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Calves are very hard to develop for some, while others have magnificent diamond shaped gastrocnemius muscles without ever training them. A perfect example of a guy who had huge diamond-shaped calves before he every trained with weights is Mike Matarazzo, former NPC USA champ and IFBB pro bodybuilder. Mike walked into the gym for the first time with monstrous calves. I, on the other hand, had to build my calves from the ground up.
I must point out, however, that how your calves are shaped and how big they can become are mostly genetically determined. In my case, I was gifted with low attachment points (long muscle bellies) and good separation in both the lateral and medial halves of the gastrocnemius. Those are fairly important pieces of the calf-building puzzle. I knew I could get my calves to look big and full, but for years they lagged behind my arms and thighs. In fact, they never grew really well until two precise, albeit coincidental, actions and transitions occurred.
For years I trained my calves very heavy two to four times a week. At that time, 1975 to 1978, the was that calves were like forearms; Since you used them so much every day, in order to make them grow, you had to work them heavy and often. That was something I learned from Arnold when I first met him in 1974.
Oddly, after those five years of training calves heavy almost every day, I stopped altogether while on a three week vacation. I was in the military and working long hours. Then I went on temporary duty to Germany and had to stop training completely.
Each day I woke up and was amazed to see nothing atrophying—and towards the end of the trip my calves started looking larger. Why? It turns out that the years of training them heavy, hard and often was overtraining. Once I figured that out, I trained them only when I worked from legs—and my calves finally caught up to my 20 inch arms.
Ordinarily, I’m a big believer in training each bodypart only once in an eight-day cycle; however, since nothings worked for you, give this a try: Work your calves with a comfortable, upright calf raise machine, the type where your shoulders are under the pads, which gives you the most leverage for using massive amounts of weight. Make sure it’s a machine that can go up to 500 to 750 pounds. I still believe you need to train calves very heavy, and that type of machine gives you the best chance of getting really heavy weight to force your calves downward.
When I was training my calves heavy and frequently, I used more than 1,000 pounds and did 12 perfect reps for four sets—and I did it three to four times a week. Granted, I was young and very strong, but my point is Arnold’s point. As he once told me, “You have to use heavy weights when training calves, for each time that you walk, one leg—therefore, one calf—is taking your entire body weight.” In other words, if you weigh 200 pounds and you’re using one calf at a time to walk, it will take at least double your bodyweight to make your calves respond. Then, once you get them to start responding, you can go for more reps and even more weight.
Start out with as much weight as you can for 10 to 12 perfect reps, four sets, with no more than a one-minute rest between sets. Train calves three times a week—say, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Train them on Sunday too, if you think you need it, and then start again on Tuesday. Thursday and Saturday and then back to Monday and so on (that way you get four calf sessions in a cycle). Try to train them as soon as you walk in the gym. Bang those four heavy sets out and then go on to whatever bodyparts you’re going to do that particular day.
Try to work your way up and past three times your body weight. Do that for six months—or a year if that’s how long it takes you. Ten let your calves rest for three weeks. When you begin to train them again, work them only after you train your upper legs and thighs. That means you hit them no more than twice in an eight or nine-day cycle. Remember, go to less-frequent training only when you reach three times your bodyweight on the calf machine and after a three week layoff period.
High reps (at least 12) and prioritizing your calves should make a big impact on your lower-leg development. Be sure that you get all the way up on your tip-toes, and let that load push your calves down—but drive right back up—and watch your calves grow into bulls.