To the untrained eye there are a limited number of ways to develop bigger calf muscles, but with just a few minor amendments to your approach, you could see some major differences.
First of all, take a look at how often you’re training your calf muscles. Because these are a smaller muscle group they respond better to a higher frequency of training. Understandably, it’s pretty common to reserve all your lower body training to the feared and revered ‘leg day’, but rather than leaving them to a weekly session aim for three sessions a week, incorporating them into back or shoulder day – or anywhere your legs your are not put to work (this goes for balancing and standing presses too).
To hit the ground running, you might train them every day for two weeks to a month. Aim for higher sets and lower reps, using a different calf-specific exercise each day.
Weight, Reps & Sets
You’ll know already that the first workout of your session is when your muscles are at their strongest and you’re at your freshest with solid energy levels. That said, start your workout with heavy sets (3-5) and low reps (3-5) so that you initially overload your muscle fibres. After, in the same session, increase the reps and lower the weight. End the session with high reps (15-25).
The following are isolating exercise that focuses purely on your calf muscles:
Double standing calf raise
Single leg calf raise
Seated calf raise
The main point to take from these is to never neglect single leg exercises. By using machines and working both legs at the same time you will likely develop uneven strength and, aesthetically, one calf will be bigger than the other. This is because it’s quite normal to have a stronger side, and this will bear the weight more than the other. By exercising one calf at a time you will also know that you are giving each the individual attention they need – which may also help alert you to any deficit or injury you weren’t previously aware of.
So, if you’re hopping on the calf raise machine and rushing through 3 lots of 10 reps and finding it easy with no real gains to show for your minimal effort, that’s because you ought to take it slow and emphasise the movements. When you’re performing a more complex lift, you’re likely a lot more aware of the full range of its motion, but with calf raises the few degrees you straighten may not seem something you can embellish. To begin, at the height of the movement, hold it and count three Mississippi. Then count three Mississippi as you decline. This will be most effective in hitting the most fibres, as opposed to when you rush and likely don’t apply the same ‘damage’ you would (which achieves hypertrophy) when done slowly.
Take Your Shoes Off
This is widely acknowledged as the best-kept secret to getting the most out of calf muscle exercises. By going bare foot you will hit larger muscles in your calves, as well as your shins. This is because you will be going without the support provided by your trainers, meaning that smaller muscles will be involved to help stabilise and balance, while also allowing a broader range of motion.