If you have grown up slim or with a low body weight, there is a high chance that you have small calf muscles. If you have grown up and you were heavier, there is a chance that you have developed calf muscles due to stress of the weight that your body has put on your calves.
The calf muscles are just like any other muscle, but it can be tough to engage them in a workout that will break down the muscle and trigger the muscle to build new tissue so that it appears fuller.
Most people fail to grow their calf muscles because they don’t know how to train and breakdown the muscle properly. If you seriously want to grow your calf muscles, you must learn how to identify when your calf muscles are starting to fatigue and breakdown, identifying when the micro tears are starting to occur during your rep workouts, and mentally and physically pushing through the plateaus so that your calf muscles experience more resistance than it is used to.
What are the best exercises for building bigger calf muscles?
Seated calf raise
The seated calf raise machine is one of the most superior exercises that you can do to target the calf muscles. Ideally, you will do this with a good seated calf raise machine. If you don’t have access to the machine, you can place a barbell or dumbbells on your knees and do ankle dorsiflexion to do the movement.
You want to fully extend your calf muscles so that you end up on the ball of your feet and that you are extending through your big toe.
You also want to extend and relax the muscle entirely so that you continue to break down the muscle during the workout.
You will be aiming for a minimum range of 10 to 15 repetitions. Although, you need to identify when your muscle is starting to break down. This will usually feel like a burning sensation. When this occurs, you should make a mental note that this is where the working set truly begins and it is up to you to get as many quality reps as possible.
Aim to complete a minimum of two sets at least twice a week.
Over the coming weeks, you should notice improvements in your calf development.
Standing calf raise
This is also another superior exercise to work out the calf muscles. You can use the calf raise machines at the gym or you can use a Smith Machine and add on weights and use a small bench or even some plates to give yourself enough ankle dorsiflexion to do the exercise.
Make sure you extend up completely and push the weight through your big toe.
You want to work your calf muscles to the point where they start to feel like they are burning. When you feel this and it feels like your muscles are starting to go on fire, this is when the working set begins.
Aim for 10+ reps with at least 3 working sets.
Tri-standing calf raises
This is a great exercise to hit the different areas of the calf muscle. This allows the inner, outer and back of the calf muscle to get workout out and ideally trigger growth that will see the muscle develop more of a diamond shape.
Aim for 10+ reps for each variation, with 2-3 sets in total.
Donkey calf raises
Donkey calf raises hit a different part of the calf muscle and can be a useful option if you have access to a weight belt or someone that can sit on your back and hips.
Bend over with a hinge at your hips and raise your ankles. If you have a dip belt, add some weight and add resistance weight plates to give you more resistance. Alternately, ask someone that is heavy enough to sit on your back.
This should help trigger new growth in your calf muscles.
What are some other exercises that can help with your calf development?
Bounding for distance will force you to generate more power through your calves and your big toe. Focus on extending and driving more power behind you with your toe.
Double leg jumps
These are plyometric exercises that are more demanding on your muscles and may force you to need more recovery time. You can do double-leg hops for distance, although I prefer double-leg hops over hurdles because it keeps you accountable for how much vertical power you need to generate through your calf muscles.
You can use plyometric hurdles to do these exercises. Ideally, jump over 4-8 hurdles to get the best results.
Skipping forces people to stay on their toes. The workout is moderate impact if you stick to single skips, but continue to do skipping for an extended amount of time.
Double and triple under skips will force the calf muscles to work harder, however the impact will be high and it may take longer for the calf muscle to recover. The exercise should help condition the calf muscle.
What are some key points for building bigger calf muscles?
Maximize the working weight so that it is much greater than your own body weight.
Your working weight needs to be high to trigger growth in your calf muscles. Your calf muscles are used to carrying your body weight 24h a day. So any weight that isn’t at least 1.5 times your body weight is unlikely to trigger serious growth and development in your calf muscles.
In my case, I am 86kg and I do my calf raise exercises with 140kg in the seated calf raise and at least 200kg in the standing calf raise.
Listening to how some of the pro bodybuilders trained, they would do working sets between 300-500kg to sculpt big, dense, diamond-shaped calves.
Maintain your movement quality, but try to scale up the working weight on your working sets as quickly as possible so you can trigger growth in your calf muscles.
How should you measure the growth development of your calf muscles?
Take photos that clearly show your calf muscles from the front, side, and the back. Try to take photos on a weekly basis. Or at least on a monthly basis.
The shape of your calf muscles should increase and your leg (if it was originally more of a stick shape) should start to form a triangular dimension.
Measure the circumference of your calf muscles.
Use measuring tape around your calf muscle to find out the cm/inch measurement of your calf muscles. Conduct measurements at 4,6 or 8 week intervals to see if you are getting growth in your calf muscles.
Keep in mind that you should be maintaining a steady level of body fat otherwise the measurements will be too inaccurate.
What are some mental notes that I should think of when working out my calf muscles?
- Try to beat your personal best everytime!
- Try to get 20% more reps compared to your previous attempt.
- Fuel your body for your workout and recovery so that you have an excellent workout.