Official Website of Sarah E. Rippel, BS, CPT, FMS

-Training Abs & Calves!-


Earlier today, my good buddy Wayne asked me a question on Facebook.  I figured our exchange would make for a most excellent post, so here ya go!

Wayne: Hey Sarah, I remember reading once that there was a school of thought that said both calves and ab muscles are resilient enough to be worked on an almost daily basis. Does this still hold true? http://www.fitprosarah.com, folks!

Sarah: Hola Wayne!!! Thanks for the shout out! 🙂 I’ll share my slant on things in 2 parts. 

Here’s my take on calves:
Calves are genetic. It’s really, really, really hard to build ’em b/c yes, they are super-resilient and used to a high volume of work. 

What secrets do I have when it comes to calves? A few things. 

First off, when I was jumping rope a lot, I got numerous compliments on my calves.
Secondly, back when I was into bodybuilding, I used to train calves twice a week. I think I stuck ’em in after hams and then on another day with shoulders. I used to do stuff like superset standing calf raises with these funky calf raises done in an ass-to-grass squat position, holding onto something for balance. These are KILLER! I also used to love the donkey calf raise machine and feel it’s a good one b/c it creates a great pre-stretch prior to each contraction.

This brings back memories…sigh…okay…now for abs…my slant on the “you can train abs everyday” thing is this:

Abs are just like any muscle group in that they need recovery time between intense workouts. So, if you’re specifically training abs, like doing a gazillion crunches and old-school stuff like that, you don’t want to do them every day. I actually noticed that when I didn’t train abs every day (back in the days when I was super-obsessed), my abs looked better. 

So, if you’re into ab training, do em every other day if you wish…BUT…think about this:

Every exercise is an “ab” exercise. Your abs are working super-hard when you do heavy squats, for example. Crunches and crap like that are useless. Yes, i’ll have clients do em every now and then, but typically with some fancy twist to ’em, like with a dumbbell chop or a resistance band pullover.

I have clients do core work every workout, but I see most of my clients 3 days a week, so they have time in between workouts.

I feel that I have an innate sense of knowing when enough is enough, with any exercise and any workout. I’m sure you’re the same way. If you’re in tune with your body, this is easy, and this is the way to go if you want optimal results. Years and years as a gymnast and then as an obsessed workoutaholic made me ignore this “voice.” Wow…I sound philosophical, lol. Anyhow, what i’m getting at is that if you’re doing any exercise, more specifically core work (such as plank variations and such), you can tell when to stop…you can tell how many more reps you should do before it’s overkill…and if you’re good, the next day you’re super-sore and no way in hell ya wanna do any core work that day! 😀

Wayne: I greatly de-intensified my ab training back when I was a gym rat, and I liked the results. Now that I’m no longer spoiled, I was considering if I have to go back to daily core (ab) work for maintenance purposes. I was leaning towards ‘yes’. 

I have to get creative with calves since I no longer have the luxury of heavy weights (I really miss the 300 lb calf presses!)

Keep in mind too, I also prescribe to the old school ‘opposing muscles’ theory – i.e. if you work your back, you have to work your abs. Some of those old bodybuilding habits die hard!

Sarah: I feel ya…the “more is better” bodybuilding mentality and other “tenets” are hard to shake! 🙂 We need to get together to swing some kettlebells. 

Here’s another nugget to chew on…think about Sandow and the old-school strongmen…they didn’t do a single ab exercise…they just lifted stuff…they lifted odd objects (rocks, thick grip barbells, kettlebells, etc) and most of the time they did unilateral training. Core stabilization at it’s finest!

If you wanted to do a few sets of planks, side planks, bridges, etc each day I don’t see why that would be a bad thing!

Abs are also (and I hate this word, but) DIET. Even though I can’t stand the freak, Jillian Michaels says she doesn’t do any ab training, and I believe her.

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10 responses

  1. Matthias

    Hi,

    I often hear the argument that calves “are super-resilient and used to a high volume of work.”

    Why are calves used to high volume of work while other muscles like quads, glutes or hamstrings aren’t? I can’t imagine any normal situation (beside isolated calve training) where the calves work and the rest of the legs does not.

    April 23, 2009 at 11:02 am

    • Thanks for chiming in!
      When I think about just the simple act of walking, I think of calves. Obviously the entire body is involved, but I’m thinking “plantar flexion, plantar flexion, plantar flexion”. Calves are trained via the same action we repeatedly do all day long. So, load up the calf raise and go to town. Ive seen a gazillion people do it with little success! In my opinion, drawing on years of bodybuilding training (and hanging out with bodybuilders), most people who are on a quest for big calves will spend countless hours trying to grab a brass ring that is just out of reach. This is my slant on things…I had a bodybuilder buddy who had HUGE diamond-shaped, razor-cut calves…and he NEVER trained them! In fact, he was embarrassed by them! Bear with me because I am about to fall asleep! I do not adhere to the bodybuilding mentality anymore. 🙂

      April 23, 2009 at 11:35 am

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  4. Debbie

    Oh Sarah, I too have huge calves and never train them. I have a picture when I was 10 and in a dress and I had huge calves then (thanks Dad). They are so out of proportion with my thin-type frame. Isn’t it funny that I think big calves aren’t attractive, even in a guy?

    You’re so right about genetics and diet (I’m a vegan) and I rarely train abs too because veins start popping out and I think that looks gross on a girl (I wouldn’t make a good bodybuilder!) I’ve learned to embrace my quirkiness in my late 40s and refuse to complain (out loud anyway). I train for health anyway and not looks. People still make comments though. I get “you look like a dancer” a lot, so guess that’s not too bad. Still I want to get stronger and keep my heart healthy, hence the cardio and strength training!

    April 23, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    • Debbie,
      You’re awesome! Trust me, I have clients that would die for bigger calves! They don’t grow on trees! 🙂
      Training for health is what everyone should do…health first, looks second!

      April 23, 2009 at 3:51 pm

  5. At the end of the day listening to your body is the real way to tell how much of anything you shoud do! Ayurveda is all about that. The better you get at listening, the more “blissful” your life will be. That is the real goal of exercise, according to Ayurveda.

    April 23, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    • I like this!
      I feel (in general) we are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out of touch with our bodies. We do a gazillion things that tune-out our internal “voice”, and we are so busy and stressed out.
      Balance is the key in every aspect of one’s life!
      🙂

      April 24, 2009 at 2:03 pm

  6. Paul

    Maybe once every two months will I train calves, but they are naturally a decent size. When I was training them I would do Donkey Calf Raises with a friend on my back for the normal 8-10 reps or do Raises off of a piece of playground equipment for 50 reps.
    On the abs note, I do train them 3 times a week, but today I was working out in my backyard shirtless and saw exactly what you are talking about: the core was nearly involved in every exercise I was doing.

    April 23, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    • Yay for good genetics! 😀
      I tell all of my clients that “every exercise is a core exercise”! Paul, you already realize this, but for those of you who may not be familiar with more integrated training (ie utilizing compound movements vs more bodypart training)…think of it this way:
      The core is the center of power for your limbs. So, if you’re not able to effectively brace for each and every exercise, you’re not getting as much out of each rep as you could. For a while, there’s been a debate as to whether it’s best to “draw in” the belly button or “brace” the abs. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, but it’s more of a case of which is best for a specific exercise. Overall, I feel bracing is the best option for most exercises, as I feel drawing-in works better for more isolated glute work and “stabilization” training. How do you brace? Simple. Just imagine someone is about to sock you in the stomach! You naturally will tense up your midsection prior to a gut punch, so that’s what should happen! You should become comfortable attaining and maintaining this bracing. Your body naturally braces prior to lots of movements, but if you are aware of it, it makes things all the more better!
      Paul is a rockstar! He had an as*-kicking beach workout this morning, which I plan on doing myself tomorrow morning!

      April 24, 2009 at 2:02 pm

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