Many people neglect training their calves, but they are an important muscle group that helps provide stability in squats and deadlifts, prevent your feet from overpronating or underpronating, and prevent knee and ankle injuries.
The calf muscles also contribute to a well-rounded physique, which is important for people who train for both strength and aesthetic goals. One way to increase both strength and muscle size in the calves is to incorporate blood flow restriction training (BFR) into your routine.
So, does blood flow restriction training work for calves? Yes, blood flow restriction training for calves works. Studies show that BFR training is a safe and effective way to strengthen the calf muscles, increase hypertrophy, and improve endurance. There are some risks associated with BFR training, but the chances of developing severe complications are low.
Let’s dive into how BFR works for the calves and how to program it properly.
At the end of this article, you’ll also find three BFR band recommendations.
Check out my other blood flow restriction guides:
- Blood Flow Restriction Training for Chest (Complete Guide)
- Blood Flow Restriction Training for Glutes (Complete Guide)
- Blood Flow Restriction Training for Arms (Complete Guide)
How Does Blood Flow Restriction for the Calves Work?
Blood flow restriction works by completely restricting venous blood flow while partially restricting arterial blood flow. This allows blood to collect in the working muscle, resulting in the “pump” feeling that you’d get when training a muscle group to fatigue.
BFR training is done with low weights, high reps, and short rest periods. It’s been shown to produce results similar to heavy resistance training, even though you only train with weights at 20 – 40% of your 1RM.
Additionally, BFR training doesn’t cause muscle damage. It’s an excellent way to add training volume to your routine without burning yourself out.
In need of some BFR Bands? We tested the 6 most popular brands on the market. Check out our article on the Best Flood Flow Restriction Bands to find out the winner.
3 Benefits of using BFR Training For Calves
A lot of research has been done on the effects of blood flow restriction training on muscle size, endurance, and strength.
There aren’t a lot of studies that examine BFR’s effects on the calves specifically, but many of the same principles can be applied to BFR training for the calves.
Three benefits of BFR training for calves are:
1. Increased muscular strength
2. Increased aerobic capacity
3. Increased hypertrophy
1. Increased Muscular Strength
One study examined the effects of BFR training on muscle size in male track and field athletes.
Researchers divided 15 athletes into either a control group or a BFR training group. The BFR group performed squats and leg curls twice a day for eight consecutive days. Their leg press strength increased by 9.6% compared to 4.8% in the control group.
Their 30-m sprint times also improved significantly, especially during the first 10m of acceleration. Because sprints rely heavily on the calf muscles, it can be assumed that an increase in calf strength contributed to these results.
It should be noted that the control group in this study didn’t perform squats and leg curls like the BFR group. It’s possible that they would have seen increases in leg strength as well had they performed those movements, but it’s not known how their results would have compared to the BFR group.
I go over the benefits of training calves for powerlifters in my article on Should Powerlifters Train Calves.
2. Increased Aerobic Capacity
In a study published by the European Journal of Applied Physiology, college basketball players participated in walk training while wearing BFR bands. They performed five sets of walking intervals with 3 minutes of work and 1 minute of rest twice a day for two weeks.
At the end of the trial, the players showed significant increases in both VO2max (the maximum rate of oxygen consumption during exercise) and VEmax (the largest amount of air a person can inhale and exhale during a 12-15 second interval).
This suggests that wearing BFR bands around the legs while doing low-intensity conditioning work can help improve one’s endurance.
However, other studies such as this one advise against using BFR training for conditioning exercises. Participants in this study experienced a larger increase in blood pressure than the subjects who didn’t wear BFR bands.
Researchers believe this is due to the perceived extra exertion and resistance that is caused by the BFR cuffs. Based on this study, untrained individuals should exercise caution when walking with BFR bands.
Wondering what kind of conditioning workouts are good for powerlifters? Check out the article GPP Workout for Powerlifters: What Is It?, How To, Benefits.
3. Increased Hypertrophy
Research shows that walking while wearing BFR bands can result in increased muscle size in the thighs and lower legs.
In a study published by the Public Library of Science, researchers examined whether or not BFR training has a significant impact on muscle mass in the calves.
Males with an average of 7 years of training experience performed just one calf exercise on two non-consecutive days per week for six weeks. The changes weren’t significant, but the subjects who wore BFR bands were able to increase their calf size by 3.29%.
One interesting thing to note is that the non-BFR group was able to perform more reps than the BFR group during each training session.
So even though the non-BFR group accumulated more training volume over time, the BFR group was still able to achieve greater increases in muscle size.
As you’ll see further down in this article, it’s recommended to accumulate a total of 75 reps spread across multiple sets when doing BFR training. However, the outcomes from this study suggest that BFR training can produce positive results even when performing fewer reps.
What Are the Risks of Using BFR for Calves?
In general, the risks of BFR training are low, as long as you don’t wrap the bands too tight, you don’t have any pre-existing medical conditions, and you don’t overdo it.
BFR training for calves does come with some risks, however. It’s unlikely that you’d experience any negative side effects, but BFR training can cause complications such as:
- Numbness and dizziness
- Damage to the nerves or arteries
Who Should Do Blood Flow Restriction for Calves?
Nearly everyone can benefit from strong calf muscles, but BFR training for the calves can help athletes in all sports improve their athletic performance.
BFR training for calves is good for:
- Sprinters and endurance runners
- Bodybuilders who are training calves for aesthetics
- Powerlifters or weightlifters with weak calf muscles who want to strengthen their calves for squats (Check out the article 20 Exercises to Improve Squat Strength (That Actually Work) to learn how the calves play a role in squatting.)
- Anyone rehabbing lower-body injuries
- Athletes who participate in sports that require a lot of explosive power, such as basketball, soccer, football, and volleyball
- Individuals with weak ankles due to previous injuries or imbalances
Who Shouldn’t Do Blood Flow Restriction for Calves?
While most people can safely perform BFR training, there are certain individuals who should not do it. This includes people with the following conditions:
- Cardiovascular disease
- A history of blood clots and DVT
- High blood pressure
How Do You Use BFR for Calves?
Many other websites will tell you to place the bands just below the knee, but this is poor advice. There are very superficial nerves in this area, and wearing BFR bands too close to the joints increases the risk of causing nerve damage.
When training the calves, BFR bands should only be placed at the top of the thighs. You’ll still get the same benefits even though the bands are located further away from the calves.
The bands should be wrapped in a layered manner and should not cover a large surface area. This reduces the risk of artery damage from the arteries being completely occluded.
You should wrap the bands to a perceived level of 7 out of 10. If your skin becomes pale or you no longer feel a pulse in the ankle, you’ll know the bands are too tight.
Pretty much any calf isolation exercise can be used with BFR training. This includes standing or seated calf raises and seated band pushes.
As you saw when we reviewed some research studies above, you can also perform walking intervals while wearing BFR bands to train the calves.
How Do You Program BFR Training for Calves?
The most commonly prescribed rep scheme for BFR training is one set of 30 followed by 3 sets of 15, with 30 seconds of rest in between each set.
You should use very light weights – anywhere from 20-40% of your 1RM. Since it’s highly likely that you’ve never tried to find a 1RM calf raise, start conservatively. If the weights seem too light during the first set, you can increase them for the remaining sets.
BFR training doesn’t damage muscle fibers the same way heavy resistance training does, so you can do BFR training for the calves at any time.
For powerlifters, weightlifters, or CrossFitters, I recommend doing it at the end of your regular training session or on a rest day. If you’re a runner or endurance athlete, I’d advise following the same protocol.
2 BFR for Calves Workout Examples
Below are two examples of calf workouts you can use with BFR training. Both workouts can be done either at the end of your regular training session or on a rest day.
1. BFR Resistance Training Workout for Calves
Standing Dumbbell Calf Raise
- Rest for 30 seconds
- Rest for 30 seconds after each set
After the fourth set, rest for 1-2 minutes, then perform:
Seated Calf Raise
- Rest for 30 seconds
- Rest for 30 seconds after each set
2. BFR Walk Training for Calves
This workout can be done either outside or on a treadmill. If you use a treadmill, you can opt to walk at an incline during the working intervals.
- Walk at a brisk pace for 3 minutes
- Rest for 1 minute
- Repeat 4 times for a total of 20 minutes
If you find your calves cramping in exercises like the leg curl, then be sure to check out my other article that will help solve this problem.
Frequently Asked Questions: BFR Training for Calves
1. Can BFR Training Increase Calf Size?
Yes. BFR training has been shown to increase muscle size in the quads, chest, biceps and triceps. There’s no reason to believe that it wouldn’t increase calf size as well. Utilizing a combination of calf isolation exercises and walking while wearing BFR bands can enhance your results.
2. Is BFR Training for the Calves Dangerous?
Studies have shown that BFR training is safe for healthy individuals. As long as you wear the bands correctly and don’t wrap them too tightly, you shouldn’t experience any negative side effects.
3. How Often Can I Use BFR Training for Calves?
It is recommended to use BFR training 2-4 days per week. If you’re new to BFR training, you can start with 2 days and increase the frequency as you get more used to it.
Product Recommendations: BFR Bands
There are many different BFR brands on the market. If you’re not sure which ones to buy, check out some of my recommendations below.
The Gymreapers Occlusion Straps are available in a package of four: two for the legs and two for the arms.
Made from a nylon and elastic material, these bands have size indicators so you can get the same amount of pressure on both limbs.
These bands also have a heavy-duty buckle that is easy to fasten and adjust quickly if you need more or less pressure during your workout.
The Shape Savages bands also come in a pack of four. The material is slightly stiffer than other BFR bands, which helps achieve a greater muscle pump.
These bands don’t have size indicators, but they are well-made otherwise, so I don’t consider it a dealbreaker. You just have to be mindful of getting the same amount of pressure on each limb when you wear them.
Like the Gymreapers bands, these bands are numbered, which makes it easy to achieve the same level of tightness on both sides.
They are also lined with a comfort liner, so they won’t irritate your skin. And the hook-and-loop fastener keeps the bands in place throughout your entire workout so you don’t have to adjust them in between each set.
Even though the calves are often a forgotten muscle group, it’s important for athletes to train them regularly.
Strong calves help you remain stable during heavy squats and deadlifts, prevent knee and ankle injuries, and they help stabilize your feet. They’re also important for individuals who train for aesthetic purposes.
BFR training is a safe and effective method of strengthening and increasing the size of the calves. It can easily be incorporated into your regular routine.
And because BFR training doesn’t cause muscle damage the same way traditional resistance training does, you can add it to the end of your regular training session or do it on a rest day without becoming too fatigued.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.