T Nation

Calves: Tate vs. Arnold


Dave Tate says you dont need to spend time isolating calves if you are getting big and squatting big. This I thought was very good news because i prefer doing 5 more sets of squats insstead of any number of sets for calves.

Arnold as you know, was known for having small calves, and took pictures of himself in the ocean where you could not see them. However, Arnold was very big and was also squatting very big.

What do you think?


It would be silly to think that simply by squatting a lot that your calves will magically grow to monstrous proportions. There simply isn't the specificity in the training methodology needed to cause the hypertrophy in the soleus and gastrocnemius to occur if all you're doing is a barbell squat.

I've heard this notion thrown around a lot--squat a lot and your whole body will get bigger, but the people who usually make this statement are ones who eat a ton of calories while they're doing this, so of course body weight will increase. However, it is very unlikely that the weight gained will be evenly distributed throughout all muscle groups. Therefore, a large weight gain accomplished in this fashion might not give you the desired results if your genetics don't allow it. This could leave you with relatively larger muscles that were actually trained and relatively smaller muscles that were untrained (in this case, the calves). In summary, you should keep working the calves hard in addition to the squats.


I think people misunderstand what really heavy weights are.

I am by no means a powerlifter, but I know that powerlifters use lots of tricks to over load the squat and deadlift with bands and chains.

Walking out with such a weight, a weight that may be more than your raw max because of bands or chains, will work the calves to a moderate degree, but at maximal weights (think 700+ pounds, and it happens every week!).

Further, really squatting heavy (see above, or read anything over at eliteFTS) means you are putting near max weights on your back or in your hands every week, and that truely does make a whole body grow. Everyone knows that it takes a entire body growth for the calves to grow, fat guys have the best calves!

Try hill sprints on your toes or something dude. Like I said, I am not at all a powerlifter, but this why I think powerlifters would have good calve development.


Try doing heavy squats with a 2x4 under your heels, but never raising the heels. You will begin to feel a good stretch and pum in the calves.


Concerning arnold and his calves; his early photoshoots in the lakes around Austria were indeed to hide his biggest 'genetic' (in his POV) weak point, his calves. To those who studied Arnold's personality, intensity, and drive, he then made it his absolute goal to bring up this lagging body part to actually have it become a showcasing piece that flowed well with the rest of his physique. Arnold's calves grew the most following his time studying under Reg Park and working calves 1st in his work outs, prioritizing them (weider # 186b1). He also switched to training them very heavy and hit them as many as 6x a week, which worked well for him.

While i'm sure Tate is right about not 'needing' to do calves, if you are a bb and desire maximum growth, additional calves work would be necessary. Squats rock head to toe, but i certainly don't end mine @ with a calves raise, a movement needed to fully contract the muscle.


If I remember right Tate said its the walking out with the weight thats builds the calves not necessarily the squats themselves. And yeah if youre a big guy up top then your calves get a workout every time you walk around anyway!


lots of midly overweight middle aged women seem to have huge calves, wonder why?


I somewhat agree in that squats WILL NOT hypertrophy your pecs, no matter how much you squat, unless you train the pecs heavily. The squat may induce more GH and/or other anabolic hormones/properties that while training other bodyparts hard might help add to those body parts. But, anyone thinking they are putting on LBM just by their weight increasing is misinformed.

How many times have you seen gym rats with 17-18 inch arms, generally large upper bodies, and no legs to be proud of? They don't squat, maybe some calf raises and a few leg presses, and they have respectable upper body mass.

But, as far as the calves getting worked when squatting, look at the physiology of the squat (full depth of course). It's a triple extension of the spine, femur, and tib/fib. The calves therefore must be called upon to stabalize the lower leg in the locked out position and to induce plantar flexion when returning the lower leg back to the lock-out or top position. The calves will be worked when squatting with out a doubt, more so witht the Olympic squat (narrow stance) vs. the PL squat.

But I believe walking around (doing GPP especially) while pushing 3-bills is a better calf workout that walking out of the rack with 700 pounds, even if done more than once per week. The calves generally do not have a high proportion of FF (IIB) fibers, therefore medium to low weight and huge volumes usually hypertrophy the calves the best. Same concept with the forearms. Sure an 800 pound DL will work the forearms, but its the sum total of grip work between all your lifting and loading/unloading bars.



Do you mean under your toes? That would make more sense.

Squating ass to heals works you calves hardcore.


I think powerlifters' calves development can also be attributed to doing a lot of glute ham raises (along with heavy squatting). Since I switched to a gym that has this machine, my calves have grown a lot. And I never do direct calves training.


I think that this underlies the difference between powerlifting and bodybuilding. If you are a bodybuilder, then squats alone are probably not enoug to cause the hypertorphy that you are looking for. If you are a powerlifter, then you want the calves to be strong enoug to enable a strong squat and deadlift. Any aesthetics are secondary. I think powerlifters get more calf work than people think though. Consider sled pulling. That demands a lot of strength in your calves when you are pulling 100-200 pounds behind you. A lot of the other GPP work also activates the calves, but for a very different purpose than calf raises or th elike.


Sure sled pulling is great on the calves, but in actuality, how many powerlifters do this GPP exercise or GPP in general? Maybe a higher than usual number if they read T-Nation, but I highly doubt the majority see this as a strength builder or even a peripheral builder.

In fact, I don't know if sled dragging has any really significant carry-over to a max squat or DL? I could see single leg squats, lunges, and step-ups. But sled dragging is done on the toes and requires much different balance that PL's - different feel and motor patterns. I'm not saying there would be no benefit, I just don't think most PL'ers do them or want to do them. How many bodybuilders do power cleans? Not many. Again, there might be some benefit, but I don't thinks its significant specifically to their goals.



I would respectfully disagree with your statememt about no carryover. If you are only pulling the sled on your toes, then you are doing something wrong. I can tell you that my glutes, hams, and lower back are all getting hit when I pull the sled. Has there been carryover to my squat and deadlift? Absolutely, since I incorporated sled dragging 2 months ago, they are both up 5%. Now is that strictly due to sled dragging, probably not. Does sled dragging help, absolutely? If nothing else, the conditioning that you get from pulling the sled gets you prepared for RE and DE days.


read Dave Tate's articles about sled dragging, there must be a big carryover, on top of the GPP benefits


Squats definatly make my calves grow. i also agree sled dragging would be great for the calves. I worked for the summer pushing a fertilizer spreader, pushing 75+lbs in a piece of equipment that also adds resistance all over hills built my calves up.

Also like someone else eluded too Fat people have huge calves 90% of the time, get yourself a heavy weighted vest and go for a walk every day. Not only will you be healthier you will also grow calves of obese proportion.


I appreciate the respect in your post.

I did some sleg dragging in my pre-season work for track and found that its nearly impossible to NOT get up on the toes. Unless you have a very short lead, the force is mostly horizontal (along the ground) and most people (exluding Barry Sanders) have the ankle flexibility to push through the heels when doing this movement.

Its just nearly physiologically impossible when keep the foot/knee/leg lined up. Now, if you were to "duck walk" dragging the sleg I could see that. But, to minimic the PL's why would you want to flare out the leg/foot? In order to even perform a hip extension movement (like the DL) your knee must flex, putting the calf/foot into a deep dorsiflexion (foot toward lower leg). I just don't see most people being able to push through the heels without risking an achilies rupture?

And, I TOTALLY agree that its a monster of a posterior chain develper. But, based on the physiology of the movement, I just didn't see in mimicing the PL's BETTER than other vertical isolateral exercises (i.e. step-ups).

Granted I don't have very flexible calves, but even walking up a 10-15% grade you almost have to go up on your toes or you'll lose your locomotion/conservation of energy. Each step would be like its own lift, lifting more vertically than horizontally.

Still, even if you could maintain heel pressure, you would have no choice but to also drive through the ball of foot which is exactly what PL do not want to do. Again, while the posterior chaine is being worked, a different motor pattern and balance has to be used.

I'm all for doing an unconventional movement in support of your event/sport. But, I guess I'm missing how sleg dragging can be done by pushing through the heels alone?!



I've heard the opposite about the fibers in calves, that they're mostly fast twitch. So they need explosive movements and heavy weights to grow. Squatting did nothing for my calves from an aesthetic standpoint (the front of my calves did get a lot bigger, however). Power cleans and dumbbell snatches are what did the job for me.


Top Sirloin:

I would like to see a video of you dragging the sled because then I might get a better picture of what you are doing. I guess I view sled dragging as the same as waling, just with weight behind you. You may have to bend over a little more to get the weights moving, but beyond that, your posture should remain pretty similar to walking. In that case, then you strike with the heel and push off with the toe which is what I do. Otherwise, it is impossible for you to activate the calves.


In response to one of the last posts, if you were wondering about the different calf fiber types, the Soleus muscle (the flatter calf muscle lower down on the poterior lower leg) is of a more slow twitch dominant fiber type. This muscle does not cross over the knee joint, and is worked most by seated calf raises. Because it only crosses the ankle joint, it is primarily involved in deccelerating the ankle joint upon foot strike and stabilizing the ankle when standing. That is why it is slow-twitch, because most of its functions are stabilizing, endurance-type actions.

The Gastrocnemius (the ball of muscle at the top third of the posterior lower leg) is where the fast twitch domninant fiber type is. This muscle crosses over both the knee joint (connecting to the femur) and the ankle joint. Because it cross the knee joint too, its the muscle that is most involved in that explosion phase, when the knee has fully extended in a jump or stride and the ankle is extending for that last bit of explosion, hence the reason it is fast twitch.


Ah, thanks for clarifying. That makes a lot of sense.