Calves muscles have a special reputation in the bodybuilding community.
Although they are far from a priority to most lifters, if undersized, they can make an otherwise impressive physique look almost comical. In fact, the larger one’s upper body, the more top-heavy they appear when standing on twigs. This frustration is compounded by the fact that calves are one of the hardest muscle groups to grow – or at least they seem to be.
First, a little anatomy: the main muscles of the posterior calf are the gastrocnemius (two heads: lateralis and medialis) and the soleus. The soleus lies beneath the gastroc and is most mechanically powerful when the knees are bent. So for a rule of thumb, switch up standing and seated exercises to hit both the gastroc and soleus.
The two heads of the gastroc are also divided laterally. So pointing the toes inward during calf raises can help target the outer head of the gastroc and vica verca, but imbalances like these aren’t the most common problem.
The biggest problem is that the calves are treated as secondary by most bodybuilders. In reality, the small calve muscles are workhorses, supporting the entire body weight every step, every day. Three sets of ten tacked on at the end of a workout just isn’t going to force growth.
Different bodies respond to different stimuli, so whether or not your calves are shocked more by high weight or high rep will largely depend on considerations like whether or not you are a natural lifter and what physical activities you do outside the gym. But the biggest mistake lifter’s make is not volume vs weight, it’s work placement. Most people relegate calve work to THE END of their leg workouts. This is a mistake. On leg day, compound movements will fry your nervous system, and pour all the blood and nervous connection into the primary movers of the legs. This means calves get left with the lowest quality reps. Watch videos of Kai Greene training legs for example, he always STARTS with calves.
Do calves at the beginning of your workout, when you are most fresh, most focused, and your body is most responsive to targeting. Th pump and burn will be far better than what one can achieve at the end of a workout. Not only that, but emphasizing calves at the beginning makes them more likely to be engaged during the compound lifts.
Short story: calves don’t fail us – we fail them by not giving them the focus and attention they really need to grow.