There have been bodybuilding magazine articles written about how Arnold Schwarzenegger’s calf development was so bad earlier on in his bodybuilding career that he decided to clamp down and give his calves priority training, training them first every workout, training them six times a week, and never covering up his calves when training, as to motivate himself to train harder in order to get bigger calves by exposing his allegedly inferior calves to potential ridicule.
But were Schwarzenegger’s calves really ever that poorly developed and did Arnold overcome a genetic weakness by prioritizing calf training? Arnold’s calves may have lagged a little behind the rest of his body for a few years because he had been undertraining them in comparison to how he trained his upper body. It must have dawned on Schwarzenegger at some point in his young career that he had taken chest and bicep development to a whole new level, and that was a strength to exploit, but he quickly realized that he was creating an imbalance that wouldn’t be resolved unless he decided to balance out his proportions by enlarging his calves.
Tom Platz faced a similar issue in the late 1970s early 1980s when he realized his upper leg development was something people hadn’t seen before. But he embraced being known mostly for legs. Platz did try to increase his upper body to match his lower but not by holding back on his leg training. He trained upper body so intensely that he ended up tearing a biceps sometime after his 1981 Mr Olympia contest, his best condition ever, which negatively affected the rest of his career. Before his accident, Platz actually started to develop a biceps peak resembling that of Schwarzenegger.
Back to Schwarzenegger. There were a couple years when, especially his upper body, really started to blow up on supplements that his calves lagged a little, but his calves didn’t lag because of genetics, and they weren’t without superior shape. Take this image of Schwarzenegger at roughly age 16. His calves aren’t out of proportion because his upper body wasn’t ridiculously big at that point. Even in this shot where he’s showing proportionately a little more mass in the upper body, you can still see the detail in his calves. The potential is there. All those gnarly fibers of the inner head of the gastrocnemius are on the surface like they would be seen later in the movie Pumping Iron, albeit to a greater degree in Pumping Iron.
If you contrast Schwarzenegger with Kal Szkalak, Szkalak was perceived to have an upper versus lower body imbalance, Szkalak may or may not have neglected his leg training but Szkalak’s legs never had that totally innervated look that Schwarzenegger always had. Something structurally or otherwise wasn’t allowing his lower body to respond the same way his upper body was. There’s a look to Szkalak’s legs, and it’s beyond calf muscle belly length or quad shape, that doesn’t match all the fiber control he has in his upper body. There are bodybuilders with incredibly high calves that have all the fibers flexing in bold relief. Case in point, Nimrod King. King had very high calves but a distinctive peak to his calves, not to mention his quad development is comparable to most in his era. King just had high calf insertions. Schwarzenegger had decent calf length as well as the ability to bring his calves into proportion with the rest of his body and he quickly did.
Working backwards, this pic is likely either 1969 or 1970 and that would make him either 21 or 22, and look at the calves. He’s already complete, head to toe. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find a bodybuilder who was complete at 22 but Schwarzenegger won the top title in three different bodybuilding federations at that age. The NABBA Pro Mr. Universe, the IFBB Mr. Olympia, and the AAU Pro Mr World. And at that time, the NABBA Pro Mr. Universe was considered the most prestigious bodybuilding contest in the world. Schwarzenegger’s 1971 and onward presence exclusively at the Mr. Olympia helped cement the IFBB Mr. Olympia as the premiere bodybuilding contest in the world.
Here’s some pics from 1967 which would have made Schwarzenegger around 19 and you can clearly see all the trademark muscle fibers already in his calves. Of course, there are later photos of Schwarzenegger’s calves, taken from 1970-1975, after he brought them into balance with the rest of his body, photographed with intense lighting from above, that make his calves look incomparable to this day. His calves were also likely pumped when the photos were taken but the bottom line is that Schwarzenegger’s calves were never a genetically weak bodypart that he miraculously brought up, but were a bodypart that he initially neglected, and quickly addressed that neglect, flipping the tables and making his calves among his best body parts.
If you want an example of someone seemingly going outside of their genetic limits, look no further than Tom Platz altering the shape of his biceps which, of course, came at a price, but didn’t necessarily have to. A true miraculous calf transformation would be six foot five inch tall Jamie Christian-Johal getting his calves in proportion to the rest of his body. Like Szkalak, Jamie lacks the innervation in his calves, except it’s just limited to his calves, his thighs are as receptive as his upper body. His calf shape and muscle belly length are not the issue, they’re fine. Unlike Schwarzenegger, he doesn’t appear to have the potential to balance his calves with the rest of his physique through weight lifting, although maybe there are physical therapists or other disciplines that can help him in ways that conventional calf training alone cannot.