Updated: Jan 9, 2020
For many trainers, calves are a stubborn area to get some decent growth from and many people never manage to get the same level of development in the calves as they do in the rest of their body.
I often get asked what are the best exercises to build calves at what rep range and volume. There are some that believe your calves take constant hammering during the day from walking, so to create an environment that shocks them into growth you need low volume and high weight. Some people follow the complete opposite view in that the calves are a muscle geared towards volume, so by adding a little more weight than they are used to and training at high reps you will stimulate them more than the heavy / low rep approach.
I personally feel that it makes sense to hit them with both of these techniques in combination with a lot of stretching. When I looked at how I would go about developing my calves and bringing them in line with the rest of my body, I used various methods throughout the year and voila – they grew!!
The real problem that I encounter with most people in the gym is that they are not training their calves properly or with enough effort. Calves tend to be tagged onto the end of a legs session following quads & hamstrings and the trainer has little energy left to put any real effort into training the calves. I personally love training calves and hit them really hard to the point where standing and walking afterwards is agonising. Ask yourself the question – do I train my calves with the same intensity that I train my arms? I see so many people doing exercise after exercise for their ‘guns’, so why not the same with your calves? You want them to grow, so give them 100% when you train them.
So the first bit of advice is not which exercise or weight or rep range. It is to train them with full range of motion and don’t rush through them. Train them as hard as you train every other body part and they will grow just as well. Stretch between every set for a good 30 seconds minimum – stretching is so important and will help you get the most out of the following set.
Don’t stick to one method, mix it up and hit your calves hard. They are used to daily hammer with every step you take, so load up some heavy weight and make them lift a lot more than they are used to. Then add a little more weight than they cope with daily and make them go full range of motion as many times as you can. This will create the stimulus you need to create new growth. You will hurt them with your heavy lifting and then flood them with blood with the volume. You will know the day after if you have trained your calves hard enough!!
We can shock the calves in many ways. I go as high as 100 reps using a rest pause method, use drop sets, supersets & giant sets. Be as creative and enthusiastic with your calf workout as any other. I also like to train my calves twice a week, hitting them with volume on one session and heavy lower reps on the other. This allows for a bit of recovery between sessions as they can become full and painful very quickly making full range of motion very difficult. Change your routine regularly too as your calves need to be kept guessing and they adapt very quickly. Try and progress in some way each session, whether it be more weight or getting a few extra reps.
My tips for creating a killer calf routine:
Always use full range of motion
Stretch between sets for at least 30 seconds
Train heavy and low rep & lighter with volume
Aim to progress each session
Be creative with your training
Do 12-15 sets
I have put together a routine for you to follow but you will need to start mixing things up and using lots of various techniques to keep shocking the calves into growth.
As long as you implement all of the above points, there is no reason that you shouldn’t have some ‘baby cows’ very soon.