Muscle Sport Magazine

The Curse of the Infant Cow – Training Calves For Proper Growth

By Darcy Lunn – They’re in every gym, cleverly concealed behind baggy pants and allowed small glimpses of sunshine throughout their sheltered life.  They are the undersized calf.

Calves are always a bone of contention largely with those who can’t seem to grow them.  But unlike virtually every other body part, we usually file calves away in the genetically gifted pile and resolve to the fact that we may be doomed to a calfless life. I used to have virtually no calves and now they are one of my best parts and all it takes is a little science, a touch of bodybuilding history and some common sense.

Let’s start with rep ranges.  For whatever reason, it is widely accepted that calves respond best to high reps.  This is a similar “fate” that has fallen upon most body parts that have a tendency to “pump” readily.  But calves, as we know, have high rep workouts all day long.  People these days use goofy watches to even measure how many “reps”, that is steps, that their calves endure in a day often well into five digits.


The calves have been conditioned to endure this kind of high repetition, low intensity workload so to shock the calves into growth is going to require something outside of what has come to be their “norm”.  When Arnold first came to America he had a lot of his photoshoots done in water to hide his undersized calves.  It wasn’t until he saw Reg Park training that he changed his methodologies and saw growth in the baby cows.  Reg was piling hundreds and hundreds onto his calf raises often in excess of five hundred pounds.  Simply increasing the intensity and relative workload resulted in results for Arnold who was used to lighter, “pump” workouts for the lower legs.

The first question I often ask people who inquire about calf growth is “when are your calf days”?  Usually that elicits a giggle and maybe a “you mean leg days”?   Calves are so often an afterthought when people design their programs.  Maybe throw a few sets in at the end of leg day.  Maybe not other days.  How do you expect to bring up a weak body part when you treat it like it barely exists?

Riddle me this…If I gave you one month to put an inch on your calves or you would DIE, would you train them four or six sets once a week?  No.  You would train them like an animal as often as you could.  So don’t complain if you aren’t willing to give the time.

We were all taught the staggered sets principal by Joe Weider back in the day and calves are a great part to make use of this technique.  Do a set in between sets of another body part if you can’t dedicate the volume necessary to make them grow. They aren’t a huge strain on the central nervous system so this type of training will not have you leaking cortisol.

Lastly, the gastrocnemius takes over most calf movements with a straight leg and the soleus gets the brunt of calf exercises with a bent leg so it is important to train them in both fashions.  The soleus to the gastrocs can be compared to the brachialis to the bicep.  It may not be the brunt of the size of the muscle group but that underlying mass helps the overall size of the muscle.

Try training your calves a minimum of twice a week choosing three exercises. Standing and seated calf raises are a great start but I also would urge you to incorporate the donkey calf raise.  Putting the load directly over the hips with a near straight leg really gets at the belly of the muscle.  Do each for a minimum of four work sets and try to work from reps in the fifteen range all the way down to sixes adding weight each set.

Cheers to your baby cows and may they grow into full grown heifers.


Darcy Lunn is a thirty-plus year strength sport aficionado and Canadian professional wrestler who wrestles under the moniker Danny Steele. He is a certified personal trainer and a former professional indoor football player.


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