Small Calves? Not All Your Fault
If you’re a gym rat like me, then you likely take a lot of pride in how your body looks. Why else would you be spending all those hours in the gym? That said, it’s also really easy to get insecure too. Especially when all that training isn’t giving you the results you want. I remember how upset I was when, having a year or two of training under my belt, I saw that my calves weren’t nearly as big as many other guys I knew—guys who hadn’t seen the inside of a gym in a long while, to boot! While such an experience can be frustrating and discouraging, don't let it cause you to lose your motivation. There’s a reason why your calves aren’t as big as you’d like.
Calf Muscles: The Breakdown
Calves and Genetics
Calves are a genetic weak point for most men. This is due to the fact that the muscle placement, known as the muscle insertion, is fairly high up on the leg. The calf muscle starts from right behind the knee and extends downward to a genetically predetermined location behind the shin. The higher the insertion, the less overall mass you have to work with, and the harder the area is to develop.
That doesn’t mean your calves cannot be built up just like any other body part; they just take a lot more work in most cases. The majority of men who train their calves do so as an afterthought, only doing a few sets of calf raises at the end of a leg routine. To see significant gains in size, you’ll not only have to pay more attention to them, but also avoid some common pitfalls that many people make when training calves.
How to Get Bigger Calves: Increase the Volume
Legs are perhaps the most-used muscle group. Every time you take a step, jump, or stand on your toes, you’re using your calf muscles. Because they’re used so frequently, they become accustomed to the consistent tension and require even more work to grow bigger.
Moreover, calves usually only get half of the attention they need. While you may indeed have an exercise set aside for your calves, three sets of ten is not going to cut it. You need to exercise your calves more, either by adding more reps, sets, or all three.
Sets of thirty, forty, or even fifty reps are sure to hit the calves hard. The calves are used to high-volume exercise just from supporting your own body weight. So you need to push them further than what they’re used to see size gains.
How to Get Bigger Calves: Increase the Weight
Calf raises that that rely solely on body weight for resistance won’t get anywhere. Even if the repetitions performed are over 100, there is simply not enough weight to promote significant development. With moderate weight, high repetitions are still needed, though with heavier weight, the reps can be brought down into the more conventional range of ten through twelve.
The seated calf raise is an exercise that incorporates additional weight very efficiently. The added tension is placed on the machine rather than your hands from holding heavier dumbbells. In the same manner that higher reps promote growth, heavier weight forces the calf muscles to work in a way that they are not used to, thus promoting muscle growth.
With this exercise, the heel can be lowered far more than it normally would than if you were standing flat on the floor. This provides a much greater range of motion, resulting in more muscle fibers being recruited to help move the weight. The more muscle that is used, the more muscle that is gained.
No Machine? Seated Calf Raises Are Still a Breeze.
How to Get Bigger Calves: Feel the Squeeze!
It is bad enough that calves take a backseat to every other major muscle in the body, but people also rush through exercising them as well, often spending less than ten minutes on them. When performing calf exercises, it is extremely important to squeeze the muscle at the top of the movement by pointing the toe as far downward as it will go.
Without focusing on this part of the range of motion, little benefit will result. It is very similar to squatting at half the normal depth; you are moving the weight, but doing little in terms of properly working your muscles.
Each repetition should be performed slowly with a conscious focus on your calf muscle. When training with heavy weights, the range of motion should not be limited. If it is, then some weight needs to be dropped in order to ensure that the entire muscle is worked effectively.
How to Get Bigger Calves: Train More Often
You may get by with training your chest, thighs, and back with heavy weights only once a week, but calves need more attention. The smaller the muscle group is, the faster it will recover. This means that your calves will most likely be recovered and ready to be trained again after one or two days. So, if you only train your calves once a week, you are wasting five other days.
For example, let us assume you train your calves with your legs, which is every Monday. After your workout, your quads, hamstrings, and calves are burning. Come Wednesday, your calves should have little to no soreness, unless the leg session was particularly intense.
It is a common misconception that calves can only be trained with legs. While the calves are obviously a component of your leg, they are also a separate muscle than your thigh, similar to how your forearms are different than your triceps and biceps. Train your calves with your chest if you have to. If you train your calves at least two days a week, you’re sure to see results.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Armax on February 25, 2017:
My left calf is smaller than other ( and also weaker ). Because of an injury in my "left ankle" which took more then 3 years to dignose the problem. But i finally got a " PRP " treatment and now i see some hope.
But the problem is that my claf is weak becoz I didnt use my left leg much in these 3 years... i can do the above exercise with 60reps 4 set.
Yet i havent got the result please help.f
strongmangeorge on July 16, 2014:
good info here. for all looking to get bigger calves, this article also helped me a lot:
maybe it could help you too
Will Henry (author) from Florida on June 14, 2013:
Mine aren't that great, either. In the past two years, they've only grown about an inch; by far the smallest increase for a particular body part. Any gain in muscle mass is good, though, so I can't complain.
Derrick Bennett on June 14, 2013:
I needed this hub, I have small calves.