Do you belong to the majority of people, who work out but still cannot get their calves to grow? or are you one rare exception with jacked up calves?
Most individuals probably see themselves in the first illustration, including me by the way.
You want to have big, giant and nice looking calves?
Then you want to read this article!
If you still have some questions about volume, what it concerns, how it affects our muscle growth process and what you should pay attention to, I highly recommend you to check out our free guide about the optimal volume for hypertrophy.
What can you expect from this article and in general our whole series about volume?
Based on Dr Mike Israetel’s knowledge and experience, as well as our own, we want to clarify which volume works best for each muscle.
But why is it common that most individuals have small or even no calves at all? And are all people with big, giant calves genetic miracles?
In this article, we’ll answer the above questions and all you need to know about the optimal calves volume. Stay tuned!
Calves are known as one of, or even the hardest muscles to add size and growth to. Despite the fact that a lot of people are doing heavy squats and isolation work for them, either they only grow slowly or not at all.
On the contrary, there are people who don’t even look at their calves but have giant, massive calves… How is that possible?
The important thing about calves is the muscle fiber composition.
There are two different types: slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers.
How do they differentiate?
Fibres known as “fast-twitch” tend to have a higher potential for growth and force output, but fatigue relatively quickly.
Fibres known as “slow-twitch” muscle fibers tend to be the opposite. They have a lower potential for growth and force output but are relatively resistant to fatigue and can, therefore, sustain more than “fast-twitch” muscle fibers.
It is shown by research that calves composition can vary greatly individually.
On average, 80% of calves are composed of slow-twitch muscle fibers. Therefore, it seems that exposure to forces with relatively moderate weight over a longer period of time is more effective than exposure to short and heavy forces.
If we consider us human beings, it even makes more sense. What’s the foundation on what we’re walking all day every day? Exactly, our legs and not on our hands (maybe some crazy dudes but not the average). Downstairs where the calves are located, all our body weight must be carried over a long duration.
With that in mind, we understand the basics of how our calves work and probably respond most effectively to incentives.
Thus, if you’re only doing heavy squats, deadlifts and that kind of stuff which indeed is awesome for the lower body but tends to be not working well to get jacked up calves.
MV – Maintenance Volume
What does MV mean?
MV refers to Maintenance Volume which indicates the amount of work that is required to maintain your muscle’s current size.
Why is it important to know your MV?
That can be answered relatively easily.
If you have to fall back from training or reduce your workouts for a certain period, you don’t want to lose your hard acquired gains, do you? This is why it’s important to know how much volume you need to maintain your muscles.
Furthermore, after a period of exhausting heavy workouts in between your MAV and MRV or even above, it is for sure a good thing or even indispensable to lower your volume to desensitize your body again and fully recover.
Such phases, called “deload” often occur after 4-5 weeks of your mesocycle. On average, you reduce your usual weights about 40-50% and training with the same amount of sets but higher reps to just keep the execution safe.
As a result, your body can recover and when starting your new mesocycle, you’re in charge of full strength. Either way, you need to change exercises over time to stimulate new incentives, which is a good thing to do every 2-3 mesocycles for beginners. While each mesocycles for advanced athletes.
Concluding, it is crucial to know what the MV is and what you can use as benchmarks to ensure you don’t lose any muscles.
Also, something that gets underestimated quickly, keeping the volume in your “deload phase” low, which often tends to be too high.
Now that we understand why it’s important to know, what’s the MV for the optimal calves volume?
MV: 6 sets/week
On average 6 sets/week tend to be sufficient for most people. That actually doesn’t sound like much, and certainly is not.
3 sets of heavy calf work on Monday and 3 sets of heavy calf work on Thursday should keep them the same size.
Again, before we continuing all these benchmarks, these are average figures and not fixed, rigid values. It is very important that you experiment yourself and track progress on what works best for your body. This applies to all the following values.
MEV – Minimum Effective Volume
What does MEV mean?
Minimum Effective Volume relates to the least amount of work that is necessary to stimulate some muscle growth.
Why is it important to know your MEV?
Briefly speaking, just like it’s important to know how much volume your calves need to maintain its current size, it is at least of similar importance to know how much volume is required to grow your calves.
How much volume is required to stimulate some calves growth?
About 8 sets/week tend to be a good start for your mesocycle training programme. This could look like: 4 sets of heavy calves work on Monday and the remaining 4 sets on Thursday.
If you start with 8 sets/week, work your way up during the weeks and consistently increase volume to stimulate new growth incentives, but don’t exaggerate too quickly, which is common for a lot of people.
MAV – Maximum Adaptive Volume
What does MAV mean?
Briefly speaking, MAV relates to the Maximum Adaptive Volume which reveals to the amount of work where probably most of the muscle growth will happen, on average.
Why is it important to know your MAV?
Do you want to train all your time with only the least effective muscle growth? Exactly, I doubt that!
In order to provoke the best muscle growth effect, we need to put more effort into our workout and increase the volume consistently over time.
That is why it is important to know what the MAV is and also which benchmark we can refer to, to maximize your muscle growth effect.
A good way to approach your mesocycles can be as follows:
Starting your first week around your MEV, next two weeks your consistently adding volume until you reached your MAV and during your last week even overreach your MRV to round off the mesocycle. After that, you can or might need to do a week of deload workout and then start again.
So, whats a good MAV benchmark for the optimal calves volume?
MAV: 12-16 sets/week
Between 12-16 sets/week is the average amount of work to get your calves in shape. In this area, most of the growth happens, benefitting you with some nice looking calves
MRV – Maximum Recoverable Volume
What does MRV mean?
Maximum Recoverable Volume, which refers to the maximum amount of work that can be fully recovered by your body.
In other words, the maximum amount of work that your body can sustain until your strength and performance may even decrease because your body isn’t able to fully recover from the current volume.
Sooner or later in your mesocycle programme, you will reach a point where progress isn’t going as fast anymore and your performance starts to stagnate or even decrease.
This is an indication that you probably overreached your MRV.
Why is it important to know your MRV?
Considering all the above-mentioned aspects, it is obvious.
Who wants to take superfluous breaks from his training?
I suppose nobody wants that which is why it’s so important to know what and where your MRV is to avoid preventable breaks and overreaching too quickly.
Where can we indicate an MRV benchmark for the optimal calves volume?
MRV: 20 sets/week
On average, the Maximum Recoverable Volume for calves is about 20 sets/week. This is quite a lot of work but how much volume is recoverable for you, is very individual. It depends on your calves muscle fiber composition, as well as the required recovery time.
How frequent should we train calves for the optimal calves volume?
The frequency for calves really depends on the individual. Some folks need quite some time to recover from their calves workout which is why around 2 workouts/week is sufficient for them.
Other people who are able to sustain more frequency and don’t need as long to recover can even increase frequency from 2 up to 4 workouts/week.
How heavy should we train calves for the optimal calves volume?
Why don’t we go heavier than 8 reps/set?
It is very likely that with heavier weights and any less than 8 reps/set execution technique will suffer from that. It is difficult to do very heavy calves isolation work with good technique. It tends to involve some more swing from our squads and doesn’t result in effective calves stimulation anymore.
Calves workout – Exercises
After we’ve talked a lot about theory, how frequent, which volume for certain goals and how intense, of course, we need to take a look at practice.
Which exercises should you be doing and what works?
In the following, I’ll list you some common and personal favorite exercises for the optimal calves volume.
- Standing calf raises (Smith Machine or variations)
- Standing calf raises without equipment / or with dumbbell/barbell (one calf at a time)
- Sitting calf raises (Machine)
- Calf raises on a leg press machine
- Donkey calf raises (Smith Machine or variations)
If we had to choose between standing and bent, sitting calf exercises, I would definitely recommend standing or sitting ones.
Why? Here’s the deal.
Calves are composed of two powerful muscles: the soleus and the gastrocnemius.
Bent leg takes the gastrocnemius almost completely out of the movement and is only a soleus exercise.
The soleus is closer to your ankle and doesn’t tend to grow a lot. Furthermore, it neither gives you such a nice look that we’re aiming for.
The gastrocnemius is the diamond shape part, it makes your calves look big and aesthetic.
This is why I would recommend focussing most of your calves training on standing exercises for the gastrocnemius and only some additional, secondary work, on the soleus.
Is your favourite calf exercise missing?
Share your experience and knowledge with us and leave a comment below!
Range of Motion
What about the range of motion? Yep, you probably anticipated already what I am now going to say.
Range of motion is always a big deal, for some muscles more for other less but in general, if you execute exercises with a full range of motion, it will almost always increase your growth.
Especially for calves, a deep and painful stretch is essential. Go all the way down and all the way up for the best possible results.
To finish this article about the optimal calves volume, I really want to emphasize something.
Growing calves is a process that takes a long time. You’ve been using your calves to walk around your whole life. They take a long time to grow, be patient with it and slowly get stronger in the moderate rep range with full and deep stretch!
What are the most important take-home key points?
- MV: 6 sets/week
- MEV: 8 sets/week
- MAV: 12-16 sets/week
- MRV: 20 sets/week
- Frequency: 2-4 workouts/week on average works well for most individuals. Some people can only sustain two workouts/week because their calves need longer to recover whereas others can even increase the frequency up to four times/week. This really depends individually.
- Intensity: 8-20 reps/set tends to be most effective for calves. Any less than 8 reps probably result in too heavy weights which let the technique suffer from it. Eventually, swing out of the quads takes over the actual calves involvement.
- Exercises: Some of my favorite and general common exercises for calves are: standing calf raises (smith machine or other variations), sitting and bent calf raises (machine or other variations) or calf raises on a leg press machine.
- Range of Motion: Especially for calves, a deep and painful stretch is crucial, which is why weight definitely comes second regarding calves training. Make sure to go all the way down and all the way up for the best results.
For calves, techniques like super, drop or giant sets don’t work as well as for other muscles. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t use them, you can do it from time to time but on average, there is a more effective tip for the optimal calves volume.
Short rest times: Calves are a really small muscle. Training calves compared to heavy compound exercises like squats or deadlifts, it isn’t nearly as exhausting and fatiguing.
This is why short rest times is a good thing to do because you don’t need to wait around 3-5 minutes until you can properly squat again. I would recommend keeping your rest breaks between 45-60 seconds on average.
Special shout-out to Dr. Mike Israetel, we really value his knowledge and the content that he shares with you guys on his YT channel and his blog.
Definitely check out his video about calves volume!
How often do you train your calves?
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See you guys next time, with hopefully bigger calves 😉