"When all else fails, try compounds," is the advice the great multi-Mr. Universe Reg Park recommends to get stubborn muscles that fail to respond to regular training methods growing again. Though compounds are applicable to any muscle group, Park mostly devotes this article to IMPROVING THE CALVES through the use of compounds, often also called descending reps.
Those of you who are regular readers will not be surprised when I say that if I were desperate to develop my underdeveloped calves, as much as I admire and respect the likes of Steve Reeves, Ken Waller, and Chris Dickerson, their articles on calf development would not in the least inspire or motivate me, as would articles on calf development by people such as Clancy Ross and Franco Columbu. Reeves, Waller and Dickerson were blessed with good sized calves as a result of their genetics. Whatever they cared to do for their calves would have virtually guaranteed results. Not only did they inherit naturally large calves, but also the tissue in their calves was particularly responsive to any and all calf exercises.
The complete opposite, however, applies to Clancy Ross and Franco Columbu. They were both endowed with very small, unimpressive calves. After sound analytical assessment of their respective lack of calf development, they eventually went on to develop calves in balance with their overall physiques which compared favorably with their fellow competitors. Ross was probably one of the lightest men ever to win the Mr. America title back in 1945.
He was 5'11" tall and weighed no more than 180 pounds. He went on to weigh 205 pounds in top shape, and he beat everyone except Grimek from 1945 on up until 1950, including beating Reeves on two occasions. He started off with very poor calf development, but by 1948 his calves had improved enormously.
I trained with him at his Alameda, California gym in 1950 and remember him doing a complete set of free heel raises after every set on the standing calf machine.
Franco's calves during his amateur boxing days at 140 pounds bodyweight were nonexistent. However, when he won the Mr. Olympia in 1976 at 195 pounds, his calves were absolutely great.
Too few trainers really understand jut how important it is if you are light in structure to gain body weight to see any marked improvement in your physique, and this applies particularly to calf development.
Most weight trainers have muscle areas that respond quite rapidly to regular exercise as a result of the positive tissue response in those areas of the body leverages of the individual. Conversely, there are those of us who have areas which are extremely resistant to any form of exercise and show little or no benefit. This lack of improvement in turn is due to inadequate response as well as poor leverages.
Although not as common as people who lack adequate calf development, there are those who experience difficulty in adding size to their forearms. Once again, if I were desperate to develop forearms, I would not be reading articles on forearm development by the likes of Steve Brisbois, who is reported to have done little or no specific forearm exercise. Rather I would read articles on forearm development by those who started out with under par forearms, but then went on to show marked improvement with size increases in this stubborn area. Once again, those who are favored with naturally large forearm development are those with good leverages and excellent tissue response in that area.
If you are among the unfortunate ones who are lacking size in calves, forearms or any other muscle group, you will not increase that stubborn area without a nourishing, well balanced diet with adequate proteins, carbohydrates, starches, and fats -- yes, fats! -- particularly those derived from olive oil and cream.
Secondly, stop trying to use all the weight you can handle when working stubborn areas. Use a poundage that will permit you to exercise the muscle at a slow controlled tempo over the fullest possible range of movement. Slow controlled full range movements are a must with all muscle groups and even more important when exercising lagging areas.
Thirdly, when doing calf, donkey calf, or calf raises on the leg press, be sure to keep the knees unlocked. This will place most of the stress on both the gastrocnemius and soleus groups and in particular the belly of the muscle. The only thing stiff-leg calf exercises ever did for me was to build up the thickness of attachments to the rear knee joint.
My fourth recommendation is to forget all the garbage about foot position (toes turned in, toes turned out) for developing different areas of the calves. Simply work with feet parallel about 6-8" apart, and raise and lower the heels over the fullest possible range. Do not allow the heels to come together; nor should you allow the inside of the heel to rise higher than the outside, as so often occurs with inexperienced bodybuilders who tend to work too heavy. This also happens when the calves become tired.
If you want to emphasize the inside head of the calf, simply work off the pads of the big toe joint, and at the same time bring the knees closer together, all the while remembering to keep the knees unlocked and exercise over the full range. If you wish to emphasize the outside head of the calf, transfer the weight to the outside of the foot.
As with stubborn calves, stubborn forearms and other muscle groups must also be worked over the fullest range of movement, slowly and in a controlled manner. Resist the temptation to use excessive poundages which necessitate the involvement of other muscle groups. Isolate the muscle as much as possible.
If you have exploited all the standard methods of working your calves, forearms or other stubborn muscle groups and obtained little or no benefits, then try compound sets.
The standard method of exercising muscles is to perform an exercise or exercises for a muscle group over several sets, allowing just sufficient rest between sets to enable your breathing to return to normal. This is known as the set system.
Compound sets vary slightly in that, having completed your targeted number of reps, you immediately and with no rest drop the poundage approximately 20% and proceed with another set of the same exercise. On the completion of the second set you drop the poundage a further 20% and conclude with yet a third set.
The advantage of doing one exercise with decreasing poundages as opposed to performing three different exercises with no rest for the same muscle group is that, having established all the required body actions of the particular exercise (such as range of movement, tempo and mental focus on the muscle response) in the first set, you will find the same factors much easier to carry over to the next set with decreasing poundage of the same exercise.
For the calves I suggest that you start with a weight which will allow you to perform 10 repetitions in good style, such that the 10th rep is all you can complete. Immediately drop the poundage approximately 20% and complete a further 5 reps. Decrease the weight a further 20% and conclude with another 5 reps. Perform up to 8 sets of this one exercise.
For the forearms the repetitions vary slight. Start with a poundage which allows you to perform 15 repetitions. Then drop the weight and do a further 10 reps. Drop the weight yet again and do another 10 repetitions. Do four sets of any forearm exercise working the flexors, then four sets of any exercise working the extensors.
For other stubborn muscle groups try 8 sets of any one exercise. Perform 8 reps, 4 reps, and again 4 reps, using the same decreasing-poundage principle.
Work all stubborn muscle groups every fourth day. NO MORE! You can, of course, perform different exercises for the various muscle groups if you so wish, but I recommend at least three workouts on any routine before changing it.
For the best results be sure to massage the muscles exercised on completion of the workout and also on the rest days. Aim to keep the muscle soft and loose; this makes for a better muscle response when it is exercised.
Enjoy Your Lifting!