Building Bigger Calves

The Texas Oak

By Logan Franklin

I’ve never had the greatest calves, but they are growing. They do take time to respond, but it’s all about understanding how to train them properly.

Q: Do calves even count in Men’s Physique? I ask because I have seen several cases where the entire top six at a pro show had arms that had to be 18 to 19 inches with calves that were in the 14- to 16-inch range. And if calves don’t count, why not just wear long pants?

A: We all know that in Men’s Physique, the thighs are fully covered up and thus not posed or judged. Some of them don’t train their legs to build mass, others do, and some of that group has the intention of moving to Classic. I agree that the calves on many of the men in MPD need to improve. Mine still need to improve. I honestly have no idea if they “count” or not, but that should be irrelevant to the competitor. The calves should be in proportion to the upper body just to have a more pleasing, balanced and aesthetic shape. Why would you want to have an imbalanced physique with such an obvious weak point?

Many people consider calves to be the one muscle group where your potential for development is most dictated by genetics. Those with lower insertions sometimes don’t even have to train calves directly and still have very good development, while a guy with very high insertions is never going to be able to build 20-inch diamond-shaped calves. I don’t subscribe to that, and I think it becomes a convenient excuse for people to give up on their calves. I’ve never had the greatest calves, but they are growing. They do take time to respond, but it’s all about understanding how to train them properly. A full range of motion is a must. You need to go all the way up and squeeze the calf, then lower it slowly into a full stretch on every rep. Those short, bouncy reps you see a lot of guys doing are worthless. The calves are a tough muscle that you walk on every day, so hitting them just once a week won’t cut it. Try working them at least twice a week if not every other day. Do try to increase the weights you use over time. Do both exercises with the knees locked like standing calf raises or toe presses on the leg press to work the gastrocnemius, and seated calf raises with knees bent to train the soleus muscle underneath. Even if you have calves that insert higher, you can absolutely still build them up.

Taking ‘Rest Days’ 

Q: Do you have complete “rest days” where you don’t do anything, not even cardio? And does this change from off-season to contest?

A: When I’m in prep, there are no days where I do diddly squat. On the days off from weights, I do fasted cardio first thing in the morning and then pose. I also try to get another hard posing session in later on that day. I like to have four meals in me for that session, because it is different posing and hitting a vacuum when you have all that food and water in you as opposed to on an empty stomach. I want to be prepared for anything. I should note that I do all this on the other days too, but I am also weight training. The off-season is different. I allow myself to escape the dungeon. Nearly two decades of my life has been devoted to working out and chasing this journey. I’ve also been competing for almost a decade, and it’s crazy to think I’ve been out of the military almost that long. When you’re in it for longevity, you do need to take those days when you completely reset and spend time with your family. I know a lot of competitors out there are still single with no kids and no real responsibility. They’re just focused on chasing their dream, which is great. But for those of you with spouses and/or kids, you do need to set bodybuilding aside sometimes and spend time with them for your own mental and emotional health. If you don’t do that, your home life can become strained and hectic, so take those days and just forget about the gym once in a while.

Training Alone vs. With a Partner

Q: You train alone, so I was wondering about using heavy dumbbells for chest and shoulder presses. Do you do those? I ask because I train alone as well and feel I lose at least a couple of reps just cleaning the dumbbells off the rack or the floor and getting them into position, whereas a training partner could hand them to you.

A: Even when I did train with a partner, I never had them hand me dumbbells. On that note, it is nice to have a training partner on leg, back and chest days. For shoulders and arms, not so much. For the larger body parts it is better to have someone who can pull the very best out of you, to help you get that extra squeeze and take you past your limits. Training alone can hinder you in the sense of how much weight you’re able to progress with. Not that you necessarily need to use more weight every time, but the intensity and squeeze do need to constantly improve. It’s more challenging to train alone like I do, but it’s also more rewarding when you know you did everything you could. It’s all about learning yourself and learning your body. That’s the true journey of all this. To cap off the original question, I know it can be tough getting heavy dumbbells in place to start your set of presses. I suggest taking a few seconds once you’ve cleaned them to your thighs before doing the final motion to get them up into place to start the set. That should help you “get back” the couple of reps you may have lost from the effort of getting them off the rack and on your thighs in the first place.

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