Ok, so you just sat down to read this article. Let us just say that while I am not sure what the duration of the time will be for you to read it, I am definitely sure that while you do I will be known as the “calf saver.” I may not be the hero you want, but I am the one you deserve. You deserve to have nice calves. All the shorts you have stock piled in the back of your closet also deserve to see the light of day. Well, have no fear. I am here to make you comfortable enough to wear shorts to the gym again. All of the dreams you have ever had about having respectable calves may finally be ready to come true. So take out your ankle socks, retire your old gym sweatpants and get ready for me to unlock the door to the room that is effective calf training.
Firstly, let’s just get the gigantic two-ton elephant out of the room before I even say anything else. Yes, I am aware that one of the most important variables when it comes to calf development is directly related to your genetic make-up. So, if you are reading this and have enviable calves, go hug your father and let him know you are very grateful. In addition, for those of you reading this who know me personally, I am sure you are thinking, “oh, easy for him to say. He can’t even roll a pair of long baseball socks up past his mid leg because he is genetically gifted and has calves that even a thoroughbred in the Kentucky Derby would envy.” Sure, I have that oh so important variable that is a great genetic make-up, but that doesn’t mean that I do not know a great way to train your calves and maximize their growth potential for whatever your genetic make-up may be. As a disclaimer, I have trained my calves in the following manner ever since I first picked up a weight back when I was fourteen. To achieve desirable calves you must understand three concepts. If you can learn to work with the specific muscle fibers of the multitude of muscle groups throughout the body, appropriately apply the ideal repetition and set schemes as a result, and utilize the indispensable idea of time under tension then you will be well on your way to maximizing your calf potential.
Type IIa and Type IIb muscle fibers
If you have ever heard someone refer to another person as “fast-twitch” or “slow-twitch,” you have already unknowingly begun to crack the code that is muscle fiber composition. Basically, your genetic make-up also controls which muscle fibers predominantly appear throughout your body. Fast-twitch people are those who are made up of Type IIa and Type IIb fibers, and thus they are usually fast, explosive, and develop mass and strength at an easier rate. However, the “slow twitch” types are made up of more Type I fibers, and as a result they do better with aerobic type conditioning. Although less explosive, these people often have a higher ceiling for their working capacity. With this being said, both types of people have Type IIa and Type IIb fibers in their muscles. Each muscle group differs in which types are more pertinent, and thus how you train each group also differs. Type IIa fibers show better growth and development from training that includes more sets of low repetitions and heavy weight, while Type IIb fibers respond better to higher repetitions at a weight more conducive to such a workload. Guess what? Training your calves heavy will accomplish next to nothing if you desire to augment their size! This is due to the fact that your soleus muscle (fancy name for one of the actual muscles that makes up your calves) is made up of mostly Type IIb fibers. So, to conclude this first notion, you must understand and accept the fiber composition of the muscle you are aiming to train.
So, I just explained how important it is to understand the composition of your fibers. But, at this point I’m sure that you are dying to have some practical information to apply to your calf training, and look no further. Here is the part of the article where I give you the code to the door, now you just have to open it. Also, a bit of a disclaimer here, but I thought I should mention that I could tell you these things until I’m blue in the face, but it will not mean ANYTHING if you do not apply them and religiously put the necessary effort in at the gym. Warning, this is a bit of a tangent but this definitely needs to be said. Training your calves once a month is worthless. The ONLY way to achieve results is volume and months and months of work. Please do not read this and then go work out your calves three times next week, stop, and then complain that I have no idea what I am talking about. That one is on you my friend. Now that’s over and I can actually give you some applicable information. As I said before, your calves are made up of predominantly Type IIb muscle fibers. THIS MEANS YOU NEED TO EMPHASIZE HIGH REP TRAINING TO ACHIEVE DESIRED RESULTS. So, chose a couple of different exercises (standing calf raises, seated calf raises etc.) and lock yourself into 3-5 sets of 15-25 repetitions. You need this amount of volume to activate and recruit these fibers and coax them to grow. So, turn up the volume and go build your calves.
Utilizing Time Under Tension
Consider this the bonus section of the article. I definitely did not have to include this golden nugget of information but I am a nice guy so here you go. Think of Time Under Tension as the extra five-point question on a test in school. Sure, you don’t need those five points, but you sure as hell could use them at the end of the semester when you’re a fraction of a point away from a B and your professor will not budge. Consider your calves to be that annoying professor. They will not budge unless you do the necessary work. Implementing high repetition training will surely target the fibers that make up your soleus muscle. But, there is more. If you read my last article you will remember the brief time I spent talking about time under tension. Time Under Tension is a very interesting topic. Basically, you can track the amount of volume in a given set of an exercise in a workout based on calculating the Time Under Tension. This time is more simply known as how long a muscle spends in a contracted state, or a state where it is under strain and continuously working. In addition to needing high rep training to grow, Type IIb muscle fibers also benefit from longer periods of contraction. This can be done by holding out the calf raise at the top of the movement, or like you will see in my video post today, driving for more of a contraction after the initial contraction is achieved. I promise you, apply the science behind time under tension to your high rep training and when it comes to Type IIb fibers you will be a better recruiter than Nick Saban.
I have given you the valuable information on how to grow your calves, now go and use it. Work hard, have patience and above all else TRACK YOUR PROGRESS. Tracking your increases in loads, volume, and frequency brings on a proper training effect. Have a purpose, go work your ass off, and build calves you can be proud of!
Gerry DeFilippo: ISSA CPT- CPPS, AAPS. Founder/Owner: Challenger Strength.