Many bodybuilders make the mistake of treating the calves like a delicate little group when in fact they are made up of dense muscle fiber, like the forearms. And, they are used to handling your bodyweight ten to fifteen hours daily. Can you imagine it!
Say a man weighs 180 pounds. The calf muscles handle that amount of weight daily without even an ache. So it stands to reason that if you really want to give the muscles of the lower leg a real workout you have to bomb them with heavy poundages and force out the reps. I began with something like 300 pounds on some calf exercises and before you knew it I was pushing 1,000 pounds.
Following is the routine that I believe gave me the greatest results.
The first exercise is the Donkey Raise. For that movement I have two guys sit on my back. Sometimes, when only one fellow is available, I ask him to hold a heavy dumbbell as he sits on my back for added resistance.
Standing on a wood block, I start the exercise by lowering my heels way down until they are almost touching the floor. It's a good idea to use a block about three-and-a-half inches thick so as to allow that full stretch of the calves. From way down low I slowly raise myself up on my toes as high as I can go. Here, I hold the position for a full count of four and then return to starting stretch position. Usually I perform the exercise for 4 sets of 12-15. The Donkey Calf Raise is a marvelous mass builder.
With hardly any rest, I move from my sixth set of Donkey Raises to another size builder . . . Toe Raises on the Calf Machine. This is my favorite calf movement and I really pack on the poundage here. Starting with four to five hundred pounds, I gradually work up to 1,000 pounds through six sets. My repetitions go no higher than 10-12.
The idea here is to force yourself up as high as possible on your toes and to sink down slowly to the lowest point, heels almost touching the floor. That down stretch is as important as holding the highest top position for the count of four. Keep the pressure on the calves until you step off the machine.
You should be feeling the calves ache in this exercise, as in the others listed here. Remember what I pointed out earlier. The calves are used to hard work. To get them to grow you've got to bomb them with tougher and tougher sets of continuous tension and reps that are forced. [Note: Increasing your bodyweight should be considered when trying to get larger calves.]
My third movement is a shaper. It will help give you the diamond shape that is the hallmark of the physique champion. Men like Ken Waller and Franco Columbu sport these diamonds. they separate the men from the boys and the goats from the tomatoes!
Take up the position on the Seated Calf Machine. Again push hard on your toes and go up as high as you can. Then come down slowly. I like to perform this movement in a sort of pumping style, forcing my knees just a little bit higher each effort. Naturally I use a heavy poundage, one that will allow me just about 15 repetitions. Don't be fooled by the ache you're bound to feel if you are doing it properly. It's a signal and you should aim at getting that ache.
As far as I am concerned I must feel a little soreness in my calves at all times when I'm specializing on them. How else will I know I'm getting the message across to them! Six sets pump my calves up to balloon size.
My last exercise in this calf specialization routine gives me another opportunity to pile on the plates. I take up my position under the Leg Press Machine in the same way I would if I were doing a thigh movement. Only this time my toes take up most of the pressure.
I begin by allowing the toes to fall back as the heels come up. What a fantastic S-T-R-E-T-C-H you get from that! From here I force the weight up as high as possible with my toes, keeping my knees locked throughout the movement.
Towards the end of the set, when I am feeling particularly energetic (most of the time) I go for burns. That is, I keep up the pumping action for as long as possible until the calves are screaming for help. This action can really chisel out the outer section of the calf muscles for superb form.
It is hardly worth mentioning that at this point in the specialization routine my calves stick out like blown up toy balloons, gorged with blood. But I'm not quite through with them yet.
Now I get out the highest block I can find in the gym and, holding a bar for support I let my bodyweight sink down until the heels are nearly touching the floor. Here I don't come back up. I stay down, stretching the muscles as much as possible for a full minute.
Before continuing with the rest of my workout, I like to massage the calf muscles, kneading and squeezing them, already in preparation for the next calf session. Sometimes I will use a little less weight (not all that much less!) during all my calf exercises. I compensate for this by increasing all the reps and aim for third degree burns in the muscles.
You cannot simply go through the movements blankly and expect progress. With me there is a constant challenge to force the muscles to grow. I force out reps and use continuous tension, and I am not afraid of pain. I am not afraid to pack on the poundage required. Things like the pumping action, the deep stretch at the bottom, holding at the top for a four count and building the habit of stretching and contracting the calves to the limit . . . these all pay dividends.