January 02, 2018


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.


Lower Leg Anatomy
Lower Leg Anatomy



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.


Rep Scheme

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.


Rep Scheme

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!

The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of USPlabs or any employee thereof. Examples used within this article are only examples. USPlabs is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the authors of this article.  Authors may have been remunerated by USPlabs.

The information provided in this article, as well as this web-site blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice for any condition. Always consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. By reading this disclaimer, you hereby agree and understand that the information provided in this column is not medical advice and relying upon it shall be done at your sole risk.

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