StackingPlates Training Series – Calves

I’ve been meaning to write a series of articles on the topic of training for quite some time. I’m finally going to get started and work my way around the various muscle groups of the body. Let’s get started with the often overlooked calves.

When designing a training protocol around a specific muscle group, I always try to understand the underlying physiology. Calves are made up of two large groups (known as the gastrocnemius and soleus). Each “head” has a unique composition as it relates to type I and type II muscle fibers. The gastrocnemius is roughly 45-65% type I fibers and the soleus is 80-95%. So, what does this mean as far as it relates to training design? First of all, we must understand that type II muscle fibers display a faster shortening velocity than type I muscle fibers. A higher proportion of type II muscle fibers may therefore be beneficial for strength and power sports. Since the majority of fibers in calve heads is type I, then it stands to reason they are good for endurance.

This is where a lot of folks get off on the wrong foot (no pun intended). They think the key for growing the calves is lots of volume and lots of frequency. My belief is that nothing could be further from the truth. Think of it this way…what do we do each day, every day? We walk…and the calves have to support our body weight day in and day out. So, why would we think that adding more “body weight” volume is the key to growth since they are doing this on a routine basis anyway? Adaptations occur when external stimulus changes. In other words, remember the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

I urge folks to warm the calves up with a good stretching routine using full ROM (calves respond very well to full ROM). Then, hit working sets with very heavy weight (a weight in which it is a struggle to hit 8-10 controlled reps). Do calves no more than twice per week if you choose to use this style. Supplement traditional calve movements with things like jump ropes…and watch the size explode in weeks! This is contrary to what you hear from many folks who like to preach the “you are stuck with what you are born with” mantra. No, genetics come into play with insertion points but you are not size governed to any reasonable degree. Often, the folks who say things like this just don’t understand proper training designs.

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