Are you that guy or gal always wearing long pants regardless of the weather? When it's hot, the last thing you want to do is hide your calves. So, I've got the solution for how to get bigger calves so you can ditch the long pants for shorts and freedom for your legs.
To get bigger calves, you must perform both standing and seated calf raises to target the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles effectively with heavy or light loads.
Before I dive into more calf training secrets, we need to understand the anatomy of the calf muscles so we can effectively target them for maximum muscle building.
Table of Contents
- Calf Muscles Anatomy
- How To Get Bigger Calves With 5 Easy Tips
- 7 Best Exercises To Get Bigger Calves
- Bigger Calves For Skinny Legs Workout
- What Is The Average Calf Size?
- Why Is It So Hard To Get Bigger Calves?
- Do Squats Work Calves?
- Does Running Build Calves?
Calf Muscles Anatomy
The calves consist of two different muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the diamond-looking muscle that gives the full shape of the calf. The soleus sits slightly deeper than the gastrocnemius and lower toward the heel.
Both muscles attach to the Achilles tendon, making them essential ankle plantar flexors. However, the gastrocnemius also crosses the knee, making it a biarticular muscle. It helps the hamstrings with knee flexion as well as moving the ankle.
Because of these differences, targeting each calf muscle takes a slightly different approach. So, I’ve got five epic tips for you to grow massive calves.
How To Get Bigger Calves With 5 Easy Tips
Stand And Sit
You may be wondering why your gym has standing and seated calf raise machines and if you even need to do both. If your goal is overall calf development, you need to perform both standing and seated calf raises.
The gastrocnemius is placed in a disadvantageous position when the knee is flexed to 90° (i.e., seated) . Meaning, you're able to put a greater emphasis on the soleus muscle since the gastrocnemius can't produce as much force.
While the gastrocnemius is responsible for those diamond-looking calves, training the soleus is vital for developing the bottom of the calves.
Change Your Foot Position
Watch any bodybuilder train calves, and you'll see them performing calf raises with their feet turned in or out. It seems like broscience, but the old school bodybuilders knew something before the research confirmed it.
A recent study found that pointing the feet out during straight leg calf raises resulted in more significant muscle growth of the inner gastrocnemius. Pointing the feet in caused more substantial muscle growth of the outer gastrocnemius .
Pointing the feet straight resulted in similar muscle growth for both the inner and outer parts of the gastrocnemius. This is supported by previous research, which came to the same conclusion .
So, to maximize calf growth, perform all of your standing calf raise sets with your feet pointed 45° in and out to stimulate more growth for the inner and outer gastrocnemius. Foot position is not something you need to worry about with seated calf raises.
Lift Heavy & Light
It is commonly believed that muscles consisting of high proportions of slow-twitch muscle fibers respond better to low load, high rep training for hypertrophy (muscle growth). And muscles with high proportions of fast-twitch muscle fibers respond better to heavy load and power type training.
The calf muscles display varying proportions of muscle fibers. The soleus is primarily made of slow-twitch muscle fibers (approximately 80%). In contrast, the gastrocnemius is roughly an even mix of fast and slow-twitch .
Therefore, based on the common belief, we can logically infer that the soleus should be trained with ultra-high reps (10-30 reps), and the gastrocnemius should be trained using heavy load, lower reps (5-10 reps), and power-based exercises.
But research has crushed this belief recently, and gains in muscle size don't seem to differ between low and high loads when training the quadriceps and upper arms . But what about the calves?
Indicating that you can train at a variety of rep ranges and increase the size of your calves.
Hold The Stretch
The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body . It makes an epic spring that helps with immense feats of power and strength. Think of the 100 m sprint, high jump, or even your basic jumping exercises in the gym.
Many lifters make a huge mistake by relying on this spring when training calves. How do they do this? By bouncing out of the bottom of the calf raise. This stretch reflex takes the energy stored from the lowering phase (eccentric), enhancing the upward phase (concentric).
Instead of generating force purely by the calf muscles, the elastic energy created through the tendon powers us up. Hold the stretch position for 3-4 seconds to reduce this elastic energy. This will cause the elastic energy to dissipate into heat and force your calves to work harder.
Volume Is Key
The calf muscles are notoriously stubborn to grow. The truth is, they are constantly working every day to support your body weight as you stand, walk, and climb stairs. They are used to performing a lot of low-load work.
To stimulate the calves to grow, you need to place even greater stress than they receive each day. That means lots of sets and reps performed multiple times per week. Unlike other muscle groups, the calf muscles can handle being trained 4-5 times per week. And often, this is what is needed for them to grow.
7 Best Exercises To Get Bigger Calves
The best exercises for bigger calves allow you to hold the stretch position and control the lowering phase. There's a reason boxers don’t have large calves even though they jump rope most days. Bouncing on the floor is primarily elastic energy and not force produced by the calves. So, use these exercises instead.
Standing Calf Raise Machine
Most gyms have a standing calf raise machine. Take advantage of it. If your gym doesn't, wear a weighted vest while standing on the edge of the stairs, and holding the railing is a good alternative. Here is how to do the standing calf raise:
Single-Leg Standing Calf Raise
The single-leg variation will challenge your calves. Start with bodyweight and as you get stronger, hold a dumbbell for loading. Here’s how to do it:
Donkey Calf Raise
The Donkey calf raise is an old-school bodybuilding exercise variation. Interestingly, Suppversity found this variation elicited the most significant calf muscle activation of all calf exercises. While there is a poor relationship between muscle activation (as measured by electromyography) and muscle growth, greater activation may indicate that the muscle is more likely to grow .
You don’t need hot chicks to sit on your back like Arnold in the 80s. Here’s how I like to do it:
Smith Machine Standing Calf Raise
The Smith machine standing calf raise is performed similarly to the machine variation but will require more setup. Here’s how to do it:
Leg Press Calf Raise
Getting in the leg press is an easy option for those too lazy to set up all the equipment (I've been there). Simply load a plate or two on the leg press and go to town. Here’s how:
Seated Calf Raise Machine
The seated calf raise machine is your best option for targeting the soleus muscle. It is easiest to load your calves in a bent leg position as the pad and platform sandwich your lower legs. Here’s how to do it:
Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise
You can use this variation if you don't have a seated calf raise machine. You need to do one leg at a time, so it is more time-consuming by worth it. Here's how to do it:
Unfortunately, there isn't much exercise variation for growing the calves. It can be tedious. But nail these basic exercises consistently, and you will see those skinny legs turn into diamonds.
Bigger Calves For Skinny Legs Workout
Now it’s time to put these tips and exercises into action. Here is a full week of skin splitting, muscle pumping, calf exploding workouts that will add slabs of new muscle to those skinny lower legs.
A1) Standing Machine Calf Raise (Feet In)
4 x 10
B1) Seated Calf Raise Machine
4 x 15
A1) Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise
5 x 10
B1) Leg Press Calf Raise (Feet Straight)
4 x 20
A1) Donkey Calf Raise
5 x 12
B1) Seated Calf Raise Machine (Feet Out)
4 x 20
A1) Seated Calf Raise Machine
6 x 10
A2) Standing Machine Calf Raise (3 Sets Feet In, 3 Sets Feet Out)
6 x 10
You can substitute any standing calf raises for other standing variations and the same with the seated variations. Perform this at the end or beginning of your workouts. If calves are your main priority, perform these at the beginning.
What Is The Average Calf Size?
In the National health statistics report, the average maximum calf size for females of all races and ethnicities 20 years of age and over is 38.3 cm (15.07 inches). For males, it is 39.5 cm (15.55 inches) .
Why Is It So Hard To Get Bigger Calves?
As I mentioned earlier, the calves are worked throughout your daily lives when walking, running, or climbing stairs. But that's not the only reason calves are hard to grow. Often it is a genetic limitation. Do you have that friend with huge calves yet doesn't even train them?
Some people were blessed with lower calf attachments and shorter Achilles tendons. While they won’t be as fast or explosive, they’ll have huge calves through thick muscle bellies. The rest of us have higher calf attachments and longer Achilles tendons.
Unfortunately, this makes it very difficult to grow huge calves, as you may have experienced. But don't give up. Consistent work will add immense size to your lower legs.
Do Squats Work Calves?
Squats do work your calves . But not enough to see noticeable calf growth. That is why if bigger calves are a goal of yours, you need to train them directly. Just like performing only chin-ups won’t maximize your biceps growth.
Does Running Build Calves?
Running does not build your calf size. It will improve their endurance and your ability to utilize elastic energy. The relatively short ground contact resulting in a fast transition between eccentric and concentric actions leaves little room for the calves to produce a lot of force.
Growing big calves is no easy feat. It takes time, persistence, and consistency. It will be boring, and it will be painful. But it will be worth it so you can get bigger calves to fill out those jeans.
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