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Calves, Quads and Addiction

Q: I’ve noticed that high calves seem to be more prevalent among African-American and Caribbean bodybuilders than among Caucasian bodybuilders. Would you agree?

A: Generally speaking, yes, but there have been some outstanding exceptions. Sergio Oliva—“the Myth” and Mr. Olympia 1967, ’68 and ’69—inherited some of the all-time-greatest genetics for bodybuilding. He was born in Cuba in 1941, and his ancestry was African. His muscle bellies were long in all areas, and his calves were terrific.

African-American Chris Dickerson, the ’82 Mr. Olympia, although not as gifted for muscular mass as Oliva, was still terrifically gifted for bodybuilding. His calves were his outstanding body-part—unusually long and full even by the standards of elite bodybuilding.

Even Caucasian bodybuilders can be blemished by high calves. A gym where I trained during my youth had two outstanding Caucasian bodybuilders whose physiques were ruined by their calves, although both trained very seriously and both were on steroids.

A high calf can be improved in size to a degree by effective training, but its potential for size is greatly reduced relative to that of a calf with a long belly—like Dickerson’s, for example. I recall reading that a brother of Dickerson also had huge calves, even though he wasn’t a bodybuilder. He, too, had great genetics for calf size, and nonbodybuilding activity was enough for him to develop large calf mass.

High calves can’t be corrected by purely natural means, but calf implants or some injected material may be able to correct the appearance of high calves, at least to some degree.

Q: My quad routine consists of leg presses, leg extensions and squats. I train hard, but my quads still don’t grow. What am I doing wrong?

A: I’ve observed the training of many bodybuilders who told me that their gains had stagnated even though they “train hard,” only to discover that they ended most of their upper-body work sets two or three reps short of what they could really do. On the leg press and squat they cut each work set three or more reps short of their true limit, despite training “hard.” It was no surprise that none of them had seen any growth for a long time—they hadn’t been stimulating any growth. I can’t see you train, so I can’t comment on your effort level.

That you leg-press and do leg extensions and squats means that your limited energy and enthusiasm for training are spread over three quad exercises. It’s inevitable that, consciously or unconsciously, you’ll hold back on most, perhaps all, of those sets so that you can complete your quadriceps workout.

Rather than dilute your training energy over two big quad exercises and the leg extensions, do just one big exercise. If you can squat with correct technique, that should be your sole thigh exercise until you have big quads. Comparing the three quad exercises you do and assuming that you use correct technique on all of them and apply the same sort of exercise intensity to each, the barbell squat is far and away the most effective. Only if you truly can’t squat with correct technique should you use an alternative exercise, which could be the leg press.

When you do just one quad exercise, you’ll give yourself the best chance of being able to train it hard. If, after finishing your work sets, you feel as if you could do another quad exercise, you can’t have trained hard enough.

Learn how to squat with correct technique, fall in love with the squat, train it hard for sets of at least six to eight reps—and perhaps do both medium and higher reps—allow sufficient recovery time between workouts, eat and sleep well, add a little iron to the squat bar every week or two, and then keep that up over the long term. Then you’ll develop bigger quads.

Q: I train hard, I’m careful about what I eat, and I get enough sleep. I don’t want to impair my bodybuilding progress. Paradoxically, I smoke, although I’ve tried many times to give it up. Can you help me with that?

A: When I was about 16, a newcomer started training where I worked out. He was in his 30s. It was a hot summer, and during one workout he took his shirt off. I noticed a huge scar running from the front of his rib cage around to the rear. The fellow had had one of his lungs removed because of the damage done from smoking. His doctor had told him, of course, that he should stop smoking, but he was still smoking. I couldn’t believe that he could still smoke after having suffered so much because of it. That illustrates how wickedly addictive smoking is.

Nicotine acts as a stimulant and is one of the main explanations for the dependence-forming properties of smoking. According to the American Heart Association, “Nicotine addiction has historically been one of the hardest addictions to break.”

While some smokers are successful in kicking the addiction without assistance, many need help, so pernicious is the severity of the addiction. Get help! Discuss the options with your doctor, including special patches or gum to manage cravings.

Kicking smoking will help your bodybuilding because your health will improve. Also consider the bigger picture. Big muscles are an irrelevance relative to your overall health and life in general. A few years ago a friend of mine dropped dead from a heart attack, in front of his young children. He was just 36 years old. He had been a heavy smoker. His premature death robbed him of his most productive years, traumatized his family and left a financial mess.

—Stuart McRobert


Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new 638-page opus on bodybuilding, Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great, available from Home Gym Warehouse, (800) 447-0008, or


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