by Brian D. Johnston
Over the years, Mike Mentzer provided a valuable tips on training calves, suggesting that you treat them like any other muscle with a high intensity approach. His basis for such a claim, as he explained clearly, is that if high volume (overtraining) was the problem, how could it be the solution? In other words, why would you frequently train a chronically overtrained muscle, as a result of daily repetitive contractions, with more low-intensity work? I'll further put this in a logical context, as endorsed by some past bodybuilding champions:
If a muscle (i.e., calves) undergoes repetitive contractions throughout the day, then the prescribed method of building muscle mass is to attempt even more work since the muscle is stubborn, and growth must be coaxed into occurring.
Regularly worked muscles must be worked frequently in order to induce growth. (premise)
The calves are regularly worked muscles. (premise)
Therefore, the calves must be worked frequently in order to induce growth. (conclusion)
Now, consider the following: the thigh muscles also undergo repetitive work, whenever you walk or go about daily activities requiring mobilization. If one were so passionate about training calves on a highly frequent basis (i.e., nearly every day), shouldn't one also approach thigh training in a like manner? The only reason this is not done is because thigh work is so much more exhausting, and the ill-effects of overtraining would be felt to a greater magnitude. Likewise, the muscles of the shoulder joint also undergo repetitive and continuous work throughout the day--why not train that muscle group frequently? Moreover, even when you're not walking or using your arms, the muscles of the abdominal wall and lower back are regularly working to maintain an upright position. Attempt training the low back muscles, or any muscle for that matter, nearly every day and your only reward will be chronic overuse atrophy.
A sample program, that I suggest to some of the more serious bodybuilders, is one set of single dumbbell calf raises consisting of 6-8 fairly slow repetitions to failure, followed by 6-8 forced and 6-8 negatives (with the assistance of the opposite leg), for a total of 18-24 repetitions. Complete this only once every 2-3 weeks at most, with no other calf training between these sessions, for only 3-4 workouts, then take at least 3-4 weeks off before returning to conventional training. I increased my calf size by 1 inch from only 4 such workouts.
Another routine that put 1/2 inch on my calves in only 2 workouts was performing a set of seated calf raises, followed a few minutes later by a set of standing calf raises, both for 100 repetitions each. Although the pain is quite excruciating, it may be just the thing to shock your calves into growth. Regardless of the number of repetitions, i.e., 100, you must stay true to the Heavy Duty philosophy of performing minimal sets (the minimum required), train to failure and maintain the necessary recovery time to avoid overtraining.
As with any technique that can alter growth to a large extent, it usually doesn't work as well the second or third time around due to adaptation. My calf growth quickly slowed down after making gains on these two routines, although I reinstated them repeatedly. Therefore, if you try these routines make sure that you're not overtraining and are highly motivated to complete the task at hand.
Another excellent tip for getting the most out of your calf training is to concentrate on lifting your heels up, rather than raising up on your toes. This will actually make the exercise more strict, and the contraction more intense.
Finally, and most importantly, what you may actually need is zero sets for your calves... at least zero directly intended sets, viz., calf raises. Mike Mentzer has suggested that for some, even one set of direct stimulation may prove too stressful as evidenced by two of his clients whose calves grew only when they quit direct calf work. He suspected the indirect effect from their squats and deadlifts was all they required for calf growth; that anything over and above that stimulation was too much. As a result, their calves grew one-quarter of an inch! I noticed the same effect when I stopped training my hamstrings with direct sets of leg curls.
For a complete presentation of Mike Mentzer's workout system watch the Mike Mentzer Training Video.
If you have any questions about Mike Mentzer and his Heavy Duty, High Intensity Training workouts, nutrition, etc. Email firstname.lastname@example.org