A lot of bodybuilders have poor calf development, and many of them blame their genetics for this shortcoming. It’s true some bodybuilders are genetically predisposed to having calves which tie in very high (close to the knee), making adding any sort of size to the very hard. Even at the professional bodybuilding level, Mr. Olympia winners like Ronnie Coleman and Dexter Jackson have suffered from small calves as a result of their tie-ins.
Much of the time, however, weak calves on bodybuilders (particularly those of European descent) have nothing to do with genetics. Rather, they are a result of the bodybuilder failing to put in the thousand hours of brutally intense calf training that is required in order to make true size gains. Calves are perhaps the most stubborn muscle group in the body, and may be the most painful to train as well. It takes a certain commitment to FULL BODY development to train them consistently with the required intensity.
Before tackling calf training, there are a few things to remember. First off, you need to have the right gear. Work boots are fine for squats and deadlifts, but aren’t useful at all when it comes to completing calf movements. Instead, change into a pair of Nikes or preferably, wrestling shoes.
This will provide you adequate support while at the same time allowing for the maximum possible stretch.
Next – particularly if calves are a weak area for you you need to train calves first, when you are fresh. If you normally train them last on leg day, following hamstrings and front thighs, you are certainly shortchanging your progress. Instead, hit them when you are fresh, on a different day.
Body part combinations such as Calves + shoulders or Calves & biceps can provide unique ways to allow for full stimulation, as well as full recovery. Or, if you are absolutely limited to training calves on the same day as your upper legs, split your routine in half. Train your quadriceps and hamstrings in the morning.
Then come home, eat a big meal and take a nap. Return to the gym in the evening for a second workout in which you only train calves. The long-term effects of DOMS such as stiffness and soreness will not set it until the following morning so take advantage of this dual-possibility training window!
Once you are training calves, treat them as you would treat chest or back. These are major muscle groups, and you train them with lots of sets, directed at the different parts of the groups. Calves should be no different.
Don’t treat them as you would abs or forearms, muscle groups that just receive random stimulation from whatever exercise station is open and convenient. Instead, establish a workout routine for calves. Start with the same 2 to 3 standard heavy movements, for a specified number of sets (3 to 4 of each exercise). Then you can get creative with machines, dumbbells, and angle variations.
Unless you are genetically cursed which most people are not you can develop a good set of calves if you train them with the same dedication and intensity as you use for other body parts.