Hello, I’m Kap, and I have skinny calves.
Over the course of my MLB career, my teammates often busted my balls about my lower legs. Perhaps their ribbing came because I showed my little guys off by going socks up with my baseball pants, but more likely, it’s because they don’t quite match the rest of my physique.
For many years, I tried to build them up. I worked on donkey raises or the flavor of the month calf exercise. My calves became as strong as a Martin Luther King Jr. address, but remained undeveloped.
I’m starting this support group because I know I’m not the only one. Ben Lindbergh was the Editor-in-Chief of Baseball Prospectus from 2012 until earlier this year. He now writes for Grantland and continues to co-host BP’s daily baseball podcast, Effectively Wild.
More importantly, he’s nearly as nerdy as I am. Need evidence? Check this email he wrote me many months ago.
I’ve been lifting and eating mostly Kapler-approved meals since high school, but no matter what I do, I can’t seem to make much progress in the calf department. At times I’ve tried to target them by hitting them especially hard with weighted raises and reverse raises and anything else I could think of, and it didn’t seem to make much difference.
From what I’ve seen (and I hope this won’t offend you–I’m talking relative to the rest of your physique), it seems like you might suffer from the same affliction. Is there anything I/we can do? Do we have to resign ourselves to our fate and accept that we’ll always look worse in shorts than people who’ve been more blessed by genetics in the lower leg area? Should I get tattoos to hide them?
Crying about my calves
At some point in my late 20s, I gave up on trying to build size. My legs are heavily tatted, and I proudly wear a gnarly scar from my left Achilles tendon tear in September of 2005. I knew I wasn’t winning any pose-offs.
This was my reply to Ben:
So far, I’ve found nothing. I was always told that the squat would most positively impact my deficiency; no dice. Yes get tattoos, but don’t count on them being an adequate concealer.
I was swayed by the popular narrative that calf development is largely genetic. As you know, part of the mission of this blog is to challenge our current thought patterns and assumptions. I knew I needed to research this storyline.
As part of my digging, I found a study entitled Development and genetic influence of the rectal bacterial flora of newborn calves. Needless to say, I moved on.
This, from livestrong.com, was more like it:
Genetic factors influence the rate and quantity of muscle growth for an individual throughout his or her resistance training program.
This confirms what I already knew; now I can abort my mission and rest easy knowing that I’ve done all I can. I kid. This post is going well. Deep breath. I vow to find a program to prove to the readers of kaplifestyle.com that anything is possible. My reply to Ben continued:
Now, on to what may actually be a worthwhile discussion. I would be open to a public experiment if you would.
I could write a post based on this interaction and tease follow up information.
- Measure our skinny calves
- Try two separate popular methods of training
- Track progress on the blog
- Publish results on the blog
- Encourage others to do the same
I’ve since realized we should try the same routine rather than differing programs. It will unequivocally make for a cleaner experiment. Regardless, Ben was in.
Wow. Is the industry ready to accept us for what we are? Will people still put us on TV, knowing what kind of calves we’re concealing under those suits?
I’ve been known to wear sweatpants in the summer because of my calf shortcomings, so it seems crazy to expose my weakness to the world. But if we step forward together on our puny calves, I can probably be persuaded.
If only I was that nerdy…er…funny.
So, here’s the deal. This routine at t-nation.com claims “You can easily put an inch on your calves in one month with this method. However, you must be consistent. Every day means every damn day.”
Deal. I love busting myths.
Start with 50 reps of heel raises and work up to 100 reps with just bodyweight. Do that every day without fail for a month. You’ll be amazed at the growth and definition that you’ll acquire, and as a bonus, improved balance and coordination skills.
As simple as it sounds, proper form is very important. Situate your feet about shoulder-width apart and toes turned slightly out. Concentrate on raising the heels straight up as if they’re puppet strings being pulled up by God himself.
Make sure to contract hard at the top – think of a double biceps pose, except you’re squeezing the hell out of your calves. Don’t hold on to a wall or machine for support.
The idea is not to deload in any manner, as we want those small stabilizers to grow as well. Simply keep your arms at your sides or your hands on your hips.
You must be in bare feet (no shoes). Make sure to raise the heels as high as possible, and distribute your weight evenly over all your toes. Hold the top, contracted position for a full 2 seconds. It must be a definite stop at the top, and you must feel a peak contraction in the calves.
Next, control the lowering – don’t just drop like a bomb! If you fail to perform these two steps properly, the rep doesn’t count. It’s that simple. They must be quality repetitions to optimally benefit from this type of training. The prime movers will get hit, but so will all those little stabilizers, and in the long run, it will make a big difference in the overall growth of your calves.
You’ll need to invest up to 10 minutes a day for a month to reap the benefits of this method. Consider that each controlled repetition should take 6 seconds (i.e., 2 seconds up, 2 seconds at the top, 2 seconds down, and no pause at the bottom) and you’re performing up to 100 reps per day – that equals 10 minutes.
We’ll start today. Want to join in? Take a picture of a tape measure wrapped around your calf to show the current size. Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next month, submit a follow-up picture to show your progress. We’ll send out prizes to the winners.
Feel free to join in the shenanigans, skinny.