How To Build Calves Like Will Sasso
When it comes to calves outside of the world of elite bodybuilding you'd be quite hard pressed to find an individual with better calves than Will Sasso (founder of the great Ten Minute Podcast and regular guest on The Fighter And The Kid).
Now, when it comes to calves like all other muscle groups genetics has a role to play, that said the vast majority of guys want calves like Will Sasso but only do a couple of sets of calf raises here and there.
Let's take a look at the training principles and exercises you can use to actually get Will Sasso calves (or as close as you genetically can anyway) as well as common calf training mistakes most guys make that'll limit your progress.
First Of All Here's Why Your Calves Aren't Growing...
You're Inconsistent With Your Volume
When it comes to training calves it's all about intensity and volume.
Hitting calves once per week is not going to be enough to see the results you want, I recommend training your calves twice per week with at least 48 hours rest between workouts.
Monday and Thursday, Tuesday and Saturday... whatever schedule works for you is fine as long as you get it done.
I used to fall into the 'yoyo' trap, finding myself training calves three times in one week, then not hitting them again for two weeks at which point I did one poor workout that week.
Stay consistent, three workouts for your calves a week is great, but because training calves isn't quite as rewarding as training your arms or chest most guys don't last more than a week or two with that sort of volume on a consistent basis.
Hit them twice per week but make sure you hit them EVERY week.
Like all things in life, consistency is key.
You're Only Doing One Exercise
The standing calf raise is the go-to exercise for training calves.
Mix it up, you don't need to 'shock' your calves into growth... but you do need to ensure you're hitting all areas of the calf when performing your calves workout.
I recommend performing the following exercises during your calves workout:
- Standing calf raises
- Seated calf raises
- Leg press calf raises
- Jump rope
- Box jumps
Your calves will also be hit indirectly during compound leg exercises such as the leg press and barbell squat.
You're Calves Workout Lacks Intensity
Training calves isn't particularly fun, there's no hiding it but in order to maintain a well rounded physique you need to hit them, and hit them hard.
Even Arnold Schwarzengger himself, arguably the greatest physique ever built struggled to get his calves to grow. Arnold flew around the world in order to learn the ‘secret’ to building big calves and trained them relentlessly until they came up to scratch. Luckily enough we live in a time where the internet eliminates the need to circumnavigate the world to learn the key training principles, but the determination and action that Arnold applied are what you’re going to need to front in order to get those stubborn muscles to grow.
You're Not Applying Progressive Overload
Progressive overload is the key to gains in both the strength and size department, performing the same number of repetitions of the same exercise with the same weight week after week and expecting any noticeable gains in your calves is the definition of insanity.
Doing the same thing over and over will get you no-where.
You must apply progressive overload.
Check out my article on progressive overload here. But in short, you must do at least one of the following during your calves workout to push yourself into that state of overload:
- Increase the weight lifted
- Increase the number of repetitions
- Increase the number of sets
- Decrease the duration of your rest periods
- Increase the time under tension
In order to apply progressive overload you must record what you did last time, otherwise how're you going to know if you're lifting heavier? If you got more reps?
You've Got Poor Ankle Mobility
In order to prevent injury and ensure you’re getting a full range of motion on your calf raises, as well as the big mass builders of the legs in general such as the squat I recommend spending a few minutes performing some ankle mobility drills (particularly to increase your ankle dorsiflexion) and foam roll your calves to loosen them up, increase recovery time and mobility.
How To Foam Roll Your Calves Correctly...
Sit down on the floor with both legs extended in front of you.
Position a foam roller under the calves of one of your legs.
Use your hands to lift yourself up as you begin to roll up and down the calves from above the ankle to below the back of your knee.
Pause on any outstanding sore spots for 10~ seconds as a means of trigger point therapy.
Repeat utilizing the same technique for the other leg.
Here's The Foam Roller I Use & Highly Recommend
There are literally HUNDREDS of cheap chinese foam rollers on Amazon and trust me they don't work well and they don't last long.
The BlackRoll standard foam roller below is a super high quality foam roller designed by a group of therapists, trainers and athletes, the material of the roller is water resistant too and is made in Germany.
Invest in your health & mobility and pick up one of these high quality BlackRoll foam rollers here.
Use These Training Principles To Build Calves Like Will Sasso
Focus On The Full Contraction
This principle is not exclusive to calves, in order to isolate and train any muscle group effectively, be it calves or your rear deltoids the contraction and range of motion (which apply tension to the muscle) are key. When training calves your calve raises should have your pushing through the balls of your feet and squeezing your calves as hard as you possibly can at the top of each repetition before lowering yourself down until the heel of your foot drops well below the ball of your foot (increasing your ankle mobility will allow you to increase the depth of your calf raise, we'll discuss that a bit later in this article).
Work In Some Explosive Movements
Jumping movements such as jump rope, vertical leaps, pistol squat box jumps and the like all require explosive power as your calves launch your body upwards.
Adding in some explosive plyometric style moves into training your calves is not only fantastic mentally for mixing things up, but the explosive movements assist in building both size and strength for your calves. There are many different disciplines of athlete out there that probably never even touch the seated calf raise machine, however the constant leaping, jumping and bounding they do builds both size and strength in their calves.
Mix Up The Rep Range
From my experience in order to big build calves you need to work in both heavy weight low rep exercises as well as slightly higher repetition lighter exercises as well, remember your calves are used to supporting your bodyweight as you walk, run and jump every single day of the week... Our body is in a state of homeostatis, it doesn't want to change... like the average citizen of society that's content with remaining the same forever it takes a flurry of action and events to get shit happening - especially after a prolonged period.
In order to make the calves grow you must create the demand for your calves to grow through a mixture of heavy weight, explosive movements and endurance work. Create the demand and your body will adapt, this adaptation is growth.
Frequency & Consistency Is Key (The 48 Hour Rule)
Hit 'em hard and hit 'em often.
If your calves are struggling to grow and are noticeably lagging behind the rest of your physique it's time to implement the priority training principle.
Rest your calves for 48 hours, then hit them again, volume and frequency baby.
You don't need to dedicate an entire workout to your calves, as they fatigue relatively quickly when trained correctly there's no way you can endure 3o - 45 minutes of solely training calves if you're hitting them with the right weight and intensity.
Instead, following the priority principle and train your calves FIRST.
Been 48 hours since your last calves workout? Hit your calf raises, jump rope and box jumps prior to training the targeted muscle group for the day - e.g. chest.
Understand How To Target Your Inner/Outer Calves
In order to hit our calves it's important you understand what we're actually hitting.
The gastrocnemius attaches just below your knee on the back of your leg, here's the often neglected and misunderstood point...
The gastrocnemius has 2 heads
The medial head of the gastrocnemius is the inner portion of your calves.
The lateral head of the gastrocnemius is the outer portion of your calves.
If the medial or lateral head of your gastrocnemius are lagging behind we can alter our foot position to target the desired head.
Building Overall Calf Strength 'N' Size
Here we see the foot position for a standard set of calf raises.
With feet forward you'll be targeting equal amounts of the medial and lateral heads.
As you're dividing the load evenly across the gastrocnemius you'll find that you're able to calf raise signfiicantly more weight when utilizing this standard foot placement as opposed to the variations below.
How To Target Inner Calves
In order to target the inner portion of the calves, aka. the medial head of your gastrocnemius we must point out toes outwards.
Position your toes out while calf raising on your seated calf raise machine, smith machine, leg press or donkey calf raise and you'll be placing the majority of tension on your inner calves.
How To Target Outer Calves
In order to target the outer portion of the calves, aka. the lateral head of your gastrocnemius we must point out toes inwards.
Position your toes in while calf raising on your seated calf raise machine, smith machine, leg press or donkey calf raise and you'll be placing the majority of tension on your outer calves.
Alternate Foot Position On These 2 Exercises...
When performing certain exercises such box jumps you won't be alternating foot placement, it isn't a practical movement to do so on.
I recommend alternating your foot placement to hit the different heads of your calves using the following 2 exercises:
The Seated Calf Raise
Once seated on your calf raise machine with the pads adjusted correctly over your thighs begin to lift your heels up as high as you can by driving through the balls of your feet.
Pause for 1 second and flex your calf muscles at the top of the repetition.
Begin to lower your heels to return to the start of the repetition.
Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
The Leg Press Calf Raise
Sit down on your leg press machine with legs fully extended touching the sled.
Press on the platform by pushing through the balls of your feet as your heels are raised off of the sled, your positioning should be at the very top of the leg press sled.
As you reach full extension flex your calfs for 1 second.
Lower your heels back down to return to the starting position to complete the repetition.
Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Putting It All Together... My Will Sasso Calves Workout
As mentioned I recommend training your calves assuming they're lagging behind once every 48~ hours.
Below you'll find a few example workouts to perform every few days.
- Seated calf raises - 4 sets (alternate foot placement each set) - 15 reps per set
- Leg press calf raises - 4 sets (alternate foot placement each set) - 15 reps per set
- 10 minutes of jump rope
- Smith machine calf raises - 4 sets - 20 reps per set
- Box jumps - 3 sets - 10 reps per set
- 10 minutes of jump rope
- Seated calf raises - 8 sets (alternate foot placement each set) - 25 reps per set