Having a pair of beefy, strong calves is not just aesthetically pleasing but also crucial to your overall sports performance. From jumping and running to changing directions and taking a hit, your calves are your foundation.
A lot of times when people say ‘hey, my calves aren’t growing’, usually the response they get from either friends or trainers in the gym is that you probably have to lift more weight and do more volume. However, what the response should actually be is ‘what does your form look like when you’re doing your repetitions?’
You might actually already be lifting ENOUGH weight, or even using TOO MUCH weight, and that’s actually what’s holding you back. With the calves, while they do respond to really heavy weight where you’re overloading during the stretched position, if you’re using too much weight, then you’re not really able to maximize the efficiency of the full range of motion (ROM).
Should You Train Calves With Different Variations?
Calves are very easy. You literally go up, come back down, then go back up – this is the movement. In order to see massive calf growth, you don’t have to change your position to really wide, really close, toes pointed out, toes pointed in, and do all these variations. If you can’t see growth from doing a simple, standard, feet shoulder width apart, going up and going down movement, then doing any other variation isn’t going to do anything for you either. Not until you fix the key issue, which is bouncing your repetitions, not feeling the stretch, and not feeling the contraction.
Problem #1: Bouncy Reps
A bouncy rep is when you are training your calves, but you’re just kind of going through the range of motion by going up and down as fast as you can. It’s so easy to do bouncy calf raises, that you could do it with 225lbs or even 315lbs across your shoulders no problem, because you’re not maximizing the stretch at the top or the contraction at the bottom. You need to IMMEDIATELY start lowering the weight if you’re doing bouncy reps.
Problem #2: Not Feeling The Stretch
If you’re doing a standing barbell calf raise, there are some things that need to be addressed. Firstly, you get more muscle breakdown during the stretch, so you want to make sure you’re emphasizing the stretch. If you’re doing a barbell calf raise on the floor, then you are doing the movement with a flat foot, and there’s really no stretch going on in the bottom position. If you were using a leg press or a seated calf machine, you would always be able to get that heel below your toes, and feel that deep stretch in your calves. Therefore, you want to simulate that no matter what exercise you’re doing.
When doing a standard barbell calf raise, you need to get some kind of platform to put your toes on, so that when you get to the bottom of the movement, you can really feel your calves in that stretched position. However, you also want to make sure that platform is high enough. I see people in my gym grab 5lb plates and stand on those, but if you stand on some 5lb plates and don’t feel any sort of stretch in your calves, then it’s pretty much useless. It means your platform isn’t high enough, and you really need to get those toes UP so you can get your heels below your toes to really feel that stretch. You’re much better off using 10lb or 25lb plates, so that when you are in the starting position, you feel your calves being stretched.
Problem #3: Not Feeling The Contraction
Once you eliminate that problem, that last problem you have to eliminate is not flexing at the top of the movement. If you’re just going up and then immediately down, you’re not taking advantage of that contraction at the top. When you get to the top of the movement, you don’t have to hold that position for 2 or 3 seconds, just a brief second is fine. Get to the top, contract your calves as hard as you can, then return back to the bottom of the movement, before going back to the top and flexing again. For the tempo of this exercise, you’re not necessarily doing slow repetitions, but you are going up to flex for a second at the top, coming down and feeling the stretch at the bottom for a second, and then repeating for reps. Keep in mind that using the SMITH MACHINE is great for stability during the movement if you’re having a hard time with the barbell.
It’s a very simple technique to help you get your calves stronger and bigger. Basically, when you’re training your calves, if you’re not feeling a stretch at the bottom, and you’re not feeling a contraction at the top, that is what you’re doing wrong. However, for the few of you who ARE feeling that, but still not seeing calf growth, then maybe you need to add a little more weight or a little more volume to your calf training, just to try and spark some more growth with your exercises.