Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Common Reasons Why Your Calves Are Not Growing

Common Reasons Why Your Calves Are Not Growing

This article is written by Theresa Hendricks.

Improper Training Techniques:

Do you understand which exercises are stimulating the correct fibers? If your calves aren't growing, chances are you're unaware of how to train slow- and fast-twitch muscle groups or you don't know which exercises isolate the soleus vs. the gastrocnemius.

Not Moving Through the Full Range of Motion (ROM):

Bouncing up and down while holding at the top won't work in most cases. Allowing the maximum ROM is crucial for full fiber stimulation and breaking the calf plateau.


People with "cankles" suffer from poor flexibility in the ankle joints. The calf cannot grow unless it's exposed to different terrain variables during walking, running, and training. Flexible ankle joints will force the calves to respond, which will result in greater definition and less chances for injury. Notice how hikers have great leg development? They expose their lower bodies to different terrain like rocks and uneven surfaces forcing the ankles to move more, which in turn stimulates the calves.

Not Enough Variation:

Most calf training on machines involves the simple motion of moving up and down with weight directly above the legs or under the feet. Adjusting the variables by moving the location of the weight placement will stimulate different parts of the calf. Wait... Before you adjust your feet like everyone else does, make sure you first try to adjust the angles of motion. (I'll explain how in a minute.)

Here's an interesting fact to support this theory: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) indicates that foot position doesn't change muscle action in the seated calf raise (Tesch, 1999). In other words, moving your feet around (pointed inward, pointed out) doesn't make much difference to stimulate growth.

Training Calves on Upper Body Training Days:

Research indicates that high-intensity elbow flexion decreases blood flow to the calves and may hamper performance (Kagaya, et al., 1996). Training calves and the upper body limits blood circulation—the less blood circulation to the calves, the slower the muscle growth.

Performing Cardio on Calf Training Days:

This is a big mistake if you're looking to grow your calves! If you do cardio the same day you train calves, the slow twitch fibers in your calves might like it, but you can bet your fast-twitch fibers are depleting, and the cardio will greatly hinder recovery.

Hints & Tips:

As revealed above, the soleus makes up 60% of the calf... so it's obvious that training the soleus properly would lead to the best gains in calf size and strength. Also explained earlier, it's a slow-twitch muscle, which means it responds best to slow contractions and high reps. Based on that, calf exercises working the soleus should be done relatively slowly (for at least 30 seconds) with a full ROM until complete fatigue is achieved (then repeat). I highly recommend the seated calf raise as one of the best exercises to work the soleus.

The gastroc is a type II muscle, meaning it responds well to explosive contractions with low-rep and heavy weight protocol. Still obeying the full ROM rule, use a heavy weight for less than 30-second sets. Ideal gastroc exercises are standing calf raises and donkey calf raises.

The mother of all calf exercises that yields the greatest growth, uses ROM, and introduces multiple variables for proper Type I & II stimulation is the standing one-leg calf raise. But there is a twist I want to recommend to really optimize muscle fiber stimulation and growth. Find a ledge that allows you to lower your heel as far as it'll stretch while holding a dumbbell on the same side as the working leg (use the other hand for support). With a straight posture, slightly bend your knee 20 degrees and hold at that angle. Hold the weight in front of you for 7 reps (no rest) and then hold the weight to your side for 7 reps (no rest) and then hold the weight directly behind you for a set of 7 reps. Rotating the weight around from the front to the back exposes the lower leg to different variables integral for growth-stimulating development.

Another positive calf stimulating regiment is plyometrics. A series of athletic drills (bounding, jumping, mechanics, etc.) can really force serious recruitment of those fast-twitch fibers of the lower leg. An awesome example of a type II fiber stimulating exercise is HIIT (high-intensity interval training). Short sprints and bursts of speed are great for building the lower legs as well as for burning fat.

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