams, Tropical Terminator flavor. Alpha Dreams contains max doses of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6 alongside GABA and glutamine for added recovery, Ashwagandha for stress reduction, and melatonin for improved sleep. I consider this supplement a must if you are overtraining or just training hard and want improved recovery.
Superhuman Pre-workout was my other go-to on training days. It gave me incredible muscle pumps and insane energy to crush my calf workouts along with my other muscle group workouts throughout the experiment.
The only other supplements I used were fish oil and G.O.A.T.ein to make my daily protein intake easier.
I waited until 60 days after the experiment to measure my calves. I wanted to take a week off and then go back to training them twice a week.
I don't consider the results final yet because, in theory, my calves should grow much faster now. But after subjecting myself to all that pain for almost two months straight, you'd better believe I wanted to see actual proof, via my tape measure, that my calves were bigger.
On June 20, I measured my calves. Much to my delight and disbelief, they were 16-1/2 inches, up from 15-7/8 inches at the start of the experiment. To put that into perspective, you'll recall that my calves hadn't grown at all after almost two years straight of training them twice a week at the gym.
Another crazy fact is that the majority of my calf training throughout the experiment was body weight only. This leads me to believe that if I'd added more resistance training throughout the experiment and more exercise variety, I might have seen even better results.
The Great Calf Experiment is now complete, and although the process was painful, verging on impossible at times, I can honestly say it was the only thing I've ever tried that has grown my most stubborn muscle group quickly.