BowTied Ox

- Strong As An Ox -

Your Guide To Calves and Ab Training

This will be the first post in my series of specific strategies for building certain body parts.

We will start with the calves and abs. These are two important muscles that are unique compared to other muscles.

Abs and calves are two of our most used muscles over the course of the day—we use calves anytime we walk and abs anytime we are supporting ourselves sitting or standing up.

I have grouped these two together because they are unique. They can practically be trained anyday, and they can take a lot of abuse in training.

Another reason I wanted to start with these two is I haven’t been as specific with training strategies with these.

Calves

It makes the most sense to train calves on leg day—obviously—but if you are lacking in this department, you can throw a calves workout here and there on a push or pull day at the end of your workout.

Calves can be a very stubborn body part for many people, and some will never have big calves—this is highly genetic and deals with where the muscle intersects and the size of your muscle bellies.

This does not mean we cannot make them look much better.

Calves need to be trained just like every other body part—we go as heavy as we relatively can in our given rep range and progressively overload it over time. A great amount of people treat calves like an “accessory” lift and get “accessory” results. They aren’t just something you mindlessly do and expect results (looking at you guy in the gym doing some weird calf burnout on the leg press machine).

This is not to say our training strategy shouldn’t be slightly different. Calves respond very well when we take advantage of things like slower negative reps and stretching them in the bottom of the movement.

I am a huge fan of 4-5 second negatives and a 10-15 second stretch at the bottom. In DC training you would do this for 10-12 reps and it’s as excruciating as it is effective.

It’s also wise, at times, to throw in a workout once or twice a month you do 30-50 reps on calves. Calves get a lot of volume during the day simply from walking, so they respond very well to weighted volume.

Another very effective exercise for calves is to do 15-20 minutes of incline walking while focusing on walking more on your toes. This again is very uncomfortable, but can yield some pretty significant results.

If calves aren’t an issue for you, training them 1-2x a week on leg days, 1 exercise for 1-3 sets 10-20 reps is more than enough—they will grow just like any other body part.

If calves are a weak point, I would utilize the strategies like slow negatives and long stretches in the bottom, and work them out 2-3 times a week. I would also do the incline walk on your toes 1-2x a week.

My Favorite Calves Exercises in no particular order:

  • Sitting Calf Raise Machine
  • Standing Calf Raise Machine
  • Hack Squat Calf Raises
  • Leg Press Calf Raises
  • Dumbbell Calf Raises if no machines
  • Donkey Calf Raises

Abs

Abs are made in the kitchen—this is true. This does not mean they are unimportant to train and we can’t make them bigger, and thus pop more when we are leaner.

Your abs are extremely important for stability during your compounds lifts—weak abs can completely sabotage your progress on heavier lifts.

It is true that we typically work abs enough on our compound lifts that we *could* get away with not doing them and still build decent ab/core strength; however, this is not going to be an optimal approach.

We should be doing some direct ab work during the week to ensure the abs are not a weak point and are on par with our other body parts.

We also need to be cognizant of not working our abs too heavy with weight or we can build them out and wider. This can make your waist look bigger and give you less of a taper from having a wide upper body and small waist.

It’s important we find a balance here. We want to work them enough and in a way that will strengthen them, and not in ways that make them bulkier—thus give an appearance of a bigger waist.

A few strategies I have here is the use of weight belts on heavier lifts and not doing too much weighted core work.

We can work our abs with things like hanging leg raises, reverse crunches, and other difficult exercises to ensure we are working the proper rep ranges and not doing exercises we can easily do for 50+ reps.

Another method to make your waist appear smaller and actually strengthen the abs is doing something known as a vacuum. Vacuums are the things you did as a kid to show how skinny you were—you simply suck in your waist as far as you can and hold it.

This strengthens a muscle known as the transverse abdominis (TVA) which plays a major part in how tight our waist stays when we are relaxed—it is also very good for stability and general ab health.

Doing 2-3 sets anywhere from a couple times a week to a couple times a day works and you don’t need a gym to do it. Personally, I do this when I wake up as you have no food in your stomach and it’s much easier to do.

Abs, again, are similar to the calves—they are simply a muscle just like any other and should be worked out accordingly, but can take more volume than other muscle groups just because of the nature of their function.

Simply throwing abs in at the end of your workout 2-3 days a week is enough to strengthen and grow your abs. You don’t need to do anything crazy—again, 1-3 sets, 12-30 reps to failure is enough.

Some of you might like to do your abs in the morning or at other times of the day—this is fine as long as they are getting done and don’t leave you so sore that they are affecting your workouts.

My favorite ab exercises in no particular order:

  • Hanging Leg (Knee if they are too difficult) Raises
  • Reverse Crunches
  • Regular Crunches from the middle and also bringing elbow to opposite knee.
  • Reverse Crunch on a Decline Bench

These are going to be more than enough to build good core strength and abs, especially in combination with compound lifts as they are going to target your core very much as well.

Putting It All Together

These two muscles get neglected the most as people view them as “special” when compared to other muscles. Sure there are slight differences in how we can work them out, but at the end of the day they need to be treated like any other muscle: With a plan, progressive overload, and training with a purpose.

Both of these muscles can take more abuse than your typical muscle, so we can increase training frequency if you’d like to see more results with them or if they are a weakness.

If not, treat them the way you would chest or quads—train them a couple times a week and forget about them.

I have never seen a purpose for an “ab” day. They are simply something easy we can throw at the end of our workouts—they do not need their own designated day.

The strategies above should be more than enough for a framework for improving our abs and calves.