To the uninitiated there are few ways to develop bigger calf muscles, but there are some minor tweaks you can make to your routine that can end up making a big difference.
Are calf muscles more difficult to grow than other muscles?
Calves are a tough area to develop in terms of muscle mass, and many people give up trying. They are a well-developed muscle group from all the walking and running we do, so you need to go above and beyond to grow them.
Why are calves often lacking?
The constant amount of walking and running we do during everyday life and exercise develops our calves, so the odd set of 20 reps doesn’t really scratch the surface of what needs to be done to develop them more.
How to grow your calves
First, look at how often you’re training your calf muscles. Because they’re a smaller muscle group they respond better to a higher frequency of training. Understandably, it’s common to reserve all your lower body training to “leg day”, but instead of leaving them to a weekly session, aim for three sessions a week, incorporating them into back or shoulder day or any other session when your legs 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 start of your session is when your muscles are at their strongest and you’re at your freshest. 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, and end the session with high reps (15-25).
Consider the progressive overload principle, and ensure you are continuously progressing the workload put on the calves.
Take Off Your Shoes
This is widely acknowledged as the best-kept secret to getting the most out of calf muscle exercises. By going barefoot, you will hit more muscles in your calves (and shins). This is because you’ll not have the support usually provided by your trainers, meaning that smaller muscles will be required to help provide stability and balance, as well as an increased range of motion.
The following are isolation exercises that focus purely on your calf muscles:
Double standing calf raises
While standing tall, press up onto your toes and pause for one second, tensing your calves. You can do this exercise without weight, or you can hold dumbbells by your side or use a Smith machine for weight and stability.
Single leg calf raises
While standing upright, stabilise yourself on one foot and press up onto your toes and pause for one second tensing the calves. You can go without weight or hold dumbbells by your side or use a Smith machine for weight and stability.
Seated calf raises
Add the desired weight to the machine and ensure you are sat with the pads just above the knee. You need a 90-degree angle in the knee. Push the weight away from the floor using the front of the foot and tense your calves for a second.
Take home message
The calves are a notoriously difficult muscle group to grow but that doesn’t mean you can’t add size and shape to them. Stay patient and ensure you are progressively overloading the exercises to ensure progress.