It’s Not Genetics: 8 Best Ways How to Get Bigger Calves
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Even experienced weightlifters and bodybuilders know that developing strong, aesthetic calves can be difficult. The calves are more elusive than possibly any other muscle, and it’s not uncommon to see someone with tiny calves be in otherwise great shape.
While some gym-goers seem blessed in the calve-department, others struggle even to fill out skinny jeans. This, at least, is how it seems. The truth, however, is a bit more straightforward.
No, you don’t need to practice the dark arts, if you want bigger calves, you can get them the old-fashioned way: With smarts and sweat. With that said, it’s fine to acknowledge that Calves are not the easiest muscles to build. If you recently started working calves, don’t hold your breath. Calves take time, and you certainly aren’t going to wake up in a week or even a month and suddenly look like Schwarzenegger—sorry, it’s just not going to happen. But the point is that calves are not magic. If you work your calves the right way, and if you do it hard and long, they will grow. When you feel discouraged, repeat after me: IF YOU WORK THEM, THEY WILL GROW. IF YOU WORK THEM, THEY WILL GROW.
Calves are an important muscle group, and not just for looks. Calves also play a variety of other roles, including:
- May help you jump higher and move quicker.
- Could possibly help prevent leg injuries, including muscle and joint tears, pulls, and strains.
- Support your ankle and knee joints.
- May calves increase your speed and acceleration.
Best Calve Exercises
Don’t let anyone tell you that calves are genetic. “You either got ‘em, or you don’t” is complete BS. If you are committed to building big calves and are willing to work hard at it, then there’s nothing stopping except, perhaps, lack of knowledge—in which case, don’t worry! Help is on the way! Here are some of the best calve exercises that you should include in your weekly workouts.
Standing Calf Raises
Especially since it can be done anywhere, standing calf raises could possibly be the most important calf exercise you can do. This is partly because you can switch off between slow, controlled reps and faster, explosive ones. Obviously, the more explosive your movements, the lighter the weight will have to be. But don’t make the mistake of treating your calves different than you would, say, your pecs in that both muscles require high-weight, low-rep exercises in order to grow.
Because your calf muscles are often “cold” or not activated when you first go to the gym, some uphill treadmill is an excellent place to start when you know you are going to be working your calf muscles. You don’t have to go for long, even 5 minutes, and a slow pace, but at a very steep incline should be enough to activate your calves and get them ready for what’s coming.
Explosive Calf Raises
After your standard standing calf raises, explosive calf raises are a great way to build your calves as well as your overall flexibility, balance, and athleticism. You perform explosive calf raises, effectively, by jumping as high as you can while your knees are straight and locked. This focuses on the movement on your calves. You can use a short box to jump onto or, especially in the beginning, you may want to just consider jumping in place on a flat surface. Trust me; it will take a while before you start getting any real height.
Seated Calf Raises
You can go heavy on seated calf raises and work on building the muscle’s strength. Also, another thing to keep in mind with seated calf raises as well as standing calf raises is that you need to hit calves in all three directions. What this means is you need to hit:
- Forward Calves: Forward calves is the standard direction you think of when you are doing a calf exercise. Just have your toes pointed straight out.
- Inward Calves: Inward exercises mean you point your toes inward as if you were pigeon-toed and do your calf reps that way.
- Outward Calfs: Outward calves work to build and give the muscles a great stretch. Point your toes out and try doing your seated and or standing calfs that way.
You don’t have to be in the military to do jumping jacks. This exercise is highly underrated. Not only are jumping jacks a great way to warm up the whole body before working out, but they also target your calves. Try adding a hundred (and then more) jumping jacks to your workout every day. Doing so will take only a few quick minutes and, over time, will have impressive results.
Single-Leg Calf Raises
Single-leg calf raises are a more advanced exercise that you can do in several different ways. On a standing calf machine, you can simply drop one leg and put all the weight on the other. Or if you are working out at home, you can try holding a dumbbell in one hand and doing the calf raises on the opposite leg. Another option is to place a dumbbell on one of your knees while you are sitting and raise your heel off the ground that way.
Single-leg calf raises should be done lighter than other calf exercises because they are mainly a good stretch and provide a good way to improve lower body balance and flexibility.
When people think jump rope, usually cardio is the first thing that comes to mind (either that or ‘Rocky’). And while, yes, jump rope is a great cardio exercise, it’s specifically good at targeting your calve muscles. If you haven’t jumped rope in a while, put on some shoes and give it a try. In the beginning, you will probably be unable to do much longer than a minute or two at a time. That’s fine. For the first few weeks of doing jump rope, break the exercise up into sets they way you would with weightlifting exercises. Start with three sets of 60-seconds each. Then 90-seconds, then 2 minutes, and they go to 5-minutes each set. You can do this climb over the period of weeks or months, depending on how gradual your progress. It doesn’t matter if you are moving slowly, so long as you are progressing, it’s all good.
When you jump rope, stay as high on your toes as you can. Remember, there are ways to do jump rope that will lessen the amount of weight and pressure on your calves; this will transform the workout from more calve-focused to more cardio-focused. Obviously, if you are looking to grow bigger calves, you shouldn’t do this! Keep your eye on the prize and with every time you jump over the rope explode up with your calves.
Calves and sprints have a synergistic relationship. Strong calves make you faster, and you get faster by having strong calves. Doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) type workouts a few times a week or, at least, once-per-week is a great way to ensure your entire body stays fit and functional. That’s the key, big calves are great—they look good and give your lower body a balanced look we all shoot for. But when it comes to calves, you don’t want to focus exclusively on size. You also have to think about function strength and flexibility. This is why exercises like sprints and jump rope are important to incorporate into your typical weight-based calves routines.
If you like to do a short warm-up before hitting the weights, make it worth your while by cranking the treadmill’s incline as high as it will go and walking uphill for a few minutes (eventually shoot for about 10). This will be hard at first, but if you get into the habit of doing 5-10 minutes of warm-up before your weightlifting in about a month’s time, it will just be another part of the routine. Incline walking is a great way to strengthen your calves and to activate your body’s muscles so as to avoid injuries common to those who lift weights “cold.”
Leg Press Calve Push
The standard leg press movement is for your quads and glutes, but if you lower the weight a bit, you can turn it into an effective calve workout where you can hit your calves from all three angles: Forward, inward, and outward. Just be careful and ensure you have the leg press machine locked into place before you start doing calves, you don’t want to drop the weight on yourself and end up with a broken leg.
How Often Should You Train Calves?
This is an important question. The answer is more often than you think. Compared to some of your other lower body muscles, your calves are pretty small. Generally, with smaller muscles, you can hit them more often. If you are trying for a solid, consistent growth shoot for hitting your calves three times per week. You can crank that number up to four times per week if you like, but any more than that and you are in danger of entering “overtraining” territory.
Another thing to keep in mind with calves is that you do not have to relegate your calve-training exclusively to your lower-body days. Obviously, you are going to want to hit calves when you work your other leg-muscles, but there’s no reason you can’t throw in a quick 3-4 sets of calves on a few of your upper body days as well. Volume is key, and that means increasing the overall number of sets you do for your calves every week. If you are looking for growth, that number should be at least ten or more.
There you have it, everything you need to know about building bigger, stronger calves. Just remember to hit them often and to go heavy on standing and seated calf raises. Save the flexibility and athletic training for explosive calf raises, jump rope, and sprints. And, as always, make sure whatever muscles you are working are warmed up and ready to go before you start exercising! For more great workouts, or to learn how you can get fit, subscribe to check out some of my online health and fitness guides.