Considered the most stubborn and neglected body part, it’s no wonder there are hordes of frustrated exercise-junkies asking: “why aren’t my calves growing?”. The answer is simply that your calves aren’t being properly engaged. The solution, however is a little more complicated than the answer to the question suggests. Read on as we breakdown the detail and give you several strategies to grow some colossal calves – even in a home gym setting.
What Are Calf Muscles?
The calf muscle is located on the back of the lower leg, above the ankle and below the knee.
While it looks like a single muscle it’s actually made up of two muscles.
The gastrocnemius is the hard bulging muscle that is most obvious when you flex the muscle by extending your foot downwards.
The soleus is a flat muscle with less mass which lies underneath the gastrocnemius.
Together, the gastrocnemius and the soleus are referred to as the triceps surae.
As you can see in the diagram the calf muscles merge at the bottom with the Achilles tendon which itself merges with the heel bone.
The function of the calf muscles are to lift the heel from the floor. Try standing on your tip toes: it’s you calf muscles that allow you to do this.
The soleus contributes to our ability to stand upright and maintain stability, whereas the primary function of the gastrocnemius is for explosive movements.
How Are Calves Trained?
In typical bodybuilding routines, the calves are generally trained on leg day, usually at the end of the routine and the main exercises are calf raises.
Calf raises can be done either seated or standing and most commercial gyms will have dedicated standing and seated calf raise machines.
However, standing calf raises can be performed using a smith machine and calf raises can also be performed on a leg press machine.
Most bodybuilding routines suggest training calves in the 10 – 15 rep range.
We’ll call this the ‘standard bodybuilding approach to calf training’.
If all this sounds familiar to you and you’ve been following a routine based around the above, then you’re probably asking the following question…
Why Aren’t My Calves Growing?
The problem with the standard bodybuilding approach to training calves is that it simply doesn’t stress the calves sufficiently to stimulate muscle growth. The muscles of the calves simply don’t get activated in the right way.
You’ve probably heard people talk about the difficulty in training calves being down to the fact that we stand on them all day.
There is some truth to that trope, but don’t worry, we’re going to set out some approaches to consider that collectively, will transform not only the way you train your calves, but also the way they look.
So why aren’t your calves growing? Because they are not sufficiently activated by your current training methods!
We’re going to address that now.
How to Grow Big Calves
Before we begin, check out this video from the YouTuber Pigmie where he completes a 7 day, 1000 rep per day bodyweight calf raise challenge.
He completed the challenge on the back of an earlier challenge where he had managed to achieve some decent calf growth by walking on tip toes for a week!
In this challenge he manages to increase his calf circumference by around half an inch in 7 days. That sounds quite good, but I’m here to tell you that there’s a much easier way!!
But first let’s discuss the importance of stretching.
Ballistic stretching can improve the compliance of tendons and thereby contribute to their overall health.
A common issue associated with calf training, especially when starting out for the first time, is injury. Muscle tears are rare, but pain in the achilles tendon is frequently reported.
Stretching the tendons in the feet and ankle will help to keep them healthy and prevent injury as you train your calves.
Stretching will also help ensure that your ankle flexibility is optimized enabling you to perform calf raises with full range of motion – which is critical to maximizing the results of your training.
If you don’t have a good stretching program to hand, we’ve got you covered.
Read our review of the Hyperbolic Stretching Program and learn how we got flexible fast.
As we saw earlier, Pigmie got some good results by performing 1,000 calf raises per day.
But there’s an easier way…
OK, I accept that a jogging stride doesn’t represent a calf raise with full range of motion, but a 5k jog is the equivalent of 2,500 partial calf raises… on EACH calf!
Do a 5k jog three times per week and you’re smashing the weekly volume of calf raises achieved by Pigmie.
What I love about jogging, is that it gives near constant tension on the calf – especially when running uphill. Jogging is a fantastic exercise for building calves.
If you’re new to running and calf training, you can expect to add an inch in calf circumference within 2 months of starting a running program.
We highly recommend the couch to 5k running program if you’re starting out for the first time.
And of course there are countless other benefits to running, especially in terms of heart health that should persuade you to get out there and give it a go.
Optimizing weights and reps on calf raises
We don’t recommend going super heavy on your calf raises. This is great news if you’re training calves at home, as with the exception of perhaps some adjustable dumbbells, you don’t need any specialist equipment.
We would suggest performing your main sets of calf raises in the range of between 25 to 50 reps.
That means you’re not going to be lifting super heavy weights.
We recommend such a high rep range because the muscles of the calf (particularly the soleus) are predominantly made up of slow twitch muscle fibers which respond best to high rep, high frequency training.
You need to perform each rep slowly and get a great squeeze at the top of the movement.
Take your time and consider switching out of your weightlifting mind-set and into a cardio mind-set. You’re here to grind the reps out. This isn’t a set of explosive reps.
So choose your favourite workout track, settle in and get squeezing those calves!
This style of lifting will ensure maximum muscle activation and engagement.
Get Your Mind Right
Talking of mind-set, you need to make your mind up that you calves WILL grow.
I recall reading in a great book called ‘Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder’ by Sam Fussell, that the author, as he was pursuing his bodybuilding ambitions walked around in short trousers so that his feeble calves would be on display every day.
He was using shame to motivate himself to break through his physical limitations.
Now, we don’t recommend that you go taking a pair of scissors to every pair of trousers you own, but you need to make a commitment to achieving your goal of big calves.
Having the right mind-set is critical to your success, but equally important is the strategy that you choose to follow.
So let us help you out with a calf cultivating strategy that is guaranteed to build your calves.
The My Small Space Workouts Colossal Calves Strategy
This isn’t so much of a workout, but an approach to calf muscle training that will ensure sufficient muscle activation and growth.
We’ve designed these guidelines to be achievable by those training at home. If you attend a gym, obviously you can use seated / standing calf raise machines instead.
Commit to the following action:
- 3 runs per week, ranging from 5k to 10k;
- 3 sets of seated dumbbell calf raises (25 to 50 reps) per week
- 3 sets of standing single-legged stair calf raises (25 to 50 reps) per week
If you do this consistently, week-after-week, you will see results.
Furthermore, each 3 set session of calf raises will take less than 15 minutes to complete so can be easily incorporated into your lifestyle.
I hope that this guide has been useful and changed the way you look at calf training.
Before you go however, I want you to check out this article on how to lower myostatin for incredible muscle gains.
If you’re trying to get bigger calves, then you definitely want to learn about this incredible endocrine hack that may just help you achieve your dream physique.