Does your physique suffer due to small lower legs? Sure, you’re doing your squats and stiff-legged deadlifts; building up your massive quads and hamstrings.
But what about those stubborn calves? They are so difficult to activate, so weak compared to the rest of your legs and just downright hard to train- especially if you try to fit them in on leg day.
So… what do you do? A lot of people will just forget about them and give up thinking that they can ever build calves worthy of praise. Although genetics does come in to play, you can build your calves with the proper rep range, timing and frequency! Knowing the basics and sticking to it will help you build a great foundation for some even greater calves!
Anatomy of the Calf Muscles
The calves are basically made up of two parts; the Soleus muscle and the gastrocnemius muscle. The soleus muscle accounts for a small but critical part in overall calf makeup- walking and standing.
The Soleus muscle
This muscle plays the role of recruiting the muscle fibers to work that have to do with “slow movements.”
The gastrocnemius muscle
This makes up a majority of the calf itself and is involved with “fast movements”. These include jumping and running for the most part as well as other movement where the knee is slightly bent or straight.
The main reason people struggle to hit the calves with great intensity and control is due to the Achilles tendon within the ankle. The Achilles is one of the thickest tendons in the entire body and since it helps with stability and support of standing and walking as well, it is very strong.
To fully access the calves the Achilles must be fully stretched and broken down before access to the soleus or gastrocnemius is granted.
Step 1| Warm-up/foam roll
Foam rolling exercises are incredibly beneficial to those wanting to grow their calves! It is a step missed by many people – yet one that could make the difference in the development of your calves.
Spending a short 5-10 minutes foam rolling your calves before a workout will release tension from your muscles and increase the blood flow – a perfect combination to get them prepared for a tough workout.
Is this where you’ve been going wrong?
The idea of ‘messing around’ with foam rolling exercises before a workout may be the case for a lot of people – however, if you really want to grow your calves, it may be the best idea to release a bit of tightness which prevents you from completing your calf exercises with proper form (full stretch.)
Foam-rolling your calves | TIPS:
Start with the position shown above.
✓ Place your calf on the foam roller and maintain a balance using your arms.
✓ Concentrating on the control of the movement, begin to roll backwards and forwards in order to fully stretch your calf.
Complete for 5-10 minutes (even a few minutes will be better than none!) and alternate legs.
Working the Soleus
The soleus (which runs from the Achilles up to the inner part of the calf) does require it to be worked from a bent knee position. Knowing this, the best exercise choice would probably be the sitting calf raise.
You can perform this exercise with dumbbells sitting on the end of your knees or with a smith machine weighing down your knees as well. The best option is the seated calf raise machine because it allows you to be super direct with the movement and fully stretch out the Achilles before actually even working the calf muscle.
a) Hop on to a seated calf raise machine and choose your weight
b) Start by inhaling and slowly going up on to toes in the starting position – pulling the pin out of the way
c) Slowly lower the weight down almost to where heels touch the ground of platform
d) Exhale and explode up to top again on balls of your feet – flex your calves for a good second or two
Sets and Reps: 4 x 15-20
Working the Gastrocnemius
The gastrocnemius makes up about 70%-80% of the calf itself and should be attacked in a great manner. Since this part of the calf is best worked from a straight legged position, the standing calf raise is the ultimate punisher.
Holding dumbbells or using the smith machine are both great variations of this movement, but the standing calf raise machine is probably your best bet. There is no cheating, no different plane of movement- just lift it up and down.
a) Place feet about shoulder width apart on a standing calf raise machine
b) Select a weight that enables you to hit 12-15 reps
c) Slowly inhale and lower the weight perform a full stretch
d) Begin to exhale, pressing the weight back up on the balls of your feet
Sets and Reps: 4 x 15-20
Growing your Calves: TIPS
✓ Incorporate drop sets (Start with 10 reps, peel off some weight and repeat)
✓ Partial Reps (Stopping half way up and half way down on the exercise)
✓ Change foot angle (Point toes in or out to hit a little different part of the calves)
Now that you’re educated with what exercises to hit and for how many reps AND how to perform them, there’s no reason your calves can’t be something great!
The biggest things are to be patient and consistent and eventually you will see progress!