Calf muscles are often overlooked in training, but they are essential to athletic movement. Historically in anthropology, weak & skinny calves = weak body.
They also pump blood back to heart, which means weak calves = weak peripheral blood flow.
1. The calves are comprised of multiple muscles
The calf muscles point, flex, and stabilize the foot. In the Posterior, there is the gastrocnemius & soleus in the back. In the Anterior there is the tibialis, peroneus muscles, & extensor digitorum.
2. The calf muscles perform multiple functions
They’re constantly active while walking, standing, running. To train them, you need to train both plantar flexion (pointing the foot). And dorsiflexion (flexing the foot). If your balance is particularly bad, also stabilization
3. The calf muscles are a mix of fast twitch and slow twitch muscle
The Gastroc is about 50/50 fast twitch & slow twitch. The Soleus about 70/30 slow twitch & fast twitch. What does this mean? The calves evolved for REPS/strength endurance They rarely ever grow from low reps
4. The two main calf exercises are standing calf raises, and seated calf raises
Standing calf raises can be done with bodyweight, with various machines. Seated calf raises are almost always done with a plate loaded machine. Both should be done for high reps in the 10-20+ range
5. Train with a full ROM
Rise up high as you can, pushing through the big toe CONTRACT the calf at the top. Descend into a full stretch. Training calves should BURN. You need to feel them working on EVERY REP
6. NO BOUNCING
Most people train calves by putting way too much weight on the machine and then bouncing all their reps. Do not be that chucklefuck putting 4 plates on the calf raise and doing 3cm reps. This does fuck all for calf growth. Don’t be that guy.
7. Calves are very genetic
If you have long achilles tendons, you’ll probably never have big massive calves (ala the sprinter) But, Long achilles = more explosive power. Short achilles, you may have huge calves without ever training them, because of how long the muscle belly is
7. Calves do tend to respond to high volume
Arnold claimed he did something like 20 sets for calves almost every workout for a year to bring them up. Ballet dancers train them every day, and never lack for calf muscles
I say it’s largely genetics If you have “natural” calf muscles, you might train them 2x weekly with low or moderate volume and they grow. You have bad genetics though, you might need to do 20-30 sets weekly. You’ll need to experiment and see what works best
8. Don’t just focus on REPS
Like any other muscle, use progressive overload, especially with any machines you use. Oftentimes people only focus on pump work (doing lots of sets and reps until they fatigue). Train the calves to get objectively stronger, using heavier weights
9. The calves Pump Blood back to the heart
“veno-muscular pumps in the lower body apply upward pressure on the veins to keep it moving at an efficient pace and in the right direction. These pumps include the ankle pump and the calf muscle pump”
10. The “best” calf workout that is straight-forward to perform
2-4 sets standing calf raises, 10-20 reps 2-4 sets seated calf raises, 10-20 reps 2-4 sets anterior tibialis raises, 10-20 reps