A few months ago, T3’s Fitness Ed Matt tasked me with a long list of physical challenges to carry out and report back on. Since then, I’ve been dutifully working my way through the list, doing 100 kettlebell swings and 100 burpees a day before moving on to 100 jumping jacks and 50 bird dogs a day. And who could forget my 50 squats a day for a month challenge to kick it all off?! I know my arse hasn’t.
But there’s one challenge he set me that I have consistently ignored and left until last: to do 1,000 calf raises a day for a week. Yep, that’s right. ONE THOUSAND. CALF RAISES. A DAY.
When I first saw this challenge, I frowned, then quickly moved on to the ‘easier’, more achievable challenges. A few weeks later, I looked at the list again to select my next challenge and became convinced it must be a typo - that Matt had surely meant to write 100 calf raises a day, not 1,000. In the end, I decided to at least give the challenge a try just once to see if it was possible before asking Matt if there’d been a mistake (I’m not one to quit before I’ve even started). Full disclosure, it didn’t go well. Here’s what happened…
It wasn’t just the sheer number of reps that was putting me off from doing this calf raise challenge. In truth, I’ve suffered from extremely tight calf muscles for decades, probably due to the fact that I lived in high heels during my late teens and 20s, and unintentionally always did (and taught) aerobics on my toes, never trying to get my heels down on the ground until a nasty ankle sprain in class caused me to rethink my form.
The result of this lengthy ‘calf abuse’ means I now have to spend lots of time warming up my calves with a variety of dynamic stretches before I can even think about hiking or running; otherwise, I end up crying in agony and struggling to pick my feet up off the floor.
Moreover, I also realised a few years ago that my tight calves were really restricting my ability to squat fully. Ever since, I’ve been spending long periods of time stretching my lower limbs during cooldowns with exercises specifically designed to improve my mobility and flexibility.
Therefore, I’m sure you’ll understand my concerns that doing 1,000 calf raises a day could undo all the calf-lengthening work I’d been doing for the last few years. But hey ho, I’d accepted the challenge, and I wasn’t about to back down just yet. After all, how bad could it be?
I decided to break down the 1,000 calf raises into ten rounds of 100 reps interspersed throughout my day, mainly to give my calves time to rest and stretch in between. I thought I’d do the first 100 reps while cleaning my teeth first thing but quickly discovered this task needed my full attention and focus. Moving onto the stairs, I bashed out 100 reps and instantly knew I was in trouble.
For the rest of the day, I did 100 calf raises at a time on my stairs at home, at the local park, in my back garden, and in the kitchen while waiting for the kettle to boil to try and break up the monotony. By the time it got to 7 pm - and I still had another 200 reps to go - I was in a world of pain. No amount of gritted teeth or motivational talk was going to help me complete the challenge, and neither was the prolonged stretching in between.
Halfway through the penultimate round, my calves were on fire, and the cramping was so bad that I had to stop at rep 857. Yes, I was close to the end and wanted to complete the challenge, but I was also close to tears and could barely walk, let alone do one more calf raise. I gave up, got someone to bring me a cup of tea in bed, fell asleep, and continued to wake through the night with cramps.
If I’d filled out my journal for this day, it would have said something along the lines of: ‘Pain. Lots of pain. Agony. Cramping. Can’t walk. Can’t get my heels on the floor. Burning. Woe is me. Dying inside. Never doing this again. Paaaaaaaain.’
Feeling even worse than the day before, I email Matt from bed to ask whether he meant to challenge me to 100 calf raises a day for a week instead of 1,000 calf raises. It turns out it wasn’t a typo, and the 1,000 calf raises challenge is actually ‘a thing’ amongst fitness YouTubers.
I watch a 22-minute video Matt sends me of a guy doing the challenge, and I am genuinely lost for words. This man’s attempt appears legit because you see the pain etched on his face throughout. But he struggles on in the name of ‘growing’ his calf muscles, taking around 40 minutes at a time each day to do all 1,000 calf raises. On day four, he admits the pain in his calves is ‘so overwhelming,’ he doesn’t feel like doing any other kind of workout for the rest of his body.
Needless to say, he appears to do 1,000 calf raises a day for a week, and I’ll admit his calf muscle growth gains in the ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots do look noticeable (if he did actually shoot the challenge in one week).
On day eight, he even gets a tape measure out to record an increase of about a quarter inch on his left calf, and a half inch on the right. But it’s at that moment that I find myself thinking: ‘Hold up just one minute. Did you really just put yourself through all that pain - and sacrifice training the rest of your body - for a quarter of an inch, and a half an inch, of calf muscle gains?’ And it was at that point that I quit the challenge.
Verdict: I tried doing 1,000 calf raises a day for a week, and it nearly ruined my legs
Here’s the thing. I train my body to be in balance, and to be functional - so that it can run, jump, walk, squat, lift and lunge with ease. That means I don’t skip leg days. And I won’t do anything that risks my body’s functionality, even if that means that other people think I’m a quitter.
At the same time, I like the way my calves look, regardless of how I train them. And while I admire Jack Grealish’s calf muscles on the pitch (I even have a calendar at home dedicated purely to his lower legs – trust me, it’s a thing), I don’t want my calves to resemble his. And I don’t need to grow my calves.
That said, I get the pressure on men to have bigger calves. You only have to look at the trolling Chris Hemsworth received when a certain image of him made it look as though he had ‘tiny legs’ in relation to his jacked arms to understand why certain men would sacrifice training the rest of their bodies to work on one specific body part. (Matt even asked Chris PT, Luke Zocchi, about the photo)
So, if you really, really want bigger calf muscles, you could try the 1,000 calf raises a day challenge and see where it gets you after a week. But you also need to weigh up whether a week’s pain is worth the minuscule results, especially in relation to training the rest of your body and the potential risk of injury.
Because spending 40 minutes on training one body part alone is absolute overkill at the very least, if not dangerous, whether you’re targeting your biceps, pecs, traps, glutes, deltoids, hamstrings, or whatever!
At this point, it’s worth referring to scientifically proven methods of periodised training for strength and growth gains. To put it bluntly, there’s a reason why the most successful strength training programmes will have you lifting a set number of reps and sets that increase the weight or intensity over time, as opposed to endlessly upping the number of reps.
In short, doing 1,000 reps a day of anything a day, in my opinion, is the opposite of training smart, and opens you up to the risk of overtraining, injury, and general wear and tear. In conclusion, it’s best left to clickbating YouTubers.