TUA Editor Tracey Longo Asks the Age-Old Question: “Do I Really Have to Look At Guys With Chicken Calves Any More?” To which trainer, nutrition coach and bodybuilder Adam Bisek, of BeSickFit.com, replies: “Hell No!”

TRACEY/TUA: So Adam, what would you say if a guy walked into your gym with the calves of these guys in the photo down below…especially the guy on the right, and told you: “I'm not really worried about my calves. That's just genetics. That's why they call it the lazy muscle."  How would you respond?


ADAM/BESICKFIT.COM: The assertion that any muscle develops purely through genetic potential is garbage, and anyone who calls them a “lazy muscle” is a “lazy lifter.” While yes, the calves tend to be a relatively underdeveloped muscle on many lifters, I wholeheartedly believe there resides a very logical explanation. The fact of the matter is most people (1) don’t know how to train them properly, and (2) don’t prioritize them. If you’re hopping on the standing calf raise machine at the end of any workout, or hell, if you’re feeling really feisty and do some “extra credit” work on the seated calve raise apparatus just to justify that yours don’t grow, you’re DOING IT WRONG!  Yeah, Phil Heath has huge biceps and he says he doesn’t train arms that much… that he has genetically gifted arms. But you can’t say “Well mine are weaker so I am just going to chalk it up to bad genetics and not focus on them.”

TRACEY/TUA: Do you believe there is ANY muscle that can't be grown?

ADAM/BESICKFIT.COM: I firmly stand by the concept that any muscle can grow if you understand its function and train it accordingly, prioritize it, and finally support its growth with proper nutrition and rest.

TRACEY/TUA: So, what would you have a client do to increase calf muscles? What are the top three exercises, sets and reps, you'd have them do?

ADAM/BESICKFIT.COM: For the sake of this conversation I will narrow down the calf into three muscles: the (1) gastrocnemius, (2) soleus, and (3) the Anterior Tibilais, as it is also contributes to lower leg development.

Knowing more about the background behind all of these muscles will help in aiding program design. Of note is that with any isolation calf exercise it is important to go into full dorsiflexion and plantarflexion. Also, at first keep weight lower in order to master that technique and range of motion, then increase weight and contraction speed.

While my propensity is to give some general exercises, I am going to dig deeper into my proverbial trainer toolbox to give you some stuff you may not have tried!!

Being predominantly composed of Type II Fast Twitch muscle fibers the Gastrocnemius is meant to contract under high force, explosive movements, and overall be more anaerobic in nature. Think sprinting, jumping, sled dragging, and heavy work in general. You’ll want to load it heavier and work it at higher speeds.

EXERCISE: Standing Calf Raises: 10 sets x 8 repetitions, with 1 second isometrics
Slowly lower down into full dorsiflexion hold that stretch hard for 1 second then fire up, plantarflexing hard to get all the way to the top end contraction and hold that squeeze for another second. You may have to lower the weight as you get through all ten sets, but be sure to get to both end ranges for every single repetition. Rest 60-75seconds between sets.

TRAIN THE SOLEUS: Seeing as the soleus is more aerobic in nature we need to accumulate more volume and longer time under tension. It’s fiber type is TYPE I Slow Twitch, which means is acts more as a postural and stabilization muscle, has lower force contraction potential, but is more resistant to fatigue as it has greater aerobic potential compared to the Gastrocnemius.

EXERCISE: Seated Calf Raises: 5 sets x 20 Full Range 20 Partials
Use a weight that you can get full range of motion with this. Start by doing full range of motion raises holding the bottom stretch position for 1 second each rep, driving back up, and focusing on slower stretching back downward. If the weight is correct you should just about not be able to do any more full range of motion repetitions. Now, turn to doing 20 more partial range of motion repetitions by going to the fully stretched position and then only 1/3-1/2 of the way back up. This should burn! Rest 60 seconds between sets.

TRAIN THE TIBIALIS ANTERIOR: Now this one is hard to train and burns a ton!  It, like the soleus, is predominantly Type I slow twitch muscles.

EXERCISE: Leg Press TA Raises: 3 sets to failure
You may have to guess with weight this first time, but I would say DO NOT put over 2 total plates on your leg press. Place your heels towards the very top of the platform so that your toes can reach over it as you point them down (plantarflex). Make sure to lock your legs, I hold my knees on this one. Now starting from this stretched position pull your toes towards you going into as much dorsiflexion as you can. Go until you cannot take the pain anymore, then keep going for a couple more reps. These most certainly will turn into partial reps at the stretched position if you are doing it right. Rest only 45 seconds on this one and watch your repetitions drop in half AT LEAST on the second set 🙂

The above routine was pulled from one of my latest client programs for gaining lean mass. Add in these 3 exercises together at the beginning of 2 training sessions per week or on their own with abdominal training and you should see significant muscle gains in your calves.

TRACEY/TUA:  Any diet or nutrition ideas you’d suggest that would help someone grow calves or any muscle?  

ADAM/BESICKFIT.COM: I would give the same nutritional advice I give for any weight training session as I believe that the peri-workout window (pre,during,post) should always be treated with muscle building dietary tactics. Ensure an adequate amount of Branched –Chain Amino Acids throughout this window and within an hour and a half of your workout get in a complete source of protein and starchy carbohydrate. The amount of protein and carbohydrates, as well as the supplements used during the peri-workout window varies with each client I work with and is dictated by their current goal.

Check out Adam’s bio and latest videos and blogs on www.besickfit.com. As a senior writer for The Quest Nutrition team, Adam’s blogs appear in Muscle&Fitness.com. / TUA