Training

Flex Lewis' Workout to Turn Your Calves into Bulls

Pump up your lower legs with the seven-time 212 Olympia winner's hardcore routine.

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Per Bernal / M+F Magazine

Normally going fast and intense with little or no weight isn’t the way to blow up a bodypart to the limit, but stubborn calves can be a different animal. Well James “Flex” Lewis isn't your typical animal. He's a beast, and the training principle he uses to max out his calves prompted the opinionated pro Milos Sarcev to describe Lewis’ legs as “world class.”

Although Lewis gets the most comments about his calves and forearms, he suspects it's due to the fact that "they’re the only things I show when I’m training.”

Lewis is a bit of an innovator in the gym, especially when it comes to training calves. Following a philosophy he has termed “hybrid training,” his goal is to keep blood in the calves through quick, almost- nonstop straight-leg calf movements in three snappy rotations. Lewis had used more conventional heavy calf training in the past, but after experimentation, he realized the benefits of perpetual motion for his own development.

Although Lewis instinctively throws in a few foot-positioning variations, the theory doesn’t change: just keep repping. The Welsh whiz usually completes his calf workout in less than 25 minutes, leaving little time for taking it slow. 

Twice a week, Lewis bangs out the session after his quad or hamstring workout. He emphasizes the importance of stretching calves before diving into the workout, because once you get started, there’s no turning back.

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All of the movements in the workout are meant to stress the gastrocnemius muscle as opposed to the soleus, which lies beneath. Straight-leg calf raises lead to gastrocnemius growth; bent-leg raises hit the soleus.

ROTATION 1 (TRISETS)

Calf raises on a leg-press machine start the first rotation of exercises in the hybrid workout. Lewis pyramids his weights for this movement, which features a short range of motion. With his feet placed shoulder-width apart, he quickly presses the platform to a full extension of his toes. Hopping off the machine and stepping onto a three-inch block high enough to get a full stretch to the floor, he reps out on non-weighted raises before stepping off the block and doing a fast-paced set of raises from the floor. The first rotation comprises four trisets of 30 reps of each component.

ROTATION 2 (GIANT SETS)

The next rotation is one Lewis deems “a giant set from hell.” Try it and you’ll see why. Taking as short a rest as possible, the second group of exercises starts with 15 reps on a standard standing calf-raise machine.

Next come non-weighted raises off a 35-pound plate: 15 reps with his toes on the edge, then 15 reps with his heels on the edge and his toes on the floor, thus shortening the range of motion (i.e., partial reps). Bending over slightly and holding an apparatus for stability, one-leg calf raises follow for 15 reps with each foot. Three giant sets complete this rotation. 

ROTATION 3 (GIANT SETS)

Using a bit of ingenuity, Lewis created the leadoff movement for this second giant set. On a standing calf-raise machine with two levels, he does two-step raises, which look much like climbing up stairs.

He starts by putting his left leg on the first step, stretching and then locking out a full contraction (akin to a one-leg raise). Then he brings his right leg up to the second step, squeezing out a contraction while his left leg hangs free. From there, his left leg goes back to the first step while his right leg goes back to the floor. That’s one rep. Lewis changes the leading leg on alternating trips through the rotation.

After the two-step raises, Lewis completes the giant set with calf raises from a weight plate, from the base rail of a machine and from the floor for 15 reps apiece.

Finally, with his last stash of energy, he’ll return to the exercises in the first rotation to complete his calf workout.

Lewis likes to take an instinctive approach to his training, even though his instincts turn dark, considering that he’s such a pleasant and humble physique star in the making. “I do so many sadistic things for legs,” he says. “My calf training is crazy.”

Lewis lives for the pump he gets through his unique calf training strategy. “The last couple of reps, my calves are full of lactic acid, and they tend to cramp up while I’m driving home. The next day they hurt, but the day after that, omigosh, you can forget it. They’re killing me.” That’s probably why Lewis recommends such accelerated movement in the gym; he has to slow down to recover for the next hybrid calf roundup. 

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 CALF CLASS 

  • Use these tips to get the most out of Lewis’ workout.
  • Stretch your legs fully before starting the rotations.
  • Perform reps quickly, the more the better. Weight is not really a factor. The goal is to keep blood flowing through the calf muscles.
  • Move rapidly between sections of the rotations, with only a short rest before moving to the next rotation.
  • Experiment with this mode of training. Lewis constructed his hybrid style after years of calf training; find the best rhythm and mix of movements and variations to maximize your benefits.
  • Although Lewis no longer does bent-leg calf raises, you can use rapid drop sets of seated calf raises to encourage soleus growth

 LEWIS’ CALF WORKOUT 

ROTATION 1 (TRISETS)

  • Leg-Press Calf Raises
  • Calf Raises (toes on black)*
  • Calf Raises (from floor)*

ROTATION 2 (GIANT SETS)

  • Standing Machine Calf Raises
  • Calf Raises (toes on edge of plate)*
  • Calf Raises (heels on edge of plate)*
  • One-Leg Calf Raises*

ROTATION 3 (GIANT SETS)

  • Two-step Calf Raises on Machine
  • Calf Raises (toes on plate)*
  • Calf Raises (toes on machine base rail)*
  • Standing Calf Raises (from floor)*

Note: Lewis performs each rotation three times, and then he repeats the first rotation for a total of 10 circuits in less than 25 minutes.

*Non-weighted

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