Why Won't My Calves Grow? Common Calf-Training Gym Mistakes and How to Correct Them

Updated on October 3, 2014

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

A diagram of the calf's major muscles.
A diagram of the calf's major muscles.

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

Standing calf raises, especially with the toes on a platform as shown above, are extremely effective at targeting the calves. However, the intensity must remain high.
Standing calf raises, especially with the toes on a platform as shown above, are extremely effective at targeting the calves. However, the intensity must remain high.

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

With this movement, a large amount of weight can be used to provide a new type of tension to your calves.
With this movement, a large amount of weight can be used to provide a new type of tension to your calves.

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!

Feel the squeeze, and get bigger calves
Feel the squeeze, and get bigger calves

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

Train your calves at least twice a week.
Train your calves at least twice a week.

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.

How often do you exercise your calves?

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    • profile image

      Armax 

      17 months ago

      Hello..

      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

    • profile image

      strongmangeorge 

      4 years ago

      good info here. for all looking to get bigger calves, this article also helped me a lot:

      www.whyaremycalvessmall.com

      maybe it could help you too

    • Jake Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      Will Henry 

      5 years ago from Florida

      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.

    • soconfident profile image

      Derrick Bennett 

      5 years ago

      I needed this hub, I have small calves.

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