Maximum Calf Development

“The calves are probably the most neglected body part in the advanced body builder as well as the beginner. It seems as though the public pays little attention to the development of the calves but tends to see only large arms on a physique whether it be on the beach or at a physique contest.

I have noticed that in the last few years some of the top bodybuilders with poor calf development have won, or placed high in, non-amateur contests. This was not the case many years ago, Steve Reeves, Bruce Randall, and John Grimek were all winners of the top titles and certainly they had fantastic calf development. One of the main reasons for the lack of calf development is that they are hard to develop, especially if they are not worked extensively. The modern craze is to blow up the arms rather than train for a fully developed, well proportioned physique. Certainly the huge arms when flexed bring the biggest response from the audience at a physique contest. In the past the judges would no give out title when the physique was not well balanced. Not they must figure that a lot of contestants just are not going to spend much time on their lower bodies (calves in particular). therefore the judges have overlooked their lock of development.

I’m proud to say this is not the case in the big AAU contest. it has happened in a few local shows and events in big name professional contests.

The calves should be worked at different angles on various types of equipment. They should also be trained with the feet in different positions. This will ensure a complete development of the calves. So many bodybuilders who work their calves hard only work them on one machine as well as in a single position all the time. The end result is a well developed inner or outer calf or in rare cases good development along the tibia bone in front of the lower leg.

For calf specialization the calves should be worked every day. This is not the case in most body parts, but the calves are in constant use, therefore they need a lot of work to make them respond. You should never end a set of calf raises without a burning sensation in the calves. by this I mean, don’t set yourself a pattern of so many sets and reps. Work the calves hard in each set until they are fully blown up. In my own experience my calves will pump up as much as three-fourths to one inch in the second set of my calf program. I used to do a constant number of sets and reps, thinking that I had an adequate calf workout. It is not how much you do, but how much effort you put into your calf work.

I mentioned earlier about working your calves every day for maximum development. This, I think, is the best routine but only for about two  or three months at a time. I did a certain routine very day and put about one inch on my calves in a very short time.

I kept this program up far too long and as a result lost over 1/2″ in my calves. Afterwards it was very difficult to get them to respond.

Time between sets is also very important as well as reps. Get a partner, or two if possible. As soon as your two partners have completed a set, be standing right behind them ready to go. Calves must be worked at least twice as fast if not faster than other body parts. I suggest no less than 18 sets when specializing. Six sets of three different exercises will be sufficient. One exercise with the feet straight ahead, one with the feet pointed out and one with them pointed in. The reason for this is to ensure proper and complete development. With the toes pointed in, the calves are worked more on the outside and more on the inside when they pointed out. I like to use different types of calf equipment for each exercise.

For example, I do six sets on the calf machine, six sets on the hack machine and six sets of donkey calf raises.

No matter what type of calf exercise you are doing, remember to do it correctly. Never do anything short of a complete repetition. By this I mean go all the way up on your toes before starting down. On the downward movement go all the way down. Doing you calf work in this way will ensure a definite line under your calves when flexed rather than just a large calf from incomplete movements.

For those of you who have naturally large calves and think you don’t have to work on them, you are wrong. Naturally large calves look good and impressive while in their relaxed state but they show no cuts under the inner or outer head when flexed.

Another point I would like to bring out at this time is one that most bodybuilders are guilty of. This is the bending of the knees while performing each repetition. You should never bend your knees but keep them locked and straight at all times, unless, of course, you are doing seated calf raises.

Naturally you would have to bend your knees in this particular exercise. If you find that you are guilty of knee bending, chances are that you are using too heavy a weight. When you have to bend your knees you are “squatting” up the weight rather than doing a calf raise.

I have done many types of calf exercises and found them all beneficial. Below I will discuss a few all the exercises that I like best for my calf routine.

1. Calf Machine

jim haislop calf work bodybuilding

This is my favorite exercise in my calf routine and I think it will be yours also, if you do it correctly. Simply place your shoulders under the padded area provided. At the same time put your feet on the block of wood at the bottom. Do not put your feet too far up on the board because this will hinder a complete stretch on the downward movement. Do approximately 18 to 20 reps. You should get a burning sensation about the 14th rep. If you do not, the weight is too light.

If the burning starts earlier, then the weight is too heavy. This you will have to work out for yourself. Also, as your calves become stronger and get accustomed to this type of program, you’ll have to adjust the weight.

2. Hack Machine Calf Work

jim haislop bodybuilding calf work

This calf exercise is done in the same manner as exercise number over, except you lie face down on the hack machine.

3. Seated Calf Raises
This exercise is not done too often by some bodybuilders but is a good one if done correctly. Sit on a chair or stool provided and place your knees under the padded area, raising the weight slightly. You can now slide the two stands forward and you are ready to begin your exercise.

4. Calf Work on the Leg Press Machine

jim haislop bodybuilding workout

Lie on your back with your legs at a 90 degree angle to your body and your feet under the machine board. Without bending your knees, begin your calf work. Go all the way up on your toes on the upward stroke and all the way down for a maximum stretch on the downward movement.

5. Calf Raises with Bar

jim haislop bodybuilding workout calves

Working calves with a bar across your shoulders is probably the first method ever used. This is the most common type of calf exercise in home training. If you train at home I suggest you use this exercise along with the donkey calf raises (I will explain the donkey calf raises next.)

Calf work with a bar behind your neck is real easy to racks, a barbell, and a piece of wood two perform. All you will need is a pair of squat inches by four inches and about 18 inches long. With the bar on your shoulders and your toes on the two by four simply go up and down until your calves are worked sufficiently. This should be about 15 to 20 reps, depending on the weight of the bar.

6. Donkey Calf Raises

calf work james haislop bodybuilding

I like to dot his exercise last in my calf routine because it is a good finisher. I believe you will get more of a pump from the donkey calf raise than the other calf exercises that I have mentioned. Also you can do the sets faster. This is a good exercise because you don’t have any strain on your shoulders as in exercises one and two.

You will need a partner in this exercise and possibly a stool for him to stand on. Your partner should sit directly over your calves far back on the buttocks, rather than in the middle of your back, as this could cause back injury.

These are a few of many calf exercises. I suggest you choose three of them in your calf specialization program. Below is a list of exercises I am now following.

Exercises Sets x Reps
1. Calf Raises on Calf Machine 6 x 18-20
2. Calf Raises on Hack Machine 6 x 18-20
3. Donkey Calf Raises 6 x Depending on weight of partner, usually 25 reps

All photos by Dick Fudge

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