Bigger Stronger Calves With Unconventional Training

By Dr Joel Seedman

Shock Your Calves!

Building muscular calves can be an incredibly frustrating experience as they are one of the most stubborn muscle groups in the body.  While traditional methods may suffice for those with superior genes, many individuals are going to need to implement more unconventional methods to really shock the calves and kick start new levels of growth.  Here are 5 of my favorite unconventional calve exercise’s for building freaky yet functional calves.

Eccentric Isometrics

The most common calve exercise mistake I see is mindlessly go through the motions of the exercises, using excessive momentum, and bouncing at the bottom. To counter this I recommend incorporating eccentric isometrics while also emphasizing the contracted position.  Here’s what I mean.

First, squeeze the calves maximally at the top by holding the fully contracted position for 2-3 seconds.  This will create the greatest amount of mechanical tension and metabolic stress in the muscle, both of which are critical for maximizing growth.  Second, control the eccentric movement (2-3 second lowering phase) and hold the fully stretched position for an additional several seconds.   Not only does this break down the surrounding fascia (the sheath of connective tissue that encapsulates the muscles and hinders growth) but this technique will also produce the greatest muscular damage – another key component for triggering muscle hypertrophy.   Stay tuned to my website for my upcoming book on eccentric isometric training.

Use a Combination and Rep Ranges

The calves muscles are composted of both slow twitch and fast twitch muscles.  As a result they respond best to variety of rep ranges and intensities.   Perform sets of heavier weight and lower repetitions (4-6 reps) at the beginning of your calve workouts when your muscles are strong and fresh.  This will optimize stimulation and overload of the fast twitch fibers.

After completing this calve exercise gradually increase the rep range by incorporating sets of 8-15 reps and ending with several finisher sets of 20-50 repetitions.  This will induce cellular swelling and maximize muscular growth particularly to the slow twitch fibers. Check out my Monster Calves Programto learn more about optimal programming and protocols for building massive and stronger calves.

Go Barefoot and Explosive

This is probably the most underrated tip when it comes to triggering growth in the calves and lower legs.  Training barefoot or using minimalist footwear especially when performing plyometrics, sprints, agility drills, jump rope, and calve exercise will do wonders not only for the larger muscles of the calves but also for developing the smaller muscles around the calves, shins, and entire lower leg.  Your essentially waking up different muscles that help to stabilize your body and absorb shock.  Just make sure you gradually progress into the barefoot or minimalist training approach.  Jumping cold-turkey into this can leave you feeling incapacitated for days.  To learn more about this topic check out my book The Ultimate Foot and Ankle Manuel

Add Single Leg Calve Exercise

If you’ve ever played any sport or routinely participate in athletic activities, chances are one calve muscle is significantly more developed than the other.  Not only does this visually detract from your physique but it also places you at greatest risk for injury. The best way to eliminate this asymmetry is to train each leg individually

Any standard calve exercise can be modified into single leg variation.  You can even perform single leg calve raises on a step. This can be done anywhere including your house.

Incorporate Free Weight Exercise For The Calves

Try using basic free weights to perform weighted calve raises.  This can be done on any surface with a barbell on your back or dumbbells held at your sides.  The key is stabilizing and balancing your body without the support from a machine.

Although your range of motion will be slightly smaller you’ll more than make up for this as the amount of stabilization required will increase activation and recruitment in and around muscles of the calves. This will increase the recruitment of smaller muscles around the calves and wake up muscle fibers that normally wouldn’t be recruited. This is a great holistic calve exercise.

Dr Joel Seedman



 Dr. Joel Seedman, PhD, CSCS, ACSM, USAW, and FMS, is the owner of Advanced Human Performance (AHP), a strength, fitness, training, nutrition and performance company.

He obtained his doctoral degree in kinesiology from the University of Georgia. During this time, he studied the neurophysiological mechanisms of resistance training and his doctoral dissertation focused on eccentric isometrics. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Exercise Science from Indiana University.

Now 31, Dr. Seedman has worked for over 13 years as a performance consultant, strength coach, personal trainer and nutritional counselor. His client set is diverse, including professional athletes, bodybuilders, figure competitors, as well as elderly individuals and those with special needs.  Dr. Seedman’s expertise is in improving muscle function, performance and movement mechanics via advanced neuromuscular re-education techniques. He continually strives to find groundbreaking methods for enhancing performance and continues to apply the discoveries he made during his doctoral dissertation on eccentric isometrics. He writes for various fitness magazines and websites and has been featured in many noteworthy publications.

Born in California, he resides and works in Atlanta, Georgia.

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