We’ve all heard many people say it, and I’m sure some of you reading this today have said this phrase or something similar to it at one point yourselves, “my calves don’t grow because I have stubborn calve muscles” or “my genetics are gifted to have large calves”. Both of these phrases I have heard countless times and they both are mere excuses to lack of calve development. What most people fail to realize who train calves and use such excuses is that usually, they are making 2 large mistakes that are the major reasons as to why they lack large calves.
The first mistake people make in regards to calve training is that they don’t train calves frequently enough. Your calves are a small muscle group that recovers fairly quickly so they have the ability to be trained hard and heavy 3-5x a week or even upwards of 7x a week for some. Instead, most people simply train calves on leg day which for most is usually 1-2x a week at most.
The second mistake that almost everyone makes in regards to calve training besides lack of frequent training, is that you are only performing such few sets and repetitions with bodyweight or even lightweight. Most people I have spoken with who say they struggle to grow their calves only perform calves 1-2x a week with about the same 3-4 exercises at most, usually seated calve raises, standing calve raises, calve raises using the leg press machine and maybe donkey calve raises. The next mistake that these people are making is that when they perform these exercises they are just performing about 3-4 sets on each of about 10-15 reps per set.
Think about this for a minute, you’re allocating about 12-16 sets total at most for your calves yet many people perform upwards of 30-40 sets on exercises for every other body part, so why do your calves get less attention? Because they are smaller? What you need to do is increase your working set range for your calves to upwards of 20 sets or so, with each set using the highest rep range you can perform. Forget your usual 10-15 rep range and the belief that you have to lift super heavy with low rep range for muscle growth. Ignore the common myth that heavy weight is what allows you to grow and focus purely on time under tension in regards to calve training.
Approach your calve training with the simple mindset that you will need to perform many sets (20+ sets) with very high rep ranges per set (20 reps+ or even until absolute failure) if you want them to grow much larger. Now it’s time for mistake number 3 that I would say about 90% or more people make in regards to calve training. Focus on the time under tension above everything. Learn that you create a higher amount of muscle stimulation as high as 90% muscle activation when you perform an exercise slowly with a full contraction or flexion. What this means is that as you raise upwards on your calves for a standing or seat calve raise, make sure you are going all the way up almost on your toes and all the way back down to where your heel is below your toes for each and every single rep.
The next biggest thing to do is to ensure that you are pausing at the very top of the contraction when on your toes for about 1-2 seconds or so before lowering your body back down to where you calves lose the tension. This entire motion should be performed slowly with each rep taking around 3-5 seconds or even longer and not the usual fast, explosive reps that most people perform.
If you are focusing on training the soleus you should perform slow reps since the soleus has shorter muscle fibers, while the gastrocnemius has longer muscle fibers and should be trained with slightly higher rep speed. Your calves also have the most muscle activation when you are at the bottom of each rep due to the nature of them having the weakest mechanical advantage on the bottom part of the exercise. This is entirely the reason why a full range of motion is crucial in regards to calve training and to go slow instead of fast, explosive reps. One should also note that your calve muscles are primarily slow twitch muscle fibers, which means that you should be training calves with very high reps ranging from 20-40 reps with the occasional heavy sets of 12-15 reps.
Learn to realize the weight load does not matter as much in regards to calve training and that performing slow, controlled reps for a high rep range is what is going to be the best factor in regards to growing your calves to a much larger size.