You may notice that the workout has a built-in progression. That, too, is by design. At the beginning you use heavier weights and lower reps; as you move along, you include more higher-rep work, and eventually, during the final two weeks, you do supersets. Supersets for the same muscle group, particularly one as compact and concentrated as calves, are killers, but for the short period required by this schedule, they’re often radically effective.
Powerlifting USA magazine frequently presents a workout feature called “Hurt Me...” highlighting specific bodyparts. Well, if you’re doing calf work, you re in the land of hurt me most of the time. The four to six sets called for in these workouts may even put you into the kill-me category because that’s the way you feel when you’re done. The point isn’t pain for its own sake but the effective arrangement of a variety of sets and reps to give you a surge in calf growth. You’ll need to warm up well, stretch before and after and include plenty of water and electrolytes in your diet to prevent or minimize cramping.
You may notice that the majority of the exercises work the gastrocnemius. Since the soleus makes up a smaller percentage of the calf’s mass, it gets less work. Practical considerations also dictate that with limited sets you’ve got to max the development of the gastrocs. In addition, all the exercises are stretch- or contracted-position movements because there’s really no good midrange movement that anybody can reasonably do for calves for any length of time (though I think toe-pointed leg curls would almost qualify). Perhaps one day someone may invent one and a machine on which to do it.
Another way to put it is that there are no effective compound movements for calves. Everything you use in this workout is technically considered isolation (although using 500 pounds on a calf machine for standing raises might have the feel of a bone-crushing compound move). Nevertheless, you’ll still be able to work the belly of the muscle hard for mass and the origin and insertion points with the stretching and contracting movements.
If the availability of equipment presents a problem, do what you can. You can still put a barbell across your back and do standing raises without a machine. It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, but it can be done. Get a calf block or make one if you’re a home trainer. You can get a belt on which to attach weights so you can do donkey raises if you train alone. Failing that, do free-standing raises but angle your body toward the wall. It’s a compromise and not truly equivalent to a donkey raise but it does give you some of the benefits. You can perform seated raises with a barbell or a heavy plate across your knees (on top of a thick towel or blanket) if you don’t have access to a seated machine. You might also want to substitute one-leg calf raises for standing raises, but try to do the standing raises for the first several weeks, as you can handle more weight on that movement. In any event, the lack of some machines should not prevent you from working hard on the routine and getting results.
Begin with strict reps. The usual cadence for other muscle group is two seconds up and two seconds down, but with the shorter stroke of calf exercises, it’s more like one second or less up and the same coming down. Later you can modify it with some explosive or slo-mo reps, but do it carefully, as they’re intensity techniques and you don’t want to pile on too many of those at once. You may go to failure or near it on some sets, but, again, you must gauge it. Your toe position on all exercises should be the standard straight ahead, with the weight on the big toe as you come up, to start. Eventually, you’ll shift to toes-in and toe-out positions for inner- and outer-calf development. Work with relatively short rest periods between sets, even on the heavy sets. In calf work a good pump usually does seem to contribute something to growth.
If you’re a beginning or early-intermediate lifter, keep your techniques simple; hardgainers can reduce the sets, and they should use the intensity techniques (even supersets) sparingly. If you’re advanced and accomplished, you might do a few more sets, but, again, with the heavy weights, limited reps and everything else involved, you’ll be surprised how tough the workout can be.
For very easy gainers, adding a seventh week, in which you do 150 free-standing calf raises at each workout will give you a good high-rep finale to the routine. Most other trainees should take that week off or at least rest your calves while you continue to work the rest of your body. You can use the routine as a specialization program or incorporate it, with modification, into your current workout.
As noted, you’ll make adjustments along the way. For example, let’s say that after the first couple of workouts you feel that the heavy standing raises are not promoting growth. In that case you can carefully move the reps into the higher range on your next mass movement, leg press calf raises. On the other hand, if you get a great response from the heavy weights, you may want to keep the reps lower on the standing raises throughout the workout. You have to judge your results carefully
Note also that heavy calf raises for eight to 12 reps don’t necessarily provide the pump that you normally get from a 15- or 25-rep set, so don’t look to that as a measure of your results from the exercise, although that may seem contradictory when you consider the pump’s potential importance.
Don’t give up too soon on heavy weights for the standing raises. Sometimes you just have to blast your calves with heavy weight and not worry about the other factors. (Didn’t Arnold work up to reps with 1,000 pounds on the calf machine?) You may get less pump yet surprisingly more growth from the heavy work. On the other hand, you may find that high reps do it for you on almost all the exercises, and you may even find that performing peak contractions, or holds, at the top of every standing raise starts a firestorm in your calves and gives you corresponding growth. So monitor your progress closely. In general, you’ll get a good idea of the fiber makeup in your calves, whether, for example, it’s predominantly high-growth low-rep fast twitch or higher-rep fast twitch, which will help you figure out how to work them. By tailoring your workout and matching your reps to the appropriate responses in your muscles, you can eventually accelerate your calf growth.
You also want to pay attention to proportion and shape, and although I mention those factors at the end of the discussion, they’re not afterthoughts. Shoot for strong inner development, with good mass along the backs and a touch of outer development. Diamonds, as in diamond-shaped calves, are rare, but they’re something to aim for. If your calves are massive but bloblike, don’t delude yourself into thinking they’re exceptional. They aren’t. Work for size, shape, balance and, if appropriate, definition.
No matter how poor your calves are to start with, you can improve them. Arnold’s calves were below par, but he pounded them with heavy weights, then reps, then every technique he could think of. He worked amazingly hard and made amazing improvements. So apply yourself and persevere on this routine, it can turn small, crummy calves into great giant ones.