Workout of the Week: Turning Calves to Bulls

April 28, 2014

By Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS

If you listen to the internet banter—training calves is a waste of time. One’s parents are the sole factor to great calf development, and there’s nothing you can do to change genetics.

What a load of bull.

At first glance it appeared Arnold “Austrian Oak” Schwarzenegger was a prisoner of genetics and would never have great calves, but he busted out of his genetic prison sentence and built some of the greatest calves of all time.

While some people feel that driving five minutes to the gym is a huge sacrifice, Schwarzenegger made huge sacrifices in pursuit of calf development, moving to South Africa for a summer to train with his idol Reg Park. Park’s advice was to training heavy and train hard. He trained his calves daily, performing calf raises in excess of 1,000 pounds. Arnold followed his advice and developed the most impressive calves around.

Later in his career, Schwarzenegger was accused of calf implants—because of his extreme calf development. Schwarzenegger adamantly denies this, and there’s not a shred of evidence to support this accusation.

The Workout

The only place success comes before work is the dictionary. Development of all muscles does involve a genetic component, anecdotally even more so with calves.  The good news as learned from Arnold and Reg Park we can train calves heavy and frequently to make those stubborn muscles grow.

When performing the prescribed calf movements keep these four rules in mind:

1. Full range of motion equals full development. DO NOT sacrifice range of motion.

2. Control the negative portion of the rep; explode the positive. When a specific tempo is prescribed, follow it. Sacrifice weight before tempo.

3. Don't bounce calf exercises. Think muscle, not momentum.

4. Go as heavy as possible, adhering to the first three rules.


Donkey Calf Raises: Step onto a donkey calf raise machine and place the balls of your feet on the foot platform with your lower back secured under the pad provided. Rest your forearms on the arm pad and grasp the handles. Forcefully press up onto your toes by contracting your calves, squeeze the contraction, pausing for 2 seconds at the top, then lower your heels toward the floor as low as possible, pausing for 2 seconds at the bottom.

Tip: Go as heavy as possible without sacrificing range of motion. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

Seated Calf Raises: Sit on the seat of the machine and adjust the pads so they fit snugly on your lower thighs. Place the balls of your feet and toes on the platform so your heels are suspended. Release the safety catch and begin with your heels below the level of the platform so you feel a stretch in your calves. Extend your ankles to push the pads up as high as you can; you should be almost on your tiptoes at the top. Squeeze your calves, then lower back down.

Tip: Use a weight you can do 50 reps with the first set; rest 120 seconds between sets with a goal of using the same weight all five sets without sacrificing technique.

Standing Calf raises (2 up 1 down): Position yourself in a standing calf raise machine so that only your toes and the balls of your feet are on the foot plate and your shoulders fit snugly against the upper pads. Perform a standing full-range-of-motion calf raise. From the top plantar flexed position, lower yourself to the bottom position, using only one leg with a steady five-second eccentric.

Tip: To fully develop a muscle you have to train heavy eccentrics. If you think calves are exception—I have some ocean front property in Arizona for you, the check is in the mail, and your neighbor was just helping the sheep over the fence…you get the idea. Use as much weight as possible—a good starting point is a weight you could comfortably perform 15–20 reps with two legs in a traditional fashion. Rest 2:30 between sets.

Banded Tibia Raises: Leaving no stone unturned, we will be performing band tibia raise, which works the Tibialis Anterior. Loop a resistance band around a bench. Stand at the edge and place one foot on the bench. Loop the band around the middle of your foot, making sure there is tension in the band when stretched between your foot and the bench. Flex your foot by pulling your toes towards you. Pause, then return to the starting position. Repeat, then switch legs.

Tip: Focus on keeping the movement strict at the ankle. Rest one to two minutes between sets.

Calf Presses on Leg Press: Position yourself in a leg press machine as you normally would. Push the platform up to the legs extended position, then slide your feet to the bottom of it so your heels hang off. (As a precaution, don’t release the machine’s safety rods; you won’t lower the platform far enough to need to do so.) Start with your ankles flexed so you can feel a stretch in your calves, then press the weight up as high as you can by extending the ankles. Hold at the top, then lower the weight back down.

Tip: Go as heavy as possible without sacrificing technique. Rest one to two minutes between sets.

Final Thoughts

First and foremost if your calves suck, they’ve got to become a priority. A couple half-assed sets at the end of a workout when dead tired won’t cut the mustard. Do these exercises fresh, with maximum intensity following the prescribed guidelines.

Quit crying alligator tears, grab the bull by the balls, and let’s some results.

Time to hit the pig iron!

Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS, trains some of the strongest and most muscular athletes in the world in person at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and via the Internet. He is the co-author of Amazon # 1 selling book, Jailhouse Strong. To learn more about Josh Bryant or to sign up for his free training tips newsletter, visit