It’s a very common problem; almost an epidemic, you could say. This may not be comforting, and it may be something you’ve heard before, but, “it happens to a lot of guys.” When did it first happen to you? When did you first notice the lack of size? How long has it been since you began adding that imaginary inch when somebody asked? Have you been telling the lie so long you actually believe that you’re bigger than you truthfully are? Let’s find out.
Grab a tape measure — stop acting like you don’t keep one in that drawer. Now look down; what do you see? Something average, perhaps? Okay, if average is good enough for you, stop reading and skip to the next article; if not, read on. I bet most of you will stick around. After all, who wants to be average? This article isn’t about average. If you’re like me, average just ain’t anywhere near good enough, and when you wear a pair of shorts, you want everyone to know you mean business by what’s showin.’
Now, get that tape, drop your pants, and measure your calves. You didn’t think I was talking about something else, did you?
Of all of the muscle groups which bodybuilders gripe about, calves may be at the top of the list. The baby cows are frustrating, notoriously “stubborn,” and probably the muscles most often accused of being victims of “poor genetics.”
The madness must end! Calves are an important body part and should be trained with as much diligence as any other. While that rationale should be reason enough to fix your “problem,” you may need to know that the calves are responsible for a great many things of which you may not be aware. For example, calves help to protect the knee from injury; also, the gastroc is heavily involved in knee flexion, so stronger calves may result in stronger hamstrings. Finally, big calves are cool. And by cool, I mean totally sweet.
Why are calves so problematic for so many people?
The calf conundrum is prevalent, indeed, for several reasons. Here is a list of some of the more serious ones. Avoid these and you may be on your way to some serious growth.
Last Things First
Many people will vehemently deny it, but one of the more common reasons for stalled calf growth is sheer laziness, both mental and physical. For a lot of people, calves fall pretty low on their list of priorities. A solid tibialis anterior is just not as glamorous as bulging biceps or sweeping quads. Calves will often have the dubious honor of being awarded the moniker “ancillary,” and — much like forearm or ab work — get thrown in at the end of a workout.
Is this an effective way to achieve great lower leg development? I submit that it is not. First off, as any gym rat worth his salt will tell you, if you want to bring up a lagging muscle (or encourage significant growth in a muscle that’s not lagging), you need to treat it as a priority, not an afterthought! This means you should be training those cows first, during your first workout of the week, not as a way to take a break from hitting double bi shots in the mirror.
By training a muscle at the end of the workout, you run the risk of compromising form, load, and/or volume. Despite what you may think, the likelihood of the aforementioned occurring is just as high with calves as with any other body part, and the consequences are equally detrimental. After your sixth set of ass-to-ankle squats, paying attention to anything — even the simple action of plantarflexing your ankle — is a bit challenging.
What’s worse, because training the diamonds is considered to be “extra” work, they’ll occasionally be skipped altogether! This makes NO sense. Why should calves be any less important than, say, pecs, even from a perspective of vanity? Skip them often enough and you shall have to come to grips with the horrifying consequences: Yo’ diamonds be blingin’ every time you sport a pair of shorts, which — depending on where you live — may be a good part of the year.
The body itself can occasionally interfere and act as an impediment to muscle growth. The human body is, for the most part, an organism whose functioning is based around principles of symmetry and balance. These same principles extend and apply to individual systems, including muscle groups. Above all else, the body attempts to maintain homeostasis. While muscle imbalances can and often do occur, things will only be allowed to get so far out of whack. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that the vast majority of Testosterone readers have passed 8th-grade Biology, so further explanation of homeostasis is probably unnecessary.
However, some insight should be given on how this effects muscle growth — or lack thereof. In the calf training context, assume for a second that you primarily perform standing calf movements. Resultantly, the development of your gastrocnemius will by far outshine the underlying soleus, as standing movements prioritize the former. This will eventually result in two things: first, the obvious muscle imbalance; and second, a cessation of growth.
As your body becomes aware of the disproportion, it’ll downregulate the hypertrophic training response to exercise in an attempt to prevent any further imbalance. In short, growth in the gastroc will slow — almost to the point of a complete stop — until that soleus catches up. This phenomenon is known as regulatory feedback between muscle tissue and the brain and is an integral part of the homeostatic process.
” It’s not my fault, I was born like that!”
There seems to be an ever-increasing trend — both in bodybuilding and most of the world in general — for people to use terms like “genetics,” “heredity,” and “natural predisposition” as methods of explaining their own shortcomings as well as the achievements of others. Not only is this terribly insulting to all concerned, but it’s also an excellent way to sell yourself short.
Make no mistake; genetics will be a factor (a limiting factor, in many cases) in how much you can actually achieve in terms of muscular development, and ain’t nothin’ gonna change that. Indeed, who your parents are will determine where your muscle attachment points are, not how you train. However, just because you may not be able to have the football-sized, diamond-headed gastrocs of Dorian Yates does NOT mean you cannot greatly improve upon what you were given and build some impressive cows! And, after all, let’s not forget our history — calves were once a problem for Arnold. He overcame, and with this program, you can, too.
The Real Culprit
Although the points listed above quite frequently contribute to calves never maturing into cows, the most common reason — at least for those of us who actually train our calves with dedication and consistency — is simply the use of incorrect training methods. Surprise, surprise! The largest problem is that most trainees do not stimulate the calves enough to promote hypertrophy. Why? Well, the muscles of the lower leg can handle a damn near obscene amount of volume. In fact, I’d venture to say that the majority of people could probably double their current calf-training volume and still not be in danger of overtraining. That doesn’t seem to make sense for such a relatively small group of muscles, does it? Now, before you HIT Jedi out there jump all over me, think about it for a second.
Although Poliquin has disagreed with this in the past, research and empirical evidence show that your calves are literally at work nearly all day long. Every stair you climb works your calves. Every step you take is like doing a partial-ROM, body weight, standing calf raise. Every hop, skip, and jump? hell, every second you spend just standing there gaping at co-eds on the adductor contributes to the overall daily workload your calves receive. Sure, the training load is pretty low, but the volume is phenomenally high! As such, these muscles are “accustomed” to tremendous volume. This brings us to our next point.
It’s a fairly well accepted principle in the iron game that in order to elicit muscle growth, you must create within the muscle a fair amount of damaging stress, or microtrauma. In this sense, “stress” can be defined as exposing the muscle to something beyond that to which it is exposed under “normal” conditions. To achieve this, we manipulate the load, volume, and frequency of our training. So, when one of these variables — in this case, volume — is exceptional under normal conditions, changes must be made to the exercise prescription in order for training to effectively yield the desired result.
Simply stated: you cannot train your calves like you train your biceps!
All right then, Nancy-boy, how SHOULD I train my calves?
Well, I’m glad you asked, but, stop calling me Nancy-boy. Anyway, to train the lower leg correctly, it’s imperative that we understand the muscles that make up the area, and the functions of each. As you know, the calf is made up of several muscles, the most important of which are the soleus and the gastrocnemius. Although it’s not necessary to train the gastroc and the soleus completely independently of one another, it’s important that we alter the training slightly for each muscle. Here are a few things to consider.
a) The gastroc and soleus have three identical anatomical goals — to plantarflex, adduct, and invert the foot. However, they do not often contract with equal force, depending on the extent to which the knee is flexed. The gastroc has the added function of knee flexion, and is worked in many traditional “hamstring” movements. (This is one reason a variation of the lunge is included in the program).
b) The diamond-shaped gastrocnemius is the primary mover when the leg is in a more or less straight position. The soleus, on the other hand, takes over as the angle of knee flexion changes and the leg is in a bent position.
c) Consider the fact that the legs are straight during the daily activities that contribute to calf work (sitting at your desk does NOT involve the calves). The gastroc, by virtue of the fact that the muscle bears a much greater amount of the load throughout a given day during walking, standing, etc, is exposed to higher daily volume than the soleus. Training must be adjusted accordingly.
Now that we’ve got that all settled, are you ready to start growing again? Do you want cows bigger than a fina-farm? Excellent! Then read on, young apprentice, and grow ye shall. (Okay, the reading part won’t make you grow. You’ll probably actually have to do the program. I hope that wasn’t too misleading). In any event, on with the fun!
The Diamonds in the Rough Program
Day 1 – Gastroc Dominant Day
On this day, the gastrocnemius will be trained with fairly high volume, using low reps and heavy weight. The soleus will receive low overall volume, although the reps per set will be quite high.
A1) Calf Raise in Leg Press, Medium Foot Spacing
Load: Use a 5RM load
Rest Interval: 30-60 seconds
A2) Calf Raise in Leg Press, Narrow Spacing
Load: Use a 5RM load
Rest Interval: 30-60; 3-5 minutes after final set
Note: Perform A1, rest 30-60 seconds, and perform A2. Charles Poliquin has always maintained that foot spacing is the key to full fiber recruitment in the medial and lateral heads of the gastroc. By constantly varying foot spacing, you’ll achieve an even workload distribution for each head over the length of the set. This is superior to working only one head first, as doing so does not allow for sufficient stimulation of the latter targeted head.
B1) Heel-Toe Farmer’s Walk
Reps: 30 Steps per leg
Tempo: 1X2 (1 second pause at the heel, explode to toe, pause in the “tip-toe” position for 2 seconds.)
Load: Heaviest dumbbells in the gym (use straps, if necessary)
Rest Interval: 60 seconds
B2) Seated Calf Raise, wide spacing, toes out.
Load: 50-60% Body Weight.
Rest Interval: 60 seconds
Day 2 – Soleus Dominant Day
The soleus is our prime target here and will be trained with moderate volume. Heavy weight, low reps and numerous sets is the name of the game. The gastroc, on the other hand, will take a high rep beating.
A) Seated Calf Raise
Load: Use 5RM
Rest Interval: 30 seconds between sets
Note: Vary foot spacing every two sets.
B) Siffie Lunge
Here’s a painful little gem I picked up from Coach Christian Thibaudeau. A Siffie is identical to a regular lunge, save for one important exception: you stay on your toes the entire time. At NO point during the set are your heels to touch the ground. You can use dumbbells or a barbell.
Reps: 5 (per leg)
Tempo: 2311 (2 second decent, 3 second holding in the lunging position)
Rest interval: 60 seconds; 3 minutes after final set.
C1) Donkey Calf Raise w/T-Vixen
This is an old one from Arnold’s training log, and was a mainstay of the Oak’s calf routines. Make like a horse (bend at the waist) and get the hottest chick in the gym to climb onto your back. Hold onto something that is roughly waist high for support. With your toes on blocks, proceed to do calf raises. You can obviously substitute your training partner or a loaded dip belt if no hot chicks are available to you; however, be advised that this will not look nearly as cool.
Set: 1 set to Failure.
The Donkey Calf Raise; not to be confused with the Donkey Punch
Note: If you can do more than 50 reps, add weight by having your lady friend hold some dumbbells. Or you can get another T-Vixen to climb aboard. Actually, if at all possible, just get another one and have a threesome. The massive surge in T that will result from the experience will cause phenomenal calf growth. Okay, that’s not true. I can’t back that up. But, if you actually NEED a reason for a threesome, please go sit in the corner and look at the wall. (I should probably tell you that I did not have sex with the above pictured T-Vixen. And by “should” I mean “if I don’t she’ll kill me with a big knife.”)
See? The plate version is not nearly as cool.
C2) One-Legged Standing Calf-Raise
Set: 1 set to failure
Note: As with any unilateral movement, respect the weak side rule. That is, train the weaker leg first; also, terminate the strong leg set at the same number of reps you were able to perform on the weak side.
Day 1 and Day 2 are to be performed 72 hours apart. Monday and Thursday will fit into most training schedules; if you train three days per week (MWF, for example) then Monday and Friday will suit just fine.
Diamonds in the Rough (DIR) is to be used for a period of six weeks, after which a two week detraining period should follow. During these two weeks, no direct calf work is to be done. Upon the completion of the detraining weeks, you may begin the DIR program again.
If calf growth is your first priority, place all other body parts on a maintenance program to ensure optimal gains.
There has been some question as to why this program has no direct training for the tibialis anterior incorporated into it. The simple answer is that many of these movements will heavily recruit the tibialis (e.g. the Heel-Toe Walks and Siffie lunges).
There has been some interest regarding keeping a slight bend in the knee during gastrocnemius dominant movments, based on the following quote from John Paul Cantanzaro’s T-Mag article, “Pop ‘Em Out Muscles“:
“MRI studies show that the standing one-leg calf raise hits just about every muscle below the knee. This exercise is usually performed with a straight leg. While in theory 180 degrees may be the optimal angle for maximal recruitment of the gastrocnemius, it’s been found that a straight leg generates less torque than when the knee is slightly bent (160 degrees). To take advantage of this information, I want you to unlock your knee and keep it slightly bent throughout the exercise.”
I’m quite certain there’s merit to this, and I have tried it myself. If you wish to take this idea and extrapolate that keeping a bend in the knee will be beneficial on all straight-legged movements, feel free. I recommend that you only use this variation if focusing on keeping the bend does not detract from performing the exercise in good form or with appropriate load.
Last, but most certainly not least, please make sure to drink plenty of water. Calves may be number one on the list of “Muscle Most Likely to Cramp up on You and Leave You Screaming in Pain on the Floor Like a Little Sissy Girl.” I recommend at least one liter of water per 50 pounds of body weight, as hydrated muscles are much less likely to cramp.
While Diamonds in the Rough is very effective on its own, there are a few things you can do to make it all the better. Here are a few tips.
1) Supplement with 10 grams of plain creatine monohydrate per day, regardless of whether or not you have trained that day. The program is obviously pretty high in volume, and creatine will help increase work output. Overall it may help to make DIR more productive from workout to workout.
2) It is emphatically suggested that you incorporate a post-workout beverage, preferably Surge, into your supplementation plan, if you’re not already doing so. Consuming what the body needs immediately after training will greatly enhance recovery. DIR is a pretty brutal program, and given that you’ll probably need to perform feats that everyday life demands — like standing up — you’ll need all of the recovery aid you can get! Also, many Surge users report a marked decrease in muscle soreness while using the product; this is always beneficial, especially when dealing with calves.
3) If you want huge calves like yesterday, you can supplement with either 4-AD-EC or MAG-10 to promote some booming growth. I would suggest 4-AD-EC over MAG-10, only because you can stay ‘on’ for the entire duration of the program. Whichever you choose, just be sure to eat enough to take full advantage of the anabolic effects provided by the compound(s).
4) I’m going to take a page out of Charles Staley’s book and recommend cryotherapy. After each session, give yourself an ice massage. If you have a Cryocup, use that; if not, a plastic cup filled with ice will do. Spend about 5 minutes on a leg before switching, using long strokes parallel to the muscle fibers. Continue until your ice has completely melted.
5) Finally, it would be of great benefit for you to perform ‘Diamonds’ alongside Chad Waterbury’s “100 Reps to Bigger Muscles” program. This would be done on every non-DIR day. I have found this routine to be excellent at promoting recovery, strength, and ultimately size.
Well, that’s it! If you follow the program as laid out, in a few short weeks you’ll have diamonds so big you’ll be “iced out like a pimp-ass mofo” as T-Mag Assistant Editor/gangsta rapper Chris Shugart is fond of saying. Give the program a shot, and let me know how you do!