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How to Build Bigger Calves

Strength Oldschool

Build 18 and a half inch Calves by Carl Richford – 1972

Edited by: Strength Oldschool

Build Bigger Calves

Just as many classic books seem to contain the wisdom of the ages, so bodybuilding wisdom seems to have been around for a long time, if only people were willing to apply it. There are no new and sensational result producers. Just the same old stuff, sometimes in new packages.

The occasion for this comment is my return to training after three years being busy with other things. One of the areas I’ve never had any trouble developing was my calves, so that is one of the things I’m conscious of in other bodybuilders. And sure enough, the No. 1 bodybuilding specimen in the gym I’m now training in has a Mr. America upper body and calves like lollypops. So, he cleans up all the local contests and blows it at anything regional or above.

Why? Same reason now as 20 or 10 years ago. Calves are easy to develop if you are willing to stop and analyze their function, impossible to develop if you mess around as most bodybuilders do.

The Calves of Arnold Schwarzenegger

[Pic above:] The Calves of Arnold Schwarzenegger

A typical calf man, fresh from his 300-pound bench press, figures he’ll really pile on the weight on that old calf machine, and this will develop his calves. Meanwhile, he usually uses about one-third of the range of motion of the calf…and can you see anyone developing a chest with one-third bench presses? Furthermore, he slouches his back bends his knees, leans forward…all three factors combining to take the force of the weight off the calves and distribute it throughout the body. Just like a fellow doing reverse-grip cleans and calling them biceps curls. How many top bodybuilders do you know who train with one-third bench presses or reverse-grip cleans?? Well?

Come on, you can admit it ….everybody does it. Most bodybuilders do not apply a full range of motion or isolation to their calf exercises. With these body parts, as with all others in the body, correct exercise form comes first and weight second. That’s why Art Jones’ machines are good…they force you to use correct exercise motion.

The Massive Calves of Arnold Schwarzenegger

[Pic above:] The Massive Calves of Arnold Schwarzenegger

Well, to get back to calves, let me describe the common way of doing calves, and the right way. Most bodybuilders use a calf block that is too low and therefore get a limited range of motion because their heel contacts the floor before they can get a full stretch at the bottom or the movement. The average bodybuilder piles on too much weight, uses a calf machine with bowed and slouched back, and unlocks his knees and bounces through a very limited range of motion. With the knees locked and weight directly over the calf (more on this later), begin with the foot at maximum height, heel as far up as you can go. Then, go down through a full range of motion, so the heel touches the floor each and every rep. My foot is 11 inches long (I’m 6′ 2″ and it is 8 inches from the ball on my foot, which is on the block, to the end of the heel. The block I use is 6 inches high. A good rule of thumb is that the block should be at least half as long as your foot. This may sound like a lot, but simply because you haven’t tried it yet.

Bodybuilding Legend Harold Poole

[Pic above:] Bodybuilding Legend Harold Poole

Here is a recommended training routine to get the maximum from your calves. As for myself, I train for health mainly, rather than any contest. I did get my calves up to 18 1/2 inches while training for a while with Harold Poole, but I maintain now a 17 1/2 inch calf with a little light stretching twice a week. And, that’s cold in the morning, not after pumping up.

Exercise No. 1:
To get your calf used to this stretching, start out by first using the proper-height block, and simply stretching your foot downward, first one leg then the other. For your first workout, simply do this, for your calves will be quite sore afterwards. Second workout, simply do the same; go up as high as you can, the down to maximum. Do several sets of stretches, alternating feet.

Exercise No. 2: Once you are used to this, begin a regular calf exercise of one-legged calf raises. Simply hook one foot around the other ankle, and then do 3 sets of 10 reps, maximum stretch up and touch your heel to the floor each and every rep. Build up to 4-5 sets of 10-12 reps, remembering at all times that form is the number one essential in this exercise and that any cheating or adding weight or sloppy form is out. After you can do it correctly at all times, then and only then may you hold a light dumbbell in the other hand, for added weight. Remember at all times also to keep the knees locked and back upright.

Exercise No. 3: If you have done No.1 and No.2 properly and have not been just fooling around you should get both improved size and shape for a number of months. the calf development should be low and full.

Donkey Calf Raises to Build Massive Calves

[Pic above:] Donkey Calf Raises

If at this time you think you need more, go on to the Donkey Calf Raise. Again use the high block, again keep the knees locked at all times, again have the weight over the calves, making sure you place your training partner back on the hips, not on the small of your back. Again, the point of this exercise is how you do it, not how much weight you use. If you train alone a variation of the Donkey Calf Raise can also be done on the vertical leg press machine by lying on your back and doing toe presses against the foot platform .If you do it properly, you will get very real and very sensational calf gains. If you horse around with improper form, you will not…it’s as simple as that.

The Calves of Bodybuilding Legend Tom Platz

Additional exercises: do not even consider doing exercises on the calf machine. The calf machine encourages poor form in a large variety of ways. You have to bend forward, slouching your back and thus taking the force of the weight off your calves. It also tips your body forward, encourages bending the knees, and sets you at a poor angle for properly and fully flexing and extending the muscle. The only other exercise worthwhile is running. Regular jogging, for distance, will help you increase calf size, not to mention burn off fat and help the thighs also.
Mike Mentzer Standing Calf Raises
That’s it. Simple, but most effective. Try proper calf exercise for yourself and see what gains you can get from it.

A comment on this article by a Strength Oldschool fan...

" Carl Richford begins this article by revealing, “One of the areas I’ve never had any trouble developing was my calves….”

I’m 59, and have been a lifelong-drug-free bodybuilder since 1972 when I began at age 16. I’m extremely thin-boned in my legs for my height (7.875″ ankles at 5’8″ height) with very short calf bellies (meaning I have longer-than-average Achilles tendons connecting shorter-than-average gastrocnemius and soleus bodies). I have below-average calf genetics. So, I’ve always had to fight to build calf mass proportionate for my frame.

I have no doubt that Richford was sincere when he advised what he did for building calves, but, fact is, his ideas are next to useless for most people needing to build mass. The methods worked for him because, as his beginning statement evidences, he was born with good calf genetics. His calves therefore responded to methods which WON’T work for many if not most people, with average or below-average calf genetics.

I know this from personal experience. In my forty years — yes, FORTY years — of seeking more calf size, I experimented for long periods with various methods. I agree with Carl that correct form is important (primarily in NOT rebounding from the bottom position of a rep off the spring of the Achilles tendons, and, in using controlled reps up, top, down, and at bottom). But I disagree with Carl that bodyweight calf work works for the average guy.
Among my various efforts for calves through the decades, I’ve used bodyweight-only one-legged calf raises like he described, starting with similar reps and sets, for three days in each seven days. I actually progressed up to workouts of multiple sets of as many as 55 (fifty-five) reps in the first set, 40 reps the next set, 25 the third set, etcetera. After six months, my calves had grown ZERO.

My advice, after forty years of studying, listening, observing, and personal experimentating , is to TRY Richford’s methods for four months (I’m assuming here a healthy man who’s about age 19 who has already put in at least one full year of consistent, progressive training on basic compound movements, with proper eating and rest, but who realizes his calves are lagging) ; if after four months no significant results come, then, Richford’s methods won’t work for your genetics.

For most drug-free guys with average or worse calf genetics, the only possibility of adding substantial calf mass is HEAVY WEIGHT on that very calf machine Richford dismisses.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a good example of someone (who even actually HAD above-average calf genetic potential) who built proportionate calf size by using massive poundages — Reg Park advised Arnold to use the heavy poundage method, because heavy poundages are what Park himself had used to build his calves. . Arnold took Park’s advice and immediately began using 600 lbs for standing calf machine raises; Arnold progressed to using over 1,000 lbs in order to add the calf mass he became known for having. Arnold used Donkey raises too — but, again, HEAVY ones, with TWO 200+ guys sitting on his back.

People with excellent calf genetics such as Richford can gain from the methods Richford describes, but, most can’t, especially not guys with average or below-average calf genetics. So, sure, give Richford’s methods a try, but, if you get little or no results after a solid four months, realize his methods won’t work for your genes. Give progressively heavy calf machine raises a try. The average guy can progress to at least 600 lbs.calf raises for multiple sets of 12-20 over a couple of years of gradual poundage increase. " ~  Joe Santus


** Voice your own comments below on Calf Training on what you think works and doesn't work.

Keep training hard,

Strength Oldschool


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