This article is mostly written for the guys.
Calves are one of the most frustrating body parts to grow. To a lot of people, they believe it is 100% genetics. They think if you have small calves it is just because you are born that way. While genetics do play a huge role in calf development (as well as building muscle in general) there are a lot of things you can try to increase muscularity in your calves.
A lot of it comes down to not training them as hard as other muscle groups. Most guys will train chest like a savage. Oftentimes even having an entire day dedicated to it. When’s the last time you heard someone say “What are you training today bro?” “I’m training calves today man!”
When it comes to calves they might do 3 sets of 10 of calf raises at the end of a workout once a week. Then complain that their calves are small. Curse you genetics!
I know I know, they aren’t really an exciting body part to train. I too am at fault for not paying attention to them as much as I could. However, it is very important to build up your calves to have a well proportioned physique.
Don’t be one of those guys with a jacked upper body and small legs!
Tip #1: High Frequency
Calves need to be hit hard and often. Just think about it. Your calves support your body weight all day long walking around. Because of this, they need to be trained a bit harder and more frequently than other muscle groups. I challenge you to do calves at the end or the beginning of every single workout.
For me personally, I like to end my workouts with calves and abs. It is an easy way to remember to hit them. If you are working out your calves hard 5-7 times a week you are bound to see some growth.
Tip #2: Weighted Walks
Have you ever seen that overweight guy with jacked and ripped calves? I bet you had calf envy. I also bet you were wondering how they looked like that. It wouldn’t make sense for a muscle to look so lean when they are at a high body fat. This is actually somewhat common and if you look at it logically it makes sense.
They are walking around all day with a ton of extra weight. Every step is like a mini calf raise. This causes some serious calf growth. Am I telling you go gain 100 pounds to increase the size of your calves? Of course not! However, what we can do is learn from this and apply it to our training.
Try walking with a weighted vest or a weighted backpack. To kick things up a notch, I love walking on an incline treadmill or better yet hiking. Your calves will be on fire.
There is a workout gaining a lot of popularity called rucking. It is derived from military training. Pretty much all you do is slap on a weighted backpack and get walking for miles. While I think this is fine to do every once in awhile, I feel that if you go too far of a distance for too long of a time period you can start to develop some back issues. No point in injuring yourself! It is definitely a fun challenge to do every once in awhile though.
Tip #3: Explosive Work
Have you ever looked at the calves of a tennis player? They are almost always jacked. They will have a skinny upper body and massive calves. It is because of all the explosive fast movements they perform during matches. Years and years of this kind of training make the calves grow quite a bit.
One good way to mimic this to a certain degree is through sprints. Head over to your local track and do some sprint workouts. While there you can incorporate jumping and other explosive exercises.
Another thing you can do is join a local sports team for fun. There are a lot of them out there. Whether it be basketball, soccer, tennis or whatever! Playing sports involves a lot of explosive movements and different angles that are hard to replicate in the weight room.
Tip #4: High Reps
Calves respond pretty well to high repetitions. By high repetitions I mean in the 20-50 rep range. I would say in general people normally train their calves in the 10-15 rep range. Don’t be scared to bump it up and go even higher!
Tip #5: Slow Reps and Pause Reps
This technique is a killer. It will completely suck while you are doing it but it’s worth it! Calves respond well to the “stretch”. What I want you to do is perform a calf raise and pause at the top for 4-5 seconds. Then you will lower to the bottom position and hold it there for 4-5 seconds. Do this for 10 full reps. Your calves will be on FIRE!
Another alternative is to use a slow tempo throughout the movement. So you would perform 4 seconds up and 4 seconds going down. With no time paused at the top or bottom. I personally prefer the pauses/stretches and would recommend you do those primarily.
Tip #6: Low Reps
People rarely ever do low rep calf exercises. It is pretty odd and I am not sure why. It will increase the strength in your calves, allowing you to press more weight and pack on some more size. Lifters will go heavy on the regular lifts but never do for calves. Low reps are great to include in your training.
For low reps, stick to the 5-8 rep range. I wouldn’t personally go lower than that.
Tip #7: Different Angles
Some people make the mistake of only doing seated or standing calf raises. They don’t switch it up. Try them seated, standing, on a leg press, steps, feet pointed in or out, wide/narrow. By doing this you will hit your calves from a bunch of different angles, thus giving you all around development.
Tip #8: Tibialis Anterior Raises
People often forget about the front of the calves (Tibialis Anterior). It is an odd muscle to train but by doing some you can quickly put on some size. Some people like using a dumbbell and others use a band. A band is normally the easiest way to go about it. I find using a dumbbell a bit awkward.
With the band, simply attach the band to the bottom of a power rack. Sit down on the ground far enough from the band where it is already stretched out giving good tension. Place the band around your foot and do the opposite of a calf raise. Meaning you bring your foot towards your body. Keep the reps in the 10-15 range.
I have yet to see anyone in the gym using this (besides fitness guys online that know what they are doing). Try it out!
Bringing It All Together
In this article there are a lot of different ways you can facilitate some calf gains. I think it’s great to mix it up and train them frequently.
Here is an example plan you can follow.
3×25 Seated Calf Raises
3×25 Standing Calf Raises
Weighted Incline Treadmill Walk – 1-2 miles at a fast pace
10×10 single leg bodyweight calf raises
- 3×6 leg press calf raises.
- Finish with 1 set of 10 reps, 4 second hold at the top and bottom.
- After this 3×15 Tibialis Anterior Raises.
Weighted Incline Treadmill Walk – 1-2 miles at a fast pace
Sprints and Explosive Work
You can of course mix it up however you like but that would be a solid plan to follow. The first week you may not be able to really do everything since your calves will be so sore. But you can work up to that level.
What About People with Limited Equipment?
Not to worry, you can still get in a killer calf workout without fancy equipment. Here is an example workout you can try out.
Go to a flight of steps and do 10 calf raises with one leg, then 10 raises with the other. Go up a step and repeat. Keep doing this until you can’t go anymore. Or try going up and down the entire flight of stairs. Whatever you decide, try to do more than the previous day. Let’s say the day before you did 6 steps. This time try 7. Always try to make things harder. Even doing this every day for a couple of months would be very effective.
Give your calves the attention you give your biceps and I can pretty much guarantee you some growth!