We’ve all heard people at the gym complain that their calves just won’t grow no matter what they do. The truth is that calves are a very small, stubborn muscle group that is full of slow-twitch muscle fibers that, in many people, appear to be completely dormant.
I was one of them. For years I beat calves a few times a week for about 8-10 sets per week but had no growth to show. My calves were stuck at 15-7 / 8 inches for over two years. Not “tiny,” but definitely my worst muscle group considering I’ve scaled every other muscle in my body to a respectable size.
There has to be something you can do to breed stubborn calves, right?
I got fed up and decided to try something a little more drastic. On April 20, 2020, I decided to train them for at least 30 days in a row. I left the duration of the Great Calf experiment open just in case I felt like I could overexert it for an extended period of time.
As I said, I wanted to try something extreme and drastic.
For years I have read many success stories about training a muscle group on a daily basis and growing rapidly. Many fitness enthusiasts have tried doing ab exercises every day, doing pushups every day, and even doing bicep curls every day. There are the stories of male gymnasts who do pull-ups every day and insanely overload their biceps and thereby have huge biceps. There are ballerinas that exercise their calves on a daily basis and have larger calves than most male weightlifters.
Then there is my story of overtraining muscle groups. I̵
Since I did the push-up experiment, my chest is by far my most developed muscle group. Flash forward a decade and it’s still more developed than any other muscle group. How else do you explain that?
A popular concept on web forums and on YouTube has been called “core overload”. In short, if you exercise a muscle group every day, your body will compensate for this by increasing the number of nuclei in the muscle cell, which gives it greater potential for growth.
During the part of the experiment where you exercise it, you won’t necessarily grow much, but the goal is to overtrain the size of the nuclei in the muscle cell. So when you return to exercising normally, it will grow much faster.
I’ve gotten so curious about the concept of core overload that I even hosted an experiment on our superhuman private Facebook group last year. More than 100 fitness enthusiasts trained one muscle group daily for 30 days and reported their results. Some people have had incredible results – more growth than in years for muscle groups like biceps and calves. Others said it wasn’t working as well as they’d hoped.
This brings me to April 20th. Having seen success in overtraining other muscle groups, I figured I had nothing to lose if I tried to exercise my calves every day.
The calf experiment: weeks 1-4
Week 1: The first seven days of the calf experiment were the most difficult as I was actually quite sore on day 3.
Since I was in quarantine, I just did calf raises to failure on my steps to make sure I had a good stretch at the bottom and good pressure at the top.
I did a total of 3 sets to failure every day. On the first workout, I was able to do about 40 in a row with my toes pointing straight at the first set, and I failed about 30 reps on the last 2 sets.
Set 1 would be straight toe. Then I would rest for 60 seconds.
On set 2, I would point my toes slightly outward, targeting the inner part of the calf. Then I would rest for 60 seconds.
On set 3, I went toe in to failure to aim for the outer part of the calf.
This entire workout took about 7 painful minutes, which doesn’t sound like a long time, but some days you won’t want it, trust me!
In the first workout, I did a total of 100 reps, but on day 7 I had up to 130 calf raises on the 3 sets to failure.
I saw a pretty big difference in the number of calf raises I was able to do in set 1 in just seven days. On day 7 I went from 40 to 57 in a row.
Week 2: The only difference between weeks 1 and 2 was that I added a fourth set with toes pointing forward. This brought my daily calf raises to over 150 for each workout in Week 2.
Plus, by the end of the second week, it felt like my calves had just been pumped from walking around.
I was tempted to measure my calves to see how much they had grown, but I didn’t want to get frustrated if they didn’t and lose momentum in the experiment. So I decided to wait until the end.
Weeks 3 and 4: At week 3, no matter how many calf raises I did, my calves were never sore.
Since I was in quarantine, I still only did bodyweight calf raises. I wanted to make sure the experiment got a little more difficult each week. Since I couldn’t add resistance, I added more total sets.
In weeks 3 and 4, I did a total of 5 sets to failure or as close to failure as I could achieve. It was extremely painful and frankly one of the hardest things I have ever done. It takes a lot of discipline to fail 5 sets of calves when you are tired and have been working all day.
A few days were downright torture, but I was determined to keep up the experiment. I wanted to see what my results would be so I could give other hard gainers the opportunity to breed their stubborn calves.
Weeks 5 and 6: I finished the experiment and wanted more on day 30. I had finally bought some weights and set up a gym in my garage, so I added weighted calf raises and weighted calf raises to my regimen four times a week. I did my bodyweight calf training on the other days of the week.
I took my first day off from training my calves on day 37 and ended up training my calves 43 out of 45 days. After 45 days of prioritizing my calves, it was time for a much-needed week off.
What’s crazy is my calves didn’t really feel sore or like I overtrained them.
Rest, relaxation and supplements
Anytime you work out a muscle group that is so tough every day, you better be prepared to prioritize your recovery.
During the experiment, I tried my best to sleep eight hours a night and keep my stress low. Easier said than done on both counts, but I’ve largely achieved it. You don’t want stress or lack of sleep to alter your test results. If this is what you are trying to do, do not if you are under a lot of stress.
Throughout the experiment, Alpha Dreams, Tropical Terminator flavor, was my best addition to recovery. In addition to GABA and glutamine, Alpha Dreams contains maximum doses of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 for additional relaxation, ashwagandha for reducing stress and melatonin for improved sleep. I consider this supplement to be a must have if you exercise too much or just work out hard and want improved recovery.
Superhuman pre-workout was my other port of call on training days. It gave me incredible muscle pumps and insane energies to crush my calf workouts along with my other muscle group workouts during the experiment.
The only other supplements I used were fish oil and GOATein to make my daily protein intake easier.
I waited until 60 days after the experiment to measure my calves. I wanted to take a week off and then go back to training twice a week.
I don’t consider the results final as my calves should theoretically grow much faster now. But after exposing myself to all this pain for nearly two months, you’d better believe that I wanted to see actual evidence through my tape measure that my calves were bigger.
I measured my calves on June 20th. Much to my delight and disbelief, they were 16-1 / 2 inches by 15-7 / 8 inches at the start of the experiment. To put that in perspective, you’ll recall that after nearly two years of training them in the gym twice a week, my calves hadn’t grown at all.
Another crazy fact is that most of my calf training was all body weight throughout the experiment. This leads me to believe that if I had added more strength training and more exercise variety throughout the experiment, I might have had even better results.
The Great Calf Experiment is now complete, and while the process was painful and nearly impossible at times, I can honestly say that it was the only thing I have ever tried that made my most stubborn muscle group grow rapidly.