When Tempo Is King For Calves
The calves are leg muscles which are notorious in many strength training circles for being stubbornly resistant to growth. As with any muscle group, genetics play a role.
However, a key to calf training is in how you train and that should vary depending upon if your knee is bent or not during the exercise.
To Bend Or Not To Bend
The calves consist of two muscles;
- The gastrocnemius, which is the muscle directly underneath the skin, and;
- The soleus; a smaller flat muscle which lies beneath the gastrocnemius.
First of all, tempo can be everything when training calves.
The Achilles tendon is the strongest and largest tendon in the body. It is intimately involved with the muscles of the calves.
While this is great for human movement and efficiency, it can be a hurdle in your quest to stimulate your calf muscles to get them to grow!
However, fear not!
The key is to manipulate the tempo of every single rep of calf exercises you do to minimize the Achilles tendon and maximize muscle stimulation.
One the eccentric, or lowering portion of any calf exercise, count to 3.
Then, at the bottom of the portion when your calf muscles are in a stretched position, pause for a count of 4. Don’t relax the muscle, keep it tight.
Pausing can greatly reduce or eliminate the elastic energy that the Achilles was storing up, therefore forcing your calf muscles to do more work!
Finally, contract your calves forcefully, completing the rep.
Done properly, this will make each set really difficult and your calves will burn like never before. You’ll really have to push through mentally to complete the set.
Each rep will last 8 seconds.
Most likely, you’ll have to us lighter weights than normal while you get used to this new tempo.
Knee Straight Calf Exercises – Gastrocnemius Stimulation
On virtually any straight leg calf exercise, the gastrocnemius will be the calf muscle that gets stimulated the most.
Straight legged calf exercises should make up around 2/3rds of your total calf exercises.
Now, here’s where it really gets interesting.
Typically, calf training is a high volume affair comprising of 12, 15 and even 20 reps per set. After all, this really burns so it must be working, right?
Well, no – not optimally at least.
Think about it, your calves have high volume work all day – simply walking or running or even standing. They are used to that.
The key for standing calf exercises is to use a rep scheme of 3-5 reps per set at the above mentioned 3-4-1 tempo.
This gives a time under tension (TUT) of between 24-40 seconds per set.
Going heavy (after thorough warm-up, of course) will really provide a different stimulus than what your calves are used to - especially using this tempo.
Knee Bent Calf Exercises – Soleus Stimulation
One your knees are bent, such as in the seated calf raise, the soleus is stimulated at a much greater rate than in standing calf exercises. Aim for about a 90 degree bend at the knees.
Bent legged calf exercises should make up around one-third of your total calf training.
The same low rep volume approach is critical for soleus development as well.
However, it’s best to go a bit higher on the reps and shoot for 6-8 reps per set of any bent-legged calf exercise with the 3-4-1 tempo discussed above.
With this methodology, each set will last between 48-64 seconds.
These are grueling when done properly and that is one of the reasons why bent-legged calf exercises should only be around one-third of your total calf training volume.
Now it’s time to go blast some calves!
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