Every trainee I know covets a set of nicely developed calves. If you’re like me, and many other bodybuilders, you’re in constant pursuit of turning your calves into full-blown cows! There are very few muscle groups that I (and many others) have found to be as stubborn to grow as calves. Indeed, the lack of progress in calf development has discouraged many trainees to the point where they reluctantly give up in their pursuit of bigger calves.
Even if you consider yourself to be the owner the world’s worst calf genetics, you can make more progress if you will just avoid making these common calf-training mistakes, as listed below! By avoiding these common mistakes, you can break past any temporary training plateaus you might have, to get you on the road to those developed calves you’ve always wanted.
Here’s the list of 6 common calf training mistakes:
1. Not making your calves a focus point in your training schedule.
Calves, much like the rear delts on shoulders day, often are neglected, or saved for the last part of the workout, when you are tired and unable to muster up the energy for a couple of half-assed sets before you call it a day. Muscles can’t grow if they receive subpar training. If you want to make your calves a stand-out body part, you must start training them like you train your back or chest: fresh, from every angle, and to complete exhaustion. If you can start your leg training with calves, and train them in the aforementioned fashion before training your quads and hamstrings with the same intensity then I would recommend that. If you can’t muster enough energy to see it through, however, then you could add an extra calf day into your split, or add it to a non-leg day workout, so neither your calves nor the rest of your legs suffer from lack of attention.
2. Limiting yourself to “conventional” repetition ranges on calf exercises.
When it comes to training your calves, you have to throw conventional rep ranges out the window. You are training a muscle that performs a “rep” with your body weight every time you walk, so it is much more conditioned to volume work than the rest of your body. I personally do not like to go below 20 reps when training my calves, and I usually aim for 25-30 reps. The higher rep range really allows for a maximal pump, as well as forcing you to use a slightly lighter weight. The lighter resistance will allow you to actually fully contract your calves and stimulate new growth.
3. Not training the individual parts of your calf muscles.
This is going to be old news to some, but for those who don’t know, your calves are made up of several muscles. The two that are targeted by the large majority of calf exercises are your gastrocnemius and your soleus. Your gastrocnemius is the muscle that makes up the inner and outer heads of your calves, while the soleus runs directly underneath the gastrocnemius. When your legs are locked out, e.g., when you are doing standing calf raises, the majority of the work is performed by the gastrocnemius. The soleus is activated when performing calf exercises with your knees bent, much like you are positioned when you do a seated calf raise, or when you do leg press calf raises without your legs locked out. Armed with this knowledge, the logical conclusion is to use multiple exercises/angles to truly train your entire calf.
4. Using too much weight on calf exercises.
A common mantra associated with calves is that you have to train them heavy to make them grow. I completely agree! What I don’t agree with is letting your exercise form fall apart when you use heavy weights. With heavier weights, many trainees will start bouncing at the bottom of each rep, then fail to complete the rep at the top of the movement, or use assistance from the quads to cheat the weights up. Not only does this place a ridiculous amount of dynamic stress on your Achilles tendon, vertebrae, and knees, it also robs your calves of precious stimulation since the exercise is being performed with the help of momentum from other body parts. Here are a couple indicators that you might be going a little too heavy:
• Your ankles get severely out of line with the rest of your leg during any portion of the rep
• You can’t perform the exercise without bending your knees on standing calf raises, or using your arms to help pull your seated calf raises up
• You feel pain in the arch of your foot or your Achilles tendon
5. Failing to isolate and fully contract your calves.
Just like any other muscle, one reaps the most benefit from an exercise when it’s performed it with proper form. This includes a full contraction, slow negative, and a full stretch. Many people like to “bounce the weight” when they do calves, or just perform partial reps in the middle 50% of the range, leaving out the full squeeze at the top. That hard contraction at the top is where all the real growth occurs, in my opinion. You can optimize the squeeze you get at the top of each rep by really getting up on the balls of your feet, pushing as high up as is physically possible, and once at the top, actually trying to flex the muscle hard. It takes a conscious effort and mental focus. Those who have tried my arm workout here on Bodybuilding.com will be able to attest to the difference it makes to actually flex at the top of the rep versus just performing the movement through the conventional range of motion.
After you contract and flex at the top of the rep, the work isn’t over yet! Make sure to keep tension on the muscle, while slowly returning the weight to the stretched starting position. What this technique will do is increase the calf muscle’s time under tension during the set, which increases the total workload imposed on the muscles, even if you are using the same weight and reps you normally do!
Finally, at the end of each rep, you want to gently (no ballistic movements!) stretch the calf as far as you can without shifting the focus of the stretch from your calf to Achilles tendon. This transition happens because once you stretch past a certain angle, the calf becomes largely inactivated, and the majority of the stress is transferred to the tendon. That’s no good, as it takes the stress off the target muscle, and places it onto connective tissue, a big no-no, no matter what muscle group you are training. So, like I said, be sure to get a full stretch at the bottom, keeping in mind the goal is to stretch the calf and not the Achilles tendon.
6. Using improper foot placement when doing calf exercises.
Foot and body placement when performing calf raises is perhaps the easiest thing to correct, yet it’s the thing that has the most misinformation circulating about it. It is true that having your feet pointed straight ahead will equally train the inner and outer heads of your calves. It’s also true that having your toes pointed out will shift the focus to the inner heads of your calves, and that having your toes pointed in will shift the focus to the outer heads. That being said, we are talking about an inch at best, either way, in or out! Performing calf raises with your toes at extreme angles not only prevents you from achieving maximum calf activation but also places an inordinate amount of stress on the ligaments and connective tissues in your ankles and knees. So, do play around with your toe angle to find what works best for you, and mix it up if you wish, but DO NOT employ extreme angles. Like I said, an inch either way from being pointed completely straight ahead is more than enough of a shift in angle to change the area of stress, but not enough to hurt other areas of your body.
Now that I’ve told you what not to do, let me give you my personal favorite calf workout that I have performed religiously twice per week over the last year to produce incredible results:
• Standing Calf raise 6×20-30 (last two sets are triple drops sets, using weights that you fail out at 10 reps with)
• Seated calf raise 6×20 (last two sets are, drops sets, using weights that you fail out at 10 reps with)
• Leg press calf raise 4×30 (perform with a slight bend in the knee, so both the gastrocnemius and soleus are activated)
I hope that you will try my calf workout, and keep these training tips in mind. Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or shoot me a message if you have any questions about anything mentioned in the article!
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.