BodybuildingPro.com Articles Database Articles by Writer Articles Written By Tom Venuto Why Stubborn Calves Don't Grow - And What You Should Do About it!
So you say
you've tried everything and your "genetically cursed" calves won't
grow? Well my friend, I'm happy to inform you that no, you probably
haven't tried "everything" and that yes, your calves will grow -
but only if you fire the right ammunition at them (and that means
bringing out the heavy artillery). The only way to know how to
attack those stubborn, exercise-resistant suckers is to understand
the reasons why they aren't growing in the first place. Then, you
can you strategically deploy the appropriate techniques to target
and overcome each calf-building roadblock one by one.
#1 Why Stubborn calves don't grow: Neglect
one reason why stubborn calves won't grow is because you're not
giving them the same priority or attention as the rest of your
body. Yes - that's right; you probably don't train your calves
nearly as hard or as consistently as your "favorite" body parts. In
fact, the chances are good that you usually leave your calves for
last and you more than occasionally "blow them off"
Do you really train your calves as hard as your biceps or
your chest? Do you blast those calf raises with as much intensity
and effort as your bench presses or barbell curls? Thought
What should you do
about it? Priority training
tempting to work your strongest body parts the hardest while
neglecting the weaker ones. It's enjoyable to train the showy
muscles like arms and chest. Working calves is boring and painful.
As a result, many people have weak calves out of sheer avoidance
and neglect. Getting stubborn calves to grow requires mounting an
all out frontal attack on them! You need complete singleness of
purpose and a burning desire to build them. Working your calves
must become the number one priority of your entire training
way to prioritize your calf training is to do them first in your
routine or on a day completely by themselves. You can also use
double split training and designate a separate session just for
calves. These methods allow you to train your calves when you
fresh, strong and full of energy - mentally and
Reason #2 why stubborn
calves don't grow: Lack of Change
reason stubborn calves don't grow is because you keep doing the
same workout over and over again. Take a look at this
calf raises; 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps
Seated calf raises; 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps.
look familiar? If so, and your calves aren't growing, it's probably
because your calves have adapted to that humdrum program a long
time ago. You see, the human body likes being in a state of
homeostasis and those calves of yours are comfortable just the way
they are. If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've
should you do about it? Variation & Shock
solution to this problem is obvious: Mix up your training! Shock
your muscles out of complacency. Throw something at them that
they're not expecting and watch the growth begin!
muscles will usually adapt to any routine within 3-4 weeks. As soon
as you stop seeing increases in strength and muscle size, it's time
for a change. If you're not sure what to change, just change
anything. A carefully crafted, scientifically developed routine can
certainly help maximize results, but almost anything your body
isn't used to will stimulate a new growth spurt.
many weapons available in your calf-building arsenal. All you need
to do is mix and match the various exercises with the different
training variables - and bingo! - like a Rubik's cube you have a
virtually unlimited number of workout combinations at your
fingertips. Here are some of the variables you can play around
1. Number of sets
2. Number of reps
3. Choice of exercises
4. Number of exercises
5. Order of exercises
6. Length of rest periods
7. Amount of resistance
8. Tempo/Time under tension
9. Frequency of training
Training" (intensification) techniques
1. Supersets, tri-sets, giant sets
2. Descending sets
3. Super Slow negatives
4. Continuous tension
5. Peak contraction/static holds
6. 21's, 1 and 1/2's
7. Forced reps
even changing the exercises, here's an example of how you can
transform your old, stale program into a result-producing calf
blast! (the weights selected are just examples):
Standing Calf Raises
1 set 20 reps (warm up) 300 lbs
2 sets 10-15 reps 700 lbs
2 sets 10-15 reps 500 lbs with 5 second hold in top position
1 drop set:
500 lbs. X 10 reps heels together, toes out rise up over big
400 lbs. X 10 reps toes pointing in, heels out rise up over little
300 lbs. X 10 reps toes straight ahead, feet 24 inches apart
200 lbs. X 10 reps toes straight ahead, feet together
(40 reps total, no rest between weight changes)
Seated Calf Raise
Set 1: 90 lbs. X 20-25 reps, slow, nonstop, continuous tension (4
second concentric, 4 second eccentric, no pause
Set 2: 135 lbs. X 15 reps, 3 second hold at top, 3 second
eccentric, 3 second concentric, then drop weight down to 90 lbs.
and do 15-20 more fast reps
Set 3: 180 lbs. X 10-15 reps, with slight cheat (slight "bounce"
Set 4: 45 lbs. X as many reps as possible (up to 100)
#3 why stubborn calves don't grow: Genetics.
be totally naive to say that genetics don't play a role in calf
development. Genetics are definitely a factor. If you have
inherited "high" calves - that is, the calf inserts high on the
lower leg, leaving a large "gap" between the bottom of the calf
muscle and the heel, there's not much you can do about it. But to
blame poor calf development entirely on genetics is also
naïve. Genetics are not under your control, but plenty of
things are - like how hard you train, how consistently you train,
how well you plan your workouts and how positive your mental
should you do about it? Positive attitude, training for your body
type and high intensity.
need a positive attitude. Making excuses and blaming your genetics
for weak calves is a cop-out. Excuses don't get you anywhere in
bodybuilding - accepting responsibility and taking action is what
makes you a champion. Multi-Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates once said that
its not the genetics that separates the guy who makes it to the top
and the other guys who don't; "It's the drive, commitment, 100
percent determination, focus and the mind-set to be the very best."
The first step to overcoming less than optimal genetics is to
accept the cards heredity dealt you and then relentlessly press on
with what you have. Your genetics might prevent you from ever
having calves like Mr. Olympia, but you must always press forward
and strive to be the best you can possibly be. Make a
commitment to be better than you used to be, not better than
don't be tempted to duplicate the calf routine of a "genetic
freak." You know; the guy with 22 inch calves who only trains them
for a few weeks before contests who has a relative with 21 inch
calves who has never even worked out before! (Mike Matarazzo and
Chris Dickerson come to mind.) Genetic superiors grow in spite of
how they train, not because of it. A few sets of sloppy calf raises
thrown in as an afterthought at the end of a workout might be all
it takes for the genetically gifted bodybuilder to get incredible
growth. That's why copying the genetic freak's training program is
a bad idea.
genetics really are sub-par, you can't just coast through your calf
workouts. You must blitz and blast your calves with all your might.
Knock em into the next time zone! Use that list of high intensity
techniques, pile those weights on like there's no tomorrow and
train to 100% total failure.
#4 why stubborn calves don't grow: Poor blood flow (no
ever notice how veiny advanced bodybuilders are? Vascularity comes
mostly from low body fat. However, all bodybuilders are veinier
than the average person, body fat notwithstanding. Years of
consistent training develops a vascular system that can pump huge
quantities of blood into the muscles. While most muscle growth can
be attributed to an increase in the size of the muscle fibers,
blood flow is also an important factor. A person with poor calf
development is often a person who can't get a pump in their
should you do about it? Maximum pump workouts and higher
growing? Try increasing your frequency. Hitting each muscle group
once a week is a very popular practice these days and is probably a
good idea for large muscles like the quads, back and chest. These
bigger muscles require more time to recuperate than small ones. The
calves don't need as much recovery time, so they can and should be
hit more frequently. When you want to specialize on calves, work
your calves heavy and hard at least twice a week. You might even
want to experiment with three or four calf workouts a week,
alternating heavy and light every other workout. On your heavy
days, challenge yourself to use super heavy weights for 8-15 reps
and add weight every workout no matter what. On your lighter days,
pump them full of blood with "maximum pump" techniques.
How do you
get maximum pump? There are many ways: supersets, tri sets, giant
sets, decreased rest intervals between sets and high rep sets. High
reps can range anywhere from twenty to one hundred! Yes, you read
that right - one hundred reps! When you start one hundred rep sets,
your body weight will be plenty. The goal is not to break down the
muscle tissue, but simply to induce circulation and get the blood
in there. As you build up endurance and tolerance for the lactic
acid burn, you'll eventually be able to add light weights. Continue
with heavy calf days twice a week and try adding three sets of one
hundred twice a week (you can even do these at home on the
don't forget the role that diet plays in getting monstrous pumps:
Keep your carbs up to keep your glycogen levels high. Even if you
are on a low carb diet, you should still carb up once every fourth
day or you'll have a hard time getting much of a pump. Remember, no
glycogen = no pump.
#5 why stubborn calves don't grow: Weak neuromuscular (mind to
and muscle growth have a strong neural component. Whenever you
begin to learn a new skill pattern, (like throwing a ball with your
left arm when you are right-handed), the mind to muscle link is
"weak." That's why the new movement feels clumsy and awkward. The
same thing is true when you do a new exercise. If you've ever
watched a beginner try to do a complicated exercise like a lunge or
a squat, then you know what I'm talking about - the novice is
wobbly and unbalanced. Until this neuromuscular pathway is well
developed, the muscle contractions will be weak and muscle growth
cannot occur to the maximum degree.
bodybuilders, despite having trained their calves for years, have
never developed this link properly. Many people just don't "feel "
the calf muscles working when they train. It's a mindless, robotic,
up-down-up-down motion with no mental or physical concentration -
no "squeezing." If you don't improve this mind to muscle
connection, your calves will never grow.
What should you do
about it? Mental concentration and peak contraction
thing you should do about a weak neuromuscular connection is to
work on your powers of focus and concentration. Put your mind "into
the muscle." Legendary trainer Vince "The Iron Guru" Gironda, knew
this secret and taught it to all his pupils at his famous North
bodybuilders definitely possess something unique," said Vince.
"They may work out set for set, rep for rep with training partners,
sometimes over a period of years. Even eating patterns may be
identical, yet the champion advances while the training partner may
not. I have noticed that the champion is using something more than
the sets and reps his partner is using - and it has nothing to do
with genetic superiority. He is using concentration and mental
suggestion - a form of self-hypnosis. This is used by all champions
whether they know it or not. In the case of bodybuilders it is more
important than any steroid drug, any diet plan, any food
supplement, or exercise routine ever conceived."
honing your powers of concentration to a fine point. Give exclusive
attention to every rep of every set. Focus. Get in the "zone."
Block out all distractions. Let people know that when you are
training you don't want to be disturbed. Leave the socializing for
later. I've worked in health clubs for 14 years and there's one
thing I've always noticed: 95% of the members in any gym walk
around and chat with their buddies between sets and some of them
even chat with their buddies during the set. The Champions -
the 5% - never do.
thing you should do about a weak neuromuscular connection is to
emphasize the contraction in the top position on all your calf
exercises. Most beginners lack strength in the top portion of the
calves range of motion. As a result, they perform only bouncy,
partial movements and they never squeeze hard enough to get a
strong contraction. Holding the top position of any calf raise
exercise for a five second squeeze on each rep will increase the
time under tension, strengthen the neuromuscular connection and
work wonders for slow growing calves. This is my absolute favorite
technique for bringing up the calves in a very short period of
time. Practice squeezing harder and longer at the top of each rep
and your calves will "blow up" almost overnight.
#6 why stubborn calves don't grow: Refusing to go beyond the pain
two schools of thought when it comes to the pain barrier. The first
is "no pain, no gain." Lately this attitude has been criticized and
it has been suggested that the second school, "train don't strain,"
is a healthier way to approach your workouts. If your goal is to
achieve a basic level of fitness and health, I'd have to agree. But
if you are a serious bodybuilder and you want awesome calves, then
you MUST adopt the "no pain no gain" attitude. Just ask any
champion in any sport; you have to endure pain if you want to grow
and excel. Roger Bannister, the first man to ever run a
three-minute mile said, "The man who can drive himself further once
the effort gets painful is the man who will win."
should you do about it? Reframe pain as pleasure and train into the
past the pain barrier takes guts. You have to grit your teeth and
just keep going. What will help you to push yourself into and
beyond the pain zone is to "reframe" what pain means to you.
There's an old Navy SEALS saying, "Pain is weakness leaving the
body." That's one way champions look at it. Another is to view pain
as pleasure. This is a mental technique Arnold Schwarzennegger used
to become one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. "The only
way to be a champion is by going through these forced reps and the
pain," said the former Mr. Olympia. "What helps me is to think of
this pain as pleasure. Pain makes me grow. Growing is what I want.
Therefore for me, pain is pleasure. And so when I experience pain
I'm in heaven. It's great. People suggest that this is masochistic.
But they're wrong. I like pain at a particular moment for a
particular reason. I don't like needles stuck in my arm. But I do
like the pain that is necessary to be a champion."
- those are the six reasons that "stubborn" calves don't grow. Take
a serious look at your training program and your mindset and see if
any of these calf-building obstacles are short-circuiting your
ability to build your calves into cows. Once you've identified
which ones are holding your calf gains back, then you can select
the appropriate "weapons" and attack the problem at its source. You
might not ever develop calves like Chris Dickerson or Mike
Matarazzo. But regardless of the genetics Mother Nature gave you,
with the right battle plan and a steady, relentless assault, you
can always grow and improve.
About the Author:
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder,
personal trainer, gym owner, freelance writer and author of "Burn
the Fat, Feed The Muscle" (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the
World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has written over
140 articles and has been featured in IRONMAN magazine, Natural
Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men
and Men’s Exercise. Tom is the Fat Loss Expert for
Global-Fitness.com and the nutrition editor for Femalemuscle.com
and his articles are regularly featured worldwide on literally
dozens of other websites.
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