High Or Low Reps For The Calfs And Abdominals?
The scenario: You hammer your chest, back, shoulders, arms, thighs and hamstrings with a moderate repetition range which is believed to be optimal for muscle growth. The calf and abdominals are stubborn and do not seem to respond greatly however, so do we increase the repetitions due to the fact they are endurance based muscles, or do we train them like any other muscle group?
The debate rages when it comes to optimal repetition ranges for certain goals, and it is little wonder when there are so many variables in the equation. A definite answer will not be found here. Instead we will look at each side of the argument.
Training the abdominals and calfs with high reps
Progression in bodybuilding is all about gradual overload of the muscle, which results in adaptation in the form of larger muscle fibres. The calfs and abdominals are naturally composed of a high majority of slow twitch muscle fibres due to the muscles being endurance based (constantly contracting during daily activities). The muscles of the midsection continual contract to stabilise the trunk, and the calfs are capable of a great number of contractions due to walking and daily activity. Would it not be wise to train the muscle within its preferred repetition range, in this case a high number of repetitions per set, in order to achieve optimal results? Gradual resistance can still be added to the movements once a set repetition range is established (possibly 20 repetitions), therefore leading to an overload to the muscle within its “natural” high endurance based range.
Furthermore, the calfs and abdominal muscles are surrounded by a sack, known as the muscle fascia. Many bodybuilders train the calfs within a high repetition range which then results in a pronounced muscle “pump”. The swollen muscle can then be stretched intensely, with the aim of stretching and losing the muscle fascia, resulting in less constriction to the muscle – aiding muscle growth.
Many high profile bodybuilders have achieved awesome midsections and calfs from following a high repetition range.
Training the abdominals and calfs with low reps
The faster twitch muscle fibres are capable of achieving a greater size due to muscle hypertrophy in comparison to the slower twitch fibres. Although the calfs and abdominals are composed of a high number of endurance fibres, to achieve maximum fibre recruitment a low to moderate repetition range must be followed. A low to moderate repetition range will recruit both the slow twitch fibres, but also the larger fast twitch fibres which respond greatly in growth.
The calfs and abdominals must be therefore trained like any other muscle group, with moderate repetitions and a challenging resistance.
People prefer and respond differently to various repetition ranges. The solution is to experiment with various repetition ranges to see which you seem to respond best to. It may be a wise choice to cycle the repetition range, ensuring continual change in stimulus to the muscle fibres to avoid stagnation, recruit fibres across the whole spectrum, and achieve progression.