10 useful tips to develop the calves

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Are you having trouble developing your calves? You’ve probably reached a plateau (stagnation point).
The calves suffer from constant low intensity stimulation throughout the day, unlike the back or chest, for example. You constantly use your calves, when you walk, run, go up or down the stairs, so it may be hard to stimulate growth in that area, because many times, the strategies used to work the calves are not varied enough or don’t reveal high intensity stimuli. If you really want to increase your calves, you will have to provoke stimuli. A few tricks include working at a maximum intensity and, if possible, perform different exercises, increasing and decreasing the number of reps, changing workout methods, alternating between workout days in the week and resting time between sets.

To get guidance, follow this list, where you can find 10 tips that will help you get out of that plateau.

1. Give priority to calf-exercises.

Working the lower limbs requires a lot from your body so it is normal that, at the end of the workout, your belly isn’t the same. If your calves are not well developed comparing to other muscle groups, you should concentrate your energy and choose exercises for this area of the body at the beginning of your workout.

2. Vary the number of reps according to your goal.

The calves adapt easily to the number of reps. Your mission is to confuse them so that you can run away from muscle stagnation.

When the goal is to increase muscle mass in the calves, the ideal is to perform more sets with less reps and a heavier load.

When the goal is to decrease the size of the calves or simply strengthen them, you should perform a lower number of sets and higher number of reps with a lighter load. The exercises should be performed day on- day off.

For those starting to develop the calves, they should chose 10 – 12 reps of 3 sets, with moderate loads, in alternate days, so that the muscles are able to recover. Gradually increase the number of sets and reps with a moderate load. From time to time, change also the intensity of the load, choosing a lighter one, performing 20 to 40 reps, or vary with a heavier load, performing 6 – 10 reps.

3. Perform the exercises slower.

Use 4 seconds to lift the weight and 4 seconds to lower it down. After 6 to 8 reps on this method, you will feel an increase in intra-muscular tension in the calves and you will not be able to use balance (impulse) to lift the weight.

4. Take a break at the final stage of the movement.

After completing the eccentric stage (decreasing the load) in each rep, take a break at the final stage before starting to increase load again. Your break should take about 1 – 4 seconds, depending on the number of reps. The higher the number of reps, the shorter the pause should be. For example, in sets of 35 – 50 reps, you should only take a break of 1 second at the end of the eccentric stage. In sets of 6 – 8 reps, the pause can be prolonged to 4 seconds

READ ALSO: Powerful exercises to work out the legs

5. Work your calves in different angles.

In general, an individual takes about 3.000 to 10.000 steps a day. One step equals a low amplitude and low intensity rep. Your calves are used to that stimulus, so, when you perform a low amplitude exercise and with no load, you will not be able to generate the results you expected.
What you should do is work your calves in different angles to help enhance muscle growth. For example, when you work your calves while you’re standing you can choose:

a) Working out with your feet parallel to each other;

b) Working out with your tip-toes together and your calves separated;

c) Working out with your calves together and your tip-toes separated;

Lower your heel as much as possible and then raise it as much as possible, using load. Hold the movement up for 2 seconds and down for 1 second, in each rep.

6. Change resting time between sets.

Another way of confusing the muscle is to change resting time between sets. On the first week, try to take a 30 second break; on the following week, rest 60´´ e on the following one rest 45´´. Vary every time you can. When you do, for instance, a set of 20 – 25 reps, take a break and stretch, and get back to the exercise right after.

7. Exercise your calves in a unilateral way.

Athletes who face difficulties when they work their calves during the exercises may choose to start developing them in a unilateral way. Try to exercise one calf at a time on calf raises on the machine, while standing and sitting. Concentrating the nervous system on one leg at a time, you will be maximizing the load’s power and the workout’s efficiency.

8. Vary the intensity of the load and constantly change the type of exercise.

Try to confuse your calves so they don’t adapt to an exercise routine, changing your workout method on a regular basis. On the first week you may use the pyramid method, starting with lighter loads, increasing them gradually with each set. On the second week, change to a reverse pyramid method, starting with an intense load, gradually decreasing in each set. You may also choose the dropsets technique to give more intensity to the last set of the last exercise. Put on a heavy load and perform as many reps as you can. When you fail, decrease the load quickly and perform the maximum amount of reps you can. Stick with this method until you take off every load. The ideal is to have someone monitoring your exercise and helping you take off the loads.

9. Try the negative workout.

The negative workout strategy is particularly helpful to the calves, because the gastrocnemius muscles (placed in the posterior area of the leg, below the knees, covering the soleus muscle) respond positively to eccentric work. The concept of this workout method is simples, uses the two legs to raise the weight and lowers it with one leg only. Alternate between legs. With this method, it is recommended to perform sets of 6 – 8 reps with an eccentric phase (negative) of 6 seconds.

10. Perform explosive reps.

A nice way of stimulating calf growth is to perform jump squats with the barbell. Try to do 5 sets of 10 – 12 reps with the lowest contact with the floor, resting 2 minutes between sets. In this case, the amount of load to use is not important. You can develop your calves efficiently using only 25% of your body weight with an external load.

Final notes:


– Pay attention to the way you perform the exercises. Sometimes, athletes complain that they don’t feel their calves working if they don’t perform over 50 reps per set. This doesn’t happen because of the anatomy, type of fiber or any other anomaly with the calf, but simply because of the wrong way they execute these exercises.

– Do not transform your calve exercises in an exercise for the feet. Push with the sole of your foot and not with the toe-tips.

– It is imperative to not stretch the leg completely or to not bend the knees in an active way during the sitting calf raises (no balances/impulses).

– Do not forget to stretch the calves between sets and immediately after working out. Stretching will help with calf recovery and growth. On the breaks between sets, use, for example, a step of a stair or a step to do the stretch.

– The general activation of the calves is maximized during the calf elevations while standing and calf elevations with the body in an inclined plane, while the activity of the soleus muscle is higher when you perform calf raises while sitting.

READ ALSO:

How to prevent muscle imbalance?
Resting and Overtraining: Should I take a break from the gym?
12 effective strategies to overcome stagnation in your muscle development

References:

Fernando Ribeiro, Como treinar os gémeos, 30th of June 2011, translation and adaptation of the original version

Fernando Ribeiro, Os melhores exercícios para as pernas, |Análises EMG, 16th of August 2012, translation and adaptation of the original version

N/d, Como treinar panturrilha, n/d, translation and adaptation of the original version

N/d, Dica rápida: Como aumentar a panturrilha, n/d, translation and adaptation of the original version

N/d, Treino de panturrilha – 5 erros mais cometidos, translation and adaptation of the original version

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