Developing the Lower Legs

Calf Training With Vince Gironda

If your calves aren't getting larger, I'd suggest training them on a three-day cycle. Do a heavy workout the first day, a short pumping session the next and rest them completely the third day.

A pump day like this actually stimulates recovery, because it forces blood into the muscle and pushes waste products out.

Generally speaking, calves require more reps than any other muscle due to their greater number of muscle fibers. The biceps have about 40,000 muscle fibers, but the calf has more than 1.2 million fibers.

I've noticed that bodybuilders with great calves - such as Steve Reeves - would invariably get up on their toes like ballet dancers and would also stretch their heels well below their toes. I believe that you should be able to touch your heels to the floor when your toes are on a four-inch block.

And you should also be able to fully get up on your toes.

I see too many bodybuilders working their calves by doing partial reps while wearing shoes. You have to work the calves barefooted with your toes on a rubber pad that rests on the block. And you have to use an exaggerated range of motion on all of your movements.

That's the only way to build your calves efficiently.

Ditch The Shoes For Bigger Calves

I ditched my thickly cushioned basketball shoes for the new minimalist running shoes - even less padding. And I noticed better leg workouts immediately due to firing the extensor reflex.

Then I remembered that legendary trainer Vince Gironda used to demand that people at his gym train calves barefoot. (We heard he even threw some people out for not taking his advice, so he was serious!) He knew it made a striking difference in results, although he probably didn’t know about the extensor reflex. He chalked up his knowledge to decades of experience, saying it was a waste of time to train calves wearing shoes.

Well, unfortunately it’s taken me decades to figure it out also. I always thought Vince was just being a little eccentric (or that maybe he had a foot fetish). I didn’t think that such a small detail could make such a striking difference - till I actually tried it, inadvertently.

Now we’re both sold on the idea, and we’re both suddenly building more calf size - and it appears our quad size is improving as well.

The minimalist shoes I switched to were Nike Free running shoes, advertised as “like running barefoot.” They are the new breed of running shoe, almost slipper-like with minimalist bottoms—the soles are lighter and heavily corrugated for more freedom of foot movement. That’s as close to barefoot as I want to go when tossing around 45-pound plates (not to mention the sharp edges on some calf blocks).

The reason those shoes are helping me build calf muscle may be because I have to grip the calf block with my toes, which creates extra pressure on the inner side of my feet. Trainees are usually advised to “come up on the big toe” for inner calf development.

I noticed immediately that the new shoes allowed that to happen more naturally, which is no doubt why I now have more inner-calf flare.

Another reason the lighter-soled shoes build calves: minimal rebound effect at the key semistretched point, or X Spot, near the bottom of the stroke. End-of-set X Reps are much more intense and calf specific, as there’s no recoil from thick soles near the stretch point.

The Nike Free shoes have slices all along the soles, so it’s very close to training barefoot—just like the Iron Guru suggested, er um demanded.

Don Peters Alternate Calf Heel Raise

Don Peters Alternate Calf Heel Raise

This exercise calls for weight belt with a heavy dumbbell hung between the legs, and a 3-1/2 inch to 4 inch calf block.

Building Muscular Calves

Calves must be worked in a different way, as Vince quickly found this out since the calves are the only muscle that is directly worked every time you take a step and walk.

Initially, his 3 sets of six, 6 sets of six, 8 sets of eight wasn’t quite working and he didn’t know why and after awhile he realized that the calves should be really overworked or worked more than the biceps, triceps, delts, chest or back and low and behold, it worked.

So Vince always called calves a high rep muscle and you use as much weight as you possibly can to stimulate growth. Vince found out that anything less than 15 - 20 reps per set are not going to stimulate the calves. And Vince also found out in order to stimulate the calves even further, to induce growth, what you would have to do on your off-days is to perform 100 to 150 reps with no weight just to induce circulation. He then discovered that the calves would respond and this of course was through trial and error.

Vince was big on trial and error. He used to spend a tremendous amount of time testing his theories, whether they were right or wrong, and after awhile he found his theory about calves was true.

Now some people, like me, never had to work the calves in this method. And Vince would always tell you, do what works for you. Know the "Golden Rule"; know your body.

My calves would become stimulated with 8 sets of eight reps or 4 sets of twelve reps and sometimes a little extra work. But for a lot of people, this doesn’t seem to work. You have to know your body.

My calves are easy but I wish other parts of my body would grow just as fast as my calves and I had decent calves to begin with so that helped me.

But with calves, do what Vince tells you to do; high rep, as much weight as you can handle, and on your off days, do 100-150 reps with no weight just to induce circulation and you will find out this will really help your calves.

Developing Diamond Calves

What makes a calf muscle look spectacular is the smallness of the knee and ankle.

As a general rule, calves require more reps than any other muscle in the body due to their great number of muscle fibres.

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