How can I grow my calves? (A bodybuilding guide)

How can I grow my calves?

How can I grow my calves? A common bodybuilding question.

One of the most common questions in bodybuilding is 'how can I grow my calves?' as they a notoriously stubborn. The internet is full of programs and calf exercises but the majority of lifters really struggle to get them to grow. So, how do we grow our calves?

The simple answer is, with high frequency, multi-angled training and good nutrition. In this article we will explore effective exercises, the frequency required, the resistance required and the nutrition required to get bigger calves.

Why are calves hard to grow?

The muscle growth response in calf muscles is lower than in other muscles in the body. They are one of the most used muscles in our daily lives so they are primed for strength and stamina but this does seem to have an effect on hypertrophy. 

Many bodybuilders do not even bother training calves as they see it as a lost cause. If you are blessed with naturally big calves through genetics, this is an understandable route to take but, there is always room for growth. And, small calves are not a lost cause!

Why have I got small calves?

Our calf size is generally dictated to us by genetics. Some of us are dealt huge calves that are nearly bursting out of the skin whereas others have lower legs like toothpicks. 

If you play a regular physical sport, are a runner or cyclist, you will have activated the calf muscle regularly and seen at least some growth. Regular activation is the key to calf growth. 

Scientists claim that the amount of hypertrophy that we can achieve with calf exercises is limited to around 20% due to the muscle growth receptors. 

Adding 20% growth can make a lot of difference to the shape of your calf muscle. Especially if you also focus on the surrounding muscles that push the calf muscle up and out.

Anatomy of the calf.

How can I get bigger calves
The calf muscle is made up of two heads, the Medial head and the Lateral head. We can target each head by changing the angle of our feet when performing calf press exercises. the Soleus muscle is predominantly at the front of the lower leg but does wrap around and under the medial head. 

The Soleus muscle can be exercised for hypertrophy and this will push the medial head up giving the appearance of a bigger calf muscle. 

Why are my calf exercises not working?

Performing occasional calf raises is not going to make too much difference when it comes to calf muscle growth. 

You need to add regular activation into your routine that targets the calf muscles and the Soleus from different angles. As with any muscle-building exercise, to achieve hypertrophy you need to keep well hydrated and consume enough protein. 

The exercise plan below can be added to your existing split and will force growth. Be realistic about your expectations as calves will not grow as quickly as your quads, for example. 

Take a photo before you start, measure your calf circumference and stick with the exercises for 12-16 weeks. After this time, check the measurements and compare your new calves with photos. 

Why does calf training give me DOMS?

If you have ever trained calves with a heavy load, you will have experienced DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) a few days later. 

This can make the calves very sore and it is hard to walk for a few days which puts a lot of lifters off of training calves. 

By training the calves more frequently, with a lighter load, they will become used to the regular stress and, after a couple of sessions, DOMS in the calves will be a thing of the past. 

What are the best exercises for big calves?

The best way to force growth in the calves is by adding a calf circuit to the end of a training session. Aim to train the calves 4 times a week. 

A calf circuit should contain heavy calf presses with each working set being taken to absolute failure. Finishing off the calves with a couple of lighter, high rep sets will activate maximum growth.

Day 1:

20 reps with feet apart, 20 reps with feet together (per set)
This may seem like a lot of reps but we are only using bodyweight. If you struggle, drop the reps, if it's too easy, increase the reps. Make sure each set is performed to failure. 

Day 2:

6-8 reps per set - neutral stance
Perform a couple of warm-up sets and then pyramid up to 5 heavy working sets. Don't go to absolute failure. Stop a couple of reps short.
Superset with...
12-15 reps on each leg
Use the frame of the seated calf press and perform 12-15 reps on each immediately after your seated set.

Day 3:

20 reps with feet apart, 20 reps with feet together (per set)
This may seem like a lot of reps but we are only using bodyweight. If you struggle, drop the reps, if it's too easy, increase the reps. Make sure each set is performed to failure. 

Day 4:

Pyramid set - 20, 15, 10, 5, 5, 10, 15, 20
Don't go to failure when you pyramid down but from set 4 take each set to failure. 


Adding these short calf circuits to the end of your regular workouts will force them to grow. As soon as you finish, drink a protein shake and spend a few minutes stretching them out so that you can kickstart recovery. 

One more tip before we finish! When you are walking around your house or around the gym, walk on tiptoes. 

This might look a bit strange but doing this for an hour or so each day will activate the calf muscles and force them to adapt. Some professional bodybuilders, mostly female, swear by this method for growing the calves. 

We hope that you find this article useful and the exercises work for you. Please leave us a comment or post your progress pictures. 

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