How to Get Bigger Calves

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What’s the most common leg day mistake? Most of us gym rats don’t hit calves, or if we do our calf workout lacks intensity.

When we think about leg day, we think about squats, deadlifts, leg presses, or leg extensions. We want those big, toned quadriceps and hamstrings that are busting out of our shorts. But, what about your calves? Don’t forget about them. It’s important to train your calves with the same focus and intensity as you would with any other lower body muscle group

Exercising your calves shouldn’t be an afterthought. Too many times I’ve seen or trained with someone whose definition of training calves is hitting a lazy session of seated calf raises for 3 sets of 10.

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How many times have you seen a person sitting on the seated calf raise machine raising their ankles up and down with no focus or determination as they scroll through their phone? Unless you’re reading this article on that phone, put it away and focus. Casually exercising your calves at the end of your leg work out because you forgot about them or feel like you have to do them shouldn’t be your mindset.

It’s unacceptable.

I’ll admit it. I don’t have the biggest or the most shredded calves on the block, and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean I don’t train them hard and haven’t grown them from the tiny sticks they once were. It doesn’t mean I don’t dream of one day raising my calves into full grown bulls and being able to tell people I raised two calves into two healthy adults all on my own.

Your calves are one of the most difficult muscle groups to grow, but there’s still hope. There’s still time to thrown on those summer board shorts and show off those killer summer calves you’ve worked so hard for.

Calves Anatomy

Before we get to training, let’s go over the muscles that make up your calves. The two main muscles within your calves are the gastrocnemius and the soleus.

The gastrocnemius

The gastrocnemius is the biggest muscle, which contains the medial and lateral heads. This muscle is located at the back of the lower leg and the main muscle you see when looking at the front or back of your calves. Developing the gastrocnemius is what gives your calves that “diamond” shape. The gastrocnemius is activated more when performing calf exercises in a standing position, such as standing calf raises.

Related: Squat Every Day Challenge and Workout

The soleus

The soleus lies underneath the gastrocnemius and is visible when looking at your calves from the sides. Developing the soleus is important for developing overall strength in your calves, while pushing your calves to their full aesthetic potential. The soleus is activated more during calf exercises where your knees are bent, such as seated calf raises.

Calf Press

Your calves are one of the most difficult muscle groups to grow, but there’s still hope.

The Best Way to Train Calves

So, what’s the best way to train your calves? Do you train heavy? Do you train in the hypertrophy rep range? Do you only hit each exercise for 30 reps? The answer is no to all of the above.

With this calf workout you are going to hit set numbers and rep ranges outside of your normal routine. This is a savage workout designed to give you those calves that burst-out-your-skin-look with each step you take.

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Most of us train calves at the end of our leg day because we want to be as strong as possible when starting our leg day with some heavy squats or heavy deadlifts. Throwing in a casual calf workout at the end of your leg day when your legs are completely fatigued isn’t going to allow your calves to grow. If your calves are going to grow you need to train them when they are fresh and ready to feed.

If you don’t want to start your leg day with some hard sets of calf exercises then eliminate them completely from your leg day split. Train your calves on a chest day or back day and add them to your routine for that day. You can hit them hard from the start then progress to your upper body routine.

Calf Exercises

Seated Calf RaiseJust like with any muscle you want to make sure you are properly training each muscle group within the muscle to reach your full strength and aesthetic potential. When training calves, most people will only perform a round of sets on one machine: either the standing calf raise machine or the sitting calf raise machine.

You wouldn’t perform only the bench press on a chest day without adding some incline or decline bench to strengthen all areas of your chest, would you? Then don’t be lazy when it comes to training your calves. You need to exercise both the gastrocnemius and the soleus for a proper calf workout routine.

Think of exercises targeting the gastrocnemius as a compound movement and exercises for the soleus as a fine-tuning, isolation movement.

Exercise Form and Weight

When performing your calf raises, either standing or sitting, are you allowing your heels to drop low enough and are you raising them high enough at the top of each rep? Didn’t think so. Don’t bounce the weight up and down. Focus on your form and change it as needed. Squeeze your calves as you raise them at the top of each rep then lower the weight slowly so you get a full contraction. This is going to help stimulate that new growth.

New growth also comes from using the correct amount of weight. If you’re using too much weight then your form is most likely suffering, which is also going to cause your gains to suffer. Using too much weight can place the emphasis of the movement on your quads or force you to use your upper body to pull the weight up on seated calf raises.

Don’t cheat these exercises. We want the weight and movement to be solely focused on strengthening those calf muscles so use a weight you can perform in the 20-30 rep range.

The Best Calves Workout for Slow Gainers

This is a high rep, high intensity calf routine that is going to spur some serious growth in your calves. Don’t be scared. I’m right there by your side cheering you on.

Calf Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Standing Calf Raises – 60 second rest in between each. Perform set 6, the last set as a quadruple drop set  6  25
Seated Calf Raise – 60 second rest in between each. Perform set 6, the last set as a quadruple drop set  6  25
Calf Press on the Leg Machine (slight bend in the knee so you’re activating both the gastrocnemius and soleus). No dropset  4  45

I know this routine doesn’t look like much on paper, but after this killer calf workout you may need someone to wheel you out of the gym and back to your car. Performing this routine once or twice a week will slowly give you the calves you’ve always deserved and may even make people start referring to you as El Matador because of bulls you now have resting above your ankles.

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Name: Brently Rousset

Bio: Born, raised, and currently residing in beautiful San Diego, CA, I've been around some form of fitness almost my entire life. My mom was an aerobics teacher at the local gym when I was in elementary school through middle school. My dad had a full home gym in the garage and raced mountain bikes professionally through my high school years. My parents engrained the importance of health and fitness into me from a young age. I started playing soccer in my elementary days only to leave it behind for my true loves of basketball and surfing.