When thinking of ways to build up and give some shape to our calves, we must think of how they are typically “built” from a genetic standpoint on most of us. You see, the majority of us have a lot of slow twitch muscle fibers down there as they must endure a lot of walking around all day and those slow twitch muscles do not respond to growth very well (size).
Most people take a traditional approach to training calves and utilize a standard 90 second rest in between sets and when doing this you continue to allow those aerobic energy pathways and slow twitch muscles to keep taking over to lift those heels off the ground. The trick here is to figure out or think of, how we can tap into those fast twitch muscles in there. A good way to go about this is using a Tabata approach which is basically 20 seconds of “work” followed by 10 seconds of rest and repeat 6-8 times. The very, almost non-existent rest periods don’t allow slow twitch or aerobic pathways to take over but instead quickly becomes an anaerobic and fast twitch muscle fiber workout.
These fast twitch muscles are what respond to strength training well and grow bigger in size. Just think of a Mr. Olympia bodybuilder guy (lots of fast twitch muscles) and then think of a long distance runner or cyclist like Lance Armstrong (lots of slow twitch muscles). Most of us were not intended to have huge diamond shaped calves that are super shapely, but we can maximize what we have to work with if we go about it in a smart way.
If you have not tried this approach to training calves before I guarantee you will be sore as hell the following day after. This is a great way to bring out some size and shape in those calf muscles over time.
Be sure to have a full range of motion when performing the movement and have a weight that is really challenging but not to the point where you are moving like a turtle for the 20 seconds of work. If necessary on the last couple rounds, you can shave a little weight to make sure you stay moving as this is important along with a full ROM.
So go ahead and give it a shot and when you are hurting a little tomorrow, you can thank me or curse me :)
-Roger Bowman, CPT