May 12 2014

Building calf strength?

Published by smick at 10:44 am under Uncategorized

Just a random question that has been bugging me and I forgot to ask my PT last week.

I’ve never been much of a weight lifter, but I always thought the traditional method of building strength was 3 sets of 8-10 reps of a muscle followed by a day of rest.

Are calf muscles special or do you do it differently when starting with an atrophied muscle? It seems like every ATR rehab patient gets told to do 3 sets of 12-15 reps 3 times per day, everyday. I’ve been doing them and getting stronger, but am concerned about overworking the muscle… plus it gets used walking as well.

Just curious what the logic is…

13 Responses to “Building calf strength?”

  1. Gregon 12 May 2014 at 5:18 pm

    I’ll try not to give too technical of an answer. The “old school” method of strength training is 3 sets of 10. Problem is, muscle respond differently based on what specific exercise you are doing, what gains you want to make, and the condition of the muscle.

    If you are simply trying to gain immediate strength, doing 4 reps to total fatigue (with a very high weight) is best. For most of us after an ATR, that simply is not practical or safe.

    If you are looking to build endurance, then multiple reps is necessary (20+).

    But to get a nice balance of improved neural control/connections and build muscle, then 12-14 reps is idea. However, most people make the mistake when doing 3 sets of 12. That 12th rep of each set your muscle should be struggling to finish it. A lot of people do not realize the last rep should be to fatigue.

    The calf muscle is one of the strongest in the body but I would keep actual weight training to 3-4x/week. Walking the other days will help more for endurance.

  2. smickon 12 May 2014 at 7:07 pm

    Thanks for the feedback Greg.

    I’m going to ask my PT about whether I should do the calf raises every day. I’m definitely thrashed by the time I try to do the third round of sets.

    It seems to me like a rest day interspersed would be logical, especially since I walk a lot anyway.

  3. normofthenorthon 12 May 2014 at 10:03 pm

    And because the idea is that the exercise should be difficult - e.g., to exhaustion - 3 sets of 12 is likely to be SAFER than 3 sets of 8, because you’re choosing an easier exercise. If you can’t DO 3×12, switch to less resistance.

  4. mikejp88on 13 May 2014 at 9:19 am

    What they said is true. Right now your body is learning to fire the muscle again (brain/nerve learning).
    For your problem of feeling thrashed after three sets, try a longer break between sets (for you, between 30 seconds and 2 minutes should be plenty but some weightlifters use 5 minutes). You can also stop pushing to failure on every set except the last set. Also, try lowering the weights. Progress slowly and your body will respond in time. Until you haven’t progress in 2-3 weeks you are doing fine.

  5. mikejp88on 13 May 2014 at 9:19 am

    Excuse the typo(s).

  6. smickon 13 May 2014 at 10:16 am

    @mikejp99 - Its less of a problem of finishing any three sets, but the overall amount. I struggle when I do the last round of three sets at the end of the day.

    To be clear, I’m doing 9 sets total per day of around 12 reps per set, or 108 calf raises per day! I do a set of 3 in the morning, another set of 3 around lunch and then the last three in the evening when I’m wiped out from walking all day. Those are the brutal ones! I skipped them last night as my calf was pretty much wiped out by then.

    This routine is what prompted my question as it sounded typical for most ATR rehab patients to get prescribed lots of calf raises daily, versus only doing three or four sets in a day. Plus not having a rest day in between ever.

    It seems like overuse, but perhaps when rebuilding an atrophied muscle its more effective or the muscle responds better to constant work than when its regained its mass?

  7. mikejp88on 13 May 2014 at 5:27 pm

    That’s a question I don’t know the direct answer to yet. I’m in physical therapy school and I have a degree in exercise but I am trying to integrate it all still.

    There are times when lots of work doesn’t cause an overuse syndrome. For example, achilles tendinopathy has a recommended treatment of about 2 separate exercises 3 sets of 15, twice per day = 180 reps per day, 7 days a week in a famous study by Alfredson.

    Overuse syndromes accompany a LOSS of ability. If you start to see decreases in improvement that last longer than a week and there are no other explanations, it’s probably overuse. I haven’t heard of that happening to anyone in therapy working two muscles on one side of the body. You’re more likely to rerupture from overworking or compromise the repair than get an overuse syndrome.

    Personally what I’ve gleaned from everything I have read and seen and done is that you increase the weight incrementally. That’s the number one rule.

    After a while (AKA after it’s safe) you can increase it MORE than the amount you could normally do and do fewer reps. That’s called tapering and is a weight training technique. Focus on volume (amount of reps) then you flip flop to intensity (weight). That happens slowly over time. This is assuming you have proper form.

  8. normofthenorthon 14 May 2014 at 2:10 am

    A number of people here — doug53 comes to mind first — pushed exercise reps until they were stiff the next day (when they took it easy) but not the day after. And at least one serious rebuilder — RyanB — specificially chose a very high number of reps with low load (weight) to make sure he didn’t do any damage. Their blogs may inform. . .

  9. Gregon 14 May 2014 at 10:16 am

    Hey mikejp88:

    Congrats on an awesome career choice! I have been doing outpatient therapy for 14 years now and it truly is the greatest job ever.

    As for your post, be careful when looking at those studies and what the purpose of the rehab is. Achilles tendonopathy is different from tendonitis and s/p ATR. A lot of the newer research is showing that in tendonosis (vs tendonitis) the tendon is not inflamed but literally scarred over and beat to hell for lack of a better word. The high intensity exercises and eccentric loading suggested is to literally cause the tendon to bleed so it can heal. In those cases, you want to create an acute inflammatory response. Similar to using PRP injections or dry needling. For general ATR rehab, progressive strengthening is recommended but not to that extreme.

  10. Roarkon 14 May 2014 at 10:58 am

    You don’t have to worry about overtraining a muscle like that until you start adding significant weight on top of your body weight.

  11. mikejp88on 14 May 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Awesome to see a PT on here. I plan on doing ortho as well, but it seems so far away right now.
    I understand that it is not the appropriate choice here. That’s what I was trying to say when I said he should increase weights incrementally and then taper later on. I guess I should have put a warning there by the example. I was trying to illustrate how hard it is to overtrain a healthy muscle/tendon. I actually just did a brief literature review as homework on the tendonosis part.

  12. smickon 14 May 2014 at 11:46 pm

    Thanks everyone! I talked to my PT and there was some miscommunication.

    I was supposed to do 2-3 series per day of 3 sets of 8 heel raises, so less than the 12-15 I remembered. And the 3rd was optional. Also, since this last set of instructions was before the twelve week mark, they didn’t want me to do it to fatigue and instead do them lightly (most of my weight on my good leg) to where I could do more on each set. That makes more sense.

    Going forward, they still want me to do 2-3 times per day, 3 sets of 8-10 heel raises, but do them to fatigue and try to tire out my calf. They also recommended I get two rest days in per week with no calf raises and just normal walking. Plus not to do the third series if I’m tired.

  13. Roarkon 15 May 2014 at 9:29 am

    Yeah, the 12 week mark seems to be what all my doctors believe is when the tendon fibers should be developed enough to do heavier strengthening exercises. But they’re good with doing all the ROM/stretching/other types of work up until then. PT is so important to me to give me the confidence to push past what I’m scared to do.

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