BELOW THE ELBOW, BELOW THE KNEE.
Are you lucky enough to be blessed genetically?
Some people are born into money. Some people are born with amazing intellect. Others are born with a gifted voice, or the ability to just pick up an instrument and play. And then there are those that are born with freaky forearms and/or massive calves. Don’t ya just hate those people! Ok, maybe hate is too strong a word, but I know I certainly envy those bodybuilders that rarely need to do a calf raise or a wrist curl, and yet display thickly developed muscle from bicep to wrist and knee to ankle. And there are plenty of those types out there too…the real kicker being that some of them might not be bodybuilders at all! I remember this one guy that used to ride his bike around my neighborhood, and he had these perfectly shaped, thick, veiny, diamond calves. One day I saw him in a local park, so I went up to him and asked, “Hey buddy, I gotta tell you that you have some incredible calves there. Do you train them at all?” He laughed and said, “Nah, never been in a gym in my life. I have always had these things! And they keep getting bigger every time I ride my bike!” Then he sarcastically said, “You want em? I’ll sell them to you!” Not thrilled with that little quip, I went over to his bike and let all the air out of his tires and emptied his water bottle! (Ok, so I didn’t really do that…but I wanted to!).
And then there was my skinny neighbor. He lived right next door to me while I was growing up, and he could not have weighed more than a buck fifty soaking wet. Yet, he had these gnarly, vascular forearms with bumps and cervices all over them! I would have to say that his upper arms probably measured 13 inches and his forearms about 15 inches. Now that might not sound big to you, but for 150 lb guy to have 15 inch, shredded forearms is quite impressive! I once asked him as well how he got such amazing forearm development, and he told me the closest thing he ever did to lifting weights was yard work! I should have stolen his rake and lawnmower right there! But I digress…
Now, even with all of the above being said, lack of genetics is not always the culprit when it comes to having less-than-impressive calves and forearms. Much of the time it is also because these body parts are trained as an afterthought rather than major muscles. What makes that so ironic is that calves and forearms are probably the two most exposed body parts of all! Think about it. Every time you wear a short sleeve, or even ¾ sleeve shirt, your forearms are right out there for the world to see. In fact, much of the time that you wear a long sleeve shirt you probably roll up the sleeves anyway, again showing the lower arms. And as for calves, well, during the summer most people wear shorts that go to about knee height, which certainly puts those calves on display. And if you happen to live in a warm climate, you could very well be showing off those calves on a daily basis! That is certainly something that can’t be said for chest, back, shoulders or thighs, yet we never neglect any of those body parts, do we?
But besides all of that, few things look worse on a bodybuilder than a huge pair of upper arms sitting on top of a couple of thin, stringy forearms, or a pair of massive thighs matched with skinny, stick-like calves. Not only does this make the physique look terribly disproportionate, but it can often look downright silly! On the flip side, when the forearms and calves are substantially developed, with cuts and veins running up and down, right to left, it gives one’s body a look of sheer power, as well as more “polish.”
Ok, so if your Mom and Dad did not pass down the “Mike Matarazzo calf gene” or the “Mike Mentzer forearm gene,” that does not mean you cannot still build formidable amounts of muscle in these body parts. Sometimes it is the hardest and smartest workers that actually come out ahead of the genetically gifted. If you are either ignoring your forearms or calves, or only throwing a couple of lazy sets in for each at the end of your workouts, it is time to start treating the areas below the elbows and knees with some more respect!
The forearms are heavily recruited in every single upper body exercise that you do. This makes them very tough and very resilient, which unfortunately makes it harder to affect their hypertrophy. Simply pumping them up is not enough to get them growing, so you need to think in terms of literally bombarding the forearms with tremendous intensity and varying stimuli. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to utilize my POWER, REP RANGE, SHOCK method of training, which was featured in the May edition of Iron Man. P/RR/S is so effective because it is a cyclical program that has you change training protocols week to week. This is exactly what you want to do when looking to forge some serious forearms. Here is a typical 3-week forearm blitz using P/RR/S…
Week 1: POWER
-Barbell wrist curls…3 x 6-8
-Reverse curls…3 x 6-8
Week 2: REP RANGE
-Barbell behind the back wrist curls…2 x 9-12
-Seated hammer curls…2 x 13-15
-Reverse barbell wrist curls…2 x 16-20
Week 3: SHOCK
-Superset: Reverse barbell wrist curl/Incline hammer curl…2 x 10-12 each
-Dropset: Barbell wrist curls…1 x 10-12, drop wt. 30%, 6-8 more
-Plate holds (between your fingers and thumb “pinch grip” a 45 lb. Plate and hold by your sides as long as possible)…1 x maximum
Once you complete the three weeks, go back to the beginning to POWER, but shuffle up the exercises a bit.
If your forearms are severely less developed than your upper arms you might want to train them twice per week. Another way to give the forearms a boost in size is to avoid using wrist straps as much as possible, so the forearms are forced to squeeze the bar or dumbbells harder in order to hold the weight.
Similar to forearms, the calves can also be quite resistant to growth. Every time you take a step the calves are activated, and are burdened with carrying around your bodyweight all day long. This means that you must attack the calves if they are to have any reason to increase in size and strength. Conventional training simply will not do when it comes to calves, so I have listed below some unique methods for sending a wake-up call to those stubborn calf muscle fibers!
1. For a period of 2-4 weeks train your calves on a daily basis before returning to your normal program. Use about 4-6 sets per workout, using a different exercise each day.
2. Every night before you go to bed do a set of 100 slow, hard-squeezing standing calf raises with just your bodyweight, on top of your normal program. Go for maximum burn!
3. Wherever it is possible, walk around on your tiptoes rather than your flat feet. Ballet dancers often have awesome calves.
4. Every time you encounter a staircase do a calf raise up each step. On the way down, step onto the ball of your foot, as this will act almost like a plyometric movement for your calves.
5. Try 2 calf workouts per week, one with very heavy weights for sets of 4-6 reps and one with very light weights for sets of 25-50 reps. This will attack fibers that you probably have not been hitting with conventional workouts.
6. Do like Arnold did and train calves in your bare feet (if your feet can handle it). This will increase the range of motion for any calf movement, and will force a very intense contraction.
Do not use all of these methods at once, or your calves could end up over trained, which will of course not contribute to growth. Pick 2 or 3 items from the above list and change things up every few weeks.
If you truly want to build the muscles below the elbows and below the knees, then you must use what you have above your neck in your chest…your head and your heart! Training both smart and with passion is what truly makes a champion, and helps overcome whatever deficit we might have in the genetic department.
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