Want Bigger Calves?
Calves are probably the most undertrained and incorrectly trained body part. The downside of achieving calf development is that it will require optimal genetics to a certain extent, which, unfortunately, is not something anybody can change. That being said, this doesn’t mean you can’t get much bigger calves with the right guidance.
My own calves used to resemble that of a parrot, so for quite some time, I had to train them during every session just to see some sort of growth.
Overall, calf size correlates with the specific insertions of each calf muscle. So if you have long legs and high calf insertions (such as a basketball player for example), the chance of you having very well developed calves is quite low. Now, I’m not saying to just pack your calf training in completely; I’m actually saying the opposite.
Individuals who are genetically challenged in the calf area who are trying to add lean tissue to their frame should be training them even more frequently. Calves tend to grow as you put on body weight everywhere else. So no matter what state your calves are in right now, if you want to add size to this area of your legs, follow our tips below.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to get bigger calves, keep note of the four different movements that occur at your foot:
◙ You can rise up on your toes (plantarflexion)
◙ You can pull your toes toward the knees (dorsiflexion)
◙ You can rotate the foot inward (inversion)
◙ You can rotate the foot outward (eversion)
#1 Utilise Full Range of Motion
If you want bigger calves, you need to train your calves properly by executing perfect movements with tension throughout the whole set. Take the muscle group through its full range of motion. I know this is quite obvious as it’s expected for almost every exercise, but you would be suprised how many people don’t execute calf or ankle exercises properly.
Ankle movements have relatively short ranges of motion and unlike other joints of the body that allow movement over many inches, you’re going to be moving a minimal distance at the ankle (particularly true with inversion and eversion). Because of this, it is crucial to perform each repetition to its extreme – but safe – range of motion.
Throughout every single rep, try to imagine the ball of your heel driving up as high as possible towards your hamstring. The higher your heel goes, the better. This is the reason why dancers have exceptionally developed calves; they’re constantly on their toes. Take ballerinas for example – they are performing repetition after repetition of bodyweight calf raises every single day, by being in a position referred to as relevé in ballet. So don’t half-rep it if you want to get bigger calves.
#3 Work On Your Ankle Mobility
This should be done regardless of your end goals.Several studies have been published that show how limited dorsiflexion (upward bending of the foot) impacts a whole list of exercises such as the squat, single leg squat and any step down or jump activities. If you have a better range of motion in the ankle, you will incorporate more muscle fibers throughout the movement and thus, this will carry over into increased protein synthesis – in other words, bigger calves!
Some simple advice if you want to work on ankle mobility:
◙ Use a foam roller to roll up and down your calves
◙ Stand with one (shoeless!) foot planted on the ground and the other foot on top of a lacrosse ball. Apply pressure and move your foot all around the ball. If you feel extra tight at any point, be still for a few seconds and breathe while holding pressure over that spot. Repeat for the other foot.
◙ If you are able, sit at the bottom of a squat. Keep both of your heels planted on the ground, and shift your weight from side to side, forcing the ankles into deeper dorsiflexion. If you feel you tip forward too much and cannot keep your heels on the ground, hold a light kettlebell in both hands in front of your chest to help anchor you – aim to use a light kettlebell each session until you no longer need it.
#4 Train Your Calves FREQUENTLY
Using the dancer example again – their calves are well developed simply because they are constantly training them. You won’t see these kind of results by throwing in three sets of calf raises at the end of leg day once a week.
It is actually perfectly fine to train calves every training session, provided you are adequately recovered from the previous workout. Volume and hypertrophy go hand in hand, so hitting the muscle group regularly should accelerate your calf development faster than anything else.
Here are a list of plantar flexing and inverting exercises you can employ to achieve bigger calves:
◙ Standing calf machine heel raise
◙ Standing dumbbell or barbell heel raise
◙ Toe press on a leg press with the knees flexed
#5 Train Your TA
Now, the above five exercises are all excellent, but they only focus on thegastrocnemius and soleus aspects of the calf muscle.
If you want bigger calves, you also need to train the tibialis anterior (TA) –
the crucial front side muscle of the shin that provides joint balance. Due to the fact that most people beat their gastrocnemius and soleus to death, it is imperative to incorporate exercises into your calf routine which hit the TA.
Train your TA muscle in between your sets of plantar-flexion/inversion exercises, either bodyweight or with bands for added resistance. These exercises involve contracting the muscle concentrically (shortening) and eccentrically (lengthening) in succession.
If you use a resistance band:
◙ Tie one end of the band to a sturdy object near the floor (such as the bottom of a squat rack) and place the other end around one foot, near your toes.
◙ Sit facing the squat rack, far enough away so that there is tension on the band.
◙ With your toes pointed towards the rack, flex your ankle so that your toes end up pointing towards you, and return to the starting position.
◙ Repeat 20 times on each foot.
◙ You can also do another variation of this – turn so that your legs are perpendicular to the band and repeatedly invert your foot.
The majority of individuals aiming for calf development only place emphasis on plantar-flexing exercises such as the calf raise; don’t neglect the other ankle movements! Just as is recommended for other joints of the body, if you perform a pushing exercise, then an opposite pulling movement should be utilised to emphasize joint stability. The ankle is no different – if you work the backside, work the front side and if you work the inside, work the outside. This will carry over into better calf muscle development.