Q: My calves suck. No size or veins whatsoever. Should I be hitting them with lower reps or high reps? Some people tell me up to 30 reps, others say I should go 10 to 12 reps with heavier weight. It’s so confusing… Please help!
A: Yes, the right calf-building recipe is tough for many people—but we have a good high-low method that could be just the trick to give you more calf mass, but let’s start with the science…
According to Olympic coach and muscle-building expert, the late Charles Poliquin, the gastrocnemius muscle, the so-called diamond structure people call “the calf,” is predominantly fast-twitch. That would dictate lower reps for size—most of the time—on standing, leg press, and donkey calf raises.
The muscle that lies beneath the gastrocs, the soleus, can push the gastroc outward for the illusion of more size. The soleus muscle, according to Poliquin, is predominantly slow-twitch, so higher reps are best—most of the time—on seated calf raises.
With that said, we like higher reps, via TORQ (tension-overload repetition quantity—30-20-15) sometimes and lower-rep straight sets sometimes—for BOTH. That’s because every muscle has myofibrils, the force generating actin-myosin strands, and sarcoplasm, the muscle energy fluid.
So training the fast-twitch gastrocs with TORQ every so often will ensure the expansion of the sarcoplasm for extra calf mass—and vascularity. Same goes for lower reps and the soleus. That will emphasize the myofibrils more, but every bit of growth adds to the overall size of the muscle…
It’s why many bodybuilders have found that alternating methods kicks up more calf mass…
At workout 1 they do heavier work for the gastrocs (10-12 reps) and higher reps for the soleus (like TORQ—30, 20, 15 reps).
At workout 2 they reverse it: TORQ for the gastrocs (30-20-15) and lower reps for the soleus (3-4 x 10-12). You may want to work seated calf raises (soleus) first on this day, as they do fatigue a bit while working the gastrocs.
But the real bottom line for outstanding calves is genetics. Even some of the greatest, big bodybuilders had weak calves, such as Robby Robinson and Lou Ferrigno, no matter how they trained. Present day, you have Cedric McMillan as one example. Great physique, but not genetically gifted in the calf department.
Give the above a try and you should see some new lower-leg size.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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