I firmly believe that everything comes in threes. Maybe that’s why I love doing drop sets that involve three different amounts of weight used in one set. And why I love putting three different exercises together to create one, huge tri-set to shock a muscle group. It was an old trainer of mine, Jeremy Minihan in Oklahoma, who introduced me to a new way of training my calves, which stubbornly refused to grow. And I’m going to share this strategy with you.
I used to rely heavily on seated calf raises. I hated them but did them religiously. As a result, the soleus of my calves outweighed the rest of my calf, so that the outer edge of my calf was curvier and more pronounced than the gastrocnemius. I had always dreamed of having calves like soccer players and ballet dancers. In fact, one of my really good friends has huge calves that she detests but I love. It’s like when your best friend has perfectly straight hair and you have curly hair, and all the two of you want to do is to switch with the other.
Well, short of a calf transplant that neither one of us was willing to endure, I wasn’t going to switch with her. So I had to put in the hard work. I actually learned from Jeremy that I when I was doing calf raises, especially the standing version, I was pushing through the outer edge of the ball of my foot. He taught me to consciously choose to push through the inner edge of the ball of my foot. He also had me steer clear of seated calf raises in order to give the soleus a little break.
I also stopped training calves on leg day. Think about it. Your quads and hammies are shaky and numb. Do you really have the stability and stamina it takes to adequately train calves? I didn’t think so. As a result, I moved calf training to any other day than heavy leg day. Try it. You’ll become a believer too.
So for the past three years, I have been persistent in completing the following tri-set at least two to three times a week all year long. It’s tough. After a hard workout, the last thing I want to do is tack on another 10 to 15 minutes of calf training. But I wanted a particular shape and size to my calves in order to balance out my very pronounced quadriceps. Thus, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Here’s the workout:
Do each of the following exercises with no break in between. Only once all three exercises are complete is that considered one set. Repeat it at least two more times, or three more times if you can still walk. Disclaimer: I am not responsible for any car accident you are in after you attempt driving yourself home from the gym after this calf workout.
- Standing calf raises: 20 reps. Feet should be shoulder width apart (no wider, no closer). Toes are pointed slightly outward. Be sure you do full extension and push through the inner portion of the ball of your foot. Be stable and consistent. Do not rely on momentum and do not bounce. Instead, pause slightly at the top. Yes, it will hurt. Do it anyway.
- Hack Squat calf raises: 20 reps. Go to a hack squat and put your heels closer together (inside of shoulder width apart) with toes pointed even further out. Do these quicker than the standing calf raises but remain stable and solid and avoid bouncing again. Also, remember to push through the inner portion of the ball of your foot. Keep a slight bend in your knees to avoid possibility of hyper extension. You might want to cry at this point. That’s fine. Tears never hurt anyone, and they haven’t stopped anyone from moving on to the next exercise in this tri-set.
- Donkey calf raises: 25 to 30 reps. So few gyms have donkey calf raises anymore, so I sincerely hope you find one of these relics; otherwise, you will need to replace it with the seated calf raise but continue to keep your toe position in the way that I describe here. Point your toes inward and keep feet slightly inside of shoulder-width apart. Do this set at a quicker cadence than the other two exercises and belt out those 25 to 30 reps. Again, stable, solid, no bouncing (see the pattern?).
Congratulations. That’s one set. Blow your nose, wipe your tears, and say a curse word or two. And then start again at the beginning. Trust me…it hurts more the second time and the third time around. But ohhh the results are so worth it!
I know because after over 20 years of weight training, I finally had veins in my calves during contest prep in 2011! It’s good to have goals…ha ha!!