In the realms of bodybuilding, Training The Calves has long been an indicator that the session is over.
The hard work has been done, the Quads are pumped, the Hamstrings are fried and the Glutes are burning. So we amble/limp over to the seated calf raise and give the old pins a rest whilst we sit down and pump out some half-assed sets till we feel a little acid running down the back of our leg.
The truth is that Calf Training is boring and has become a long-standing joke in the fitness community, you are either TeamNoCalves or TeamBabyCows.
Whilst many of us who don’t have them feel doomed to spend our lives not filling out our socks, like any muscle they can be developed and grown into something slightly respectable, even if not ridiculously impressive like this guy below.
COMPARE AN OLYMPIC CYCLISTS CALVES
WITH AN OLYMPIC SPRINTERS
Odd isn’t it, both are capable of delivering tremendous force through their lower leg, however the former looks like they’ve slid a shield of armour under the skin whilst the latter looks like an unbent paperclip.
So is there any reasoning for this genetically?
We tend to steer towards activities we are good at (except golfers who can stay shit but still play 3 times a week).
When it comes to Calf Anatomy there are 2 muscles we need to consider, the Gastroc which originates from each side and slightly above the knee, and the Soleus which originates from just below the posterior portion of the knee. Both insert into the heel bone via the achilles tendon.
So whilst there are 2 muscles there are also 2 ends of the spectrum, short Gastrocs with a long Achilles Tendon that are excellent for sprinting and jumping but not favourable when it comes to Hypertrophy, and longer Gastrocs with a shorter Achilles Tendon that cover a greater area and thus have greater potential for growth.
Take a quick look and see if you sit decidedly on one side of that fence. If you err on the short side then sorry but your calves will probably always suck (but they can be less sucky), or if you veer towards the long side then congratulations you’ve hit the Calf Jackpot!
(taking a quick look at mine I sit somewhere in the middle and thus can only attribute my lack of growth in them to my general avoidance of training them at all)
SO WHY CAN’T KANGAROOS GROW CALVES?
Like Sprinters, Kangaroos are capable of creating enormous energy through there Calves, however even I’d fancy my chances against them in the Calf department on the Bodybuilding stage.
So why the lack of development?
This is due to something known as “elastic energy” which is actually created through a shortening and lengthening of the tendons rather than the muscles (think of an elastic band).
The Calf muscles of the Kangaroo move a negligible amount, whilst the tendon can lengthen by as long as 11mm, that’s a hell of a lot when you look at it.
Little movement in the Calf muscle, little growth.
Transferring this over into the weights room this is why you see little guys with no Calf development bouncing the full stack up and down with nothing to show for it.
However on the other hand we have a Ballet Dancer, controlling their full bodyweight up onto the toes and displaying some bulletproof slabs of meat on the back of their leg as reward.
Hence the goal of each Rep on your Calf Movements should be to avoid this elastic energy, control each portion of the movement and avoid any excess stretch and bounce at the bottom.
YOU WOULDN’T EXPECT YOUR ARMS TO GROW ON 3 SETS A WEEK, WHY YOUR CALVES?
The most cutting truth is that the majority of us just don’t give our Calves enough controlled Volume to grow anyway.
When it comes to Hypertrophy this is always going to be the biggest factor and until proven otherwise there is a dose response to a certain extent (more is more until you can’t recover from it, then it’s less).
Want an example?
Be a lot heavier for a long period of time and then lean down, my guess is that the cankles you had before will make way for some pretty sick looking Calves. The sheer volume from walking around at a much heavier weight day to day will certainly bring them up more than just a few sets a week.
For most of us 6–8 sets controlling the tempo would be a pretty good starting point, aim to increase either weight lifted, reps performed or add sets based on visible and tape-measureable progress and my educated-guess is that you’ll see growth where there wasn’t growth before.
THE TAKE HOMES?
If you wish to grow your Calves to maximum effect do the following:
Change your Genetics (Okay maybe not)
Train them with the Intensity and Control you’d train your Biceps with (No bouncing)
Train them with both a Straight Leg (Gastroc and Soleus) and Bent Leg (Soleus)
Give them enough Volume (1 set a week won’t work, 6–8 sets is better)
Control the Tempo (1 second up/2 seconds at the top/3 second lower/3 second pause at the bottom)
Apply Progressive Overload (Basically just do more Volume over time with the same form)