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Calf training: 3 programmes to follow

Calf training: 3 programmes to follow


Calf training may seem like one of the most useless activities at the gym. For many exercisers, it's too much pain and no results. One reason is that, unlike other major muscle groups, the calves contain many slow-twitch muscle fibres, which are notoriously insensitive to a muscle-growth stimulus. As a result, the calves don't seem to get bigger, even if you work them systematically.

But some people do have success working this part of the body, so there are solutions that work! We're going to reveal the exercises that have worked best for them, as well as tips on how to build calf muscle.

Stretching to build calves ...

At the end of a tough session, standing still can be difficult. Not surprisingly, many exercisers just do a few sets on a calf machine and that's it.

The general movement you use to build up your calves involves going as high as you can on your toes, then coming down with your heels as low as you can. When your knees are bent, as in the seated calf machine exercise, one of the main calf muscles, the gastrocnemius, cannot stretch. This severely limits how much it can contract and develop.

If you want to build that gastrocnemius - or gastroc - diamond-shaped muscle, you have to stretch it gently. And that means focusing on straight-leg movements, including standing lifts, "donkeys" and thigh press calf extensions.

Yes, you can train a lot seated, as this will work the other major calf muscle: the soleus. But remember, to grow, your calves need both.

3 examples of calf programs

High-volume, high-intensity program

Here's our first calf training program, combining high-volume, high-intensity training with lots of repetitions and no breaks.

If you've been working your calves with heavy loads, but nothing's happening, then do this program focused on pushing blood into the muscles with a lighter weight to get your calves pumped up and growing.

Triset n°1 : 4 sets

  • Machine calf extension (standing): 20 to 30 repetitions
  • Seated calf raises: 20 to 30 repetitions
  • Body-weight calf extension (dumbbells optional): 15 seconds

Triset n°2: 4 sets

  • Donkey calf extension: 30 to 50 repetitions
  • Bodyweight calf extension (dumbbells optional): 20 seconds

Doing these exercises with lots of repetitions will create a stronger contraction at a lower weight. Standing on the floor, the amplitude of the movement is logically reduced. The key is not to bounce off the floor, but to control the descent and ascent by slowing down the speed of execution.

It's important to use a controlled tempo so that momentum doesn't interfere. Go slowly and don't stop - that's the triset principle.

Short program with short breaks between sets

If you're a woman and you've been wearing heels since you were young, you've got the advantage of having worked your calves for a long time, even if wearing heels doesn't provide the same muscular work as body-building exercises.

This second program combines lighter and heavier loads to ensure you work your calves with different foot positions:

  1. Toes turned inwards
  2. Toes turned outwards
  3. Feet straight and parallel

Working your calves on a thigh press makes it easy to change the position of your feet on each set, which is why it's worth using this machine.

  • 3 sets of 20 repetitions in each position

Pain is inevitable when you work your calves. Don't go too fast, and even take a short break when your calves start to contract.

Program 10 x 10 + toe walking

You're training your calves, but they're not growing or shaping up? Add this 3rd calf training program to your leg workout. Many multi-joint leg exercises involve the calves, such as lunges and the Romanian deadlift. So you can do your calves at the end of your leg workout, although we recommend you do them at the beginning.

Do this workout 2 or 3 times a week maximum. If you go heavy, aim for 15 to 20 repetitions. The heavier you set, the more pressure there is on the tibialis anterior muscle (tibia) and less on the gastroc. This also provides maximum isometric contractions, more effective than basic repetitions.

This training could therefore meet your expectations in terms of physical sensations and results.

Superset: 10 sets

  • Smith machine calf extension: 10 repetitions
  • Walking on my toes, on a treadmill: 1 to 2 minutes (as an active rest between sets)

If the treadmill is too far away, you can walk back and forth in a classroom, for example.

The 10 x 10 protocol gives your calves a great "pump" effect, but you'll be sore the next few days. Walking on your toes optimizes congestion!

Posted in: Strength programmes