by Tony Gjokaj March 19, 2020 4 min read

The Calves are a smaller muscle that many people have difficulty developing due to ineffective volume, poor moving patterns, and yes, we can even blame the genetics too.

But before we point and blame our genetics on the poor muscular development of the calves, we need to understand that majority of lifters do calves incorrectly.

This is seen from the individuals who put on obnoxious amounts of weight on the calf raise and “bounce” while attempting to perform a repetition. 

 

In this article, we will discuss how to strategize on calf development to truly build some badass calves. Calves may be a big part of genetics, but that does not mean we can’t build some solid ones!

This is a chapter in our eBook, The Muscle Compendium.

Anatomy and Function of the Calves

The Calves consist of two major muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus.

The function of the calves is to flex the foot at the ankle and flex the leg at the knee. The calves work with the legs in the assistance of walking, running, jumping, and more.

When emphasizing the muscular development of the calves, one would flex the foot at the ankle by lifting your heel up and rising with your toes.

Isn’t it surprising that a simple muscle like this just absolutely sucks at growing?

Calf Training Strategies

Although the calves are a tiny muscle group, there are a variety of strategies you can utilize. In this section, we will discuss any strategies that will transform your calves.

  • Understand that when you walk, you use your calves: You are always using your calves on the days when you walk. The goal is to progressively overload these muscles through high reps and overall high volume.
  • For the Calves, do about 12-16 weekly sets with 10-20 Reps.
  • When lifting your calves to the flexing position, start by elevating the heels before you elevate the toes.
    • If you initialize the movement from the heels, your calves will contract at the beginning of the movement allowing for better tension and range of motion. 
  • Use a slow and controlled movement on your calf exercises: When doing the calf raise, you must go slow and controlled. Your goal is to feel constant tension on the calves. If you cannot do a calf raise without “bouncing”, start from the lightest weight and build from there.
  • Calves respond to higher repetitions and volume: Remember that your calves are such a small muscle. This means that the range of motion is shorter, so the only way to maximize development is to go through the full range of motion and utilize high reps.
    • We recommend the 10-15 and 15-20 rep ranges for a great pump and effective development.
  • Use both a standing and a seated variation: One of these variations will build effective development in your calves, so try developing them from both angles!
  • Calf Jumps: Very unconventional, it has become one of my personal favorites I just started implementing. With calf jumps you can overload the weight to really dial in on some explosive power for the FULL RANGE of the calf raise.
  • Genetics do play a big part: If you attempt all of these strategies for a longer period of time and do not see the development you want, you can conclude that you have poor calf insertions/genetics.

Effective Calf Exercises

This section is very limited when it comes to calf exercises; the most effective exercises are the following:

  • Standing Calf Raise
  • Seated Calf Raises
  • Donkey Calf Raises
  • Standing One-Leg Calf Raise
  • Calf Jumps:as explained prior to this!

Use a standing calf raise variation and a seated/angle variation (either the seated or donkey calf raise).

*You can do dumbbell variations for standing and seated as well if you are lacking a specific calf machine!

Calf Training Summary

To conclude our brief calf training section, we recommend doing 12-16 weekly sets for optimal calf development. You are able to spread calf work over 2-4x weekly granted you follow the weekly sets recommendation.

In regards to rep ranges, 10-20 reps are optimal. Utilizing standing and seated calf exercises will help muscular development in this area. Adding to that, I recommend trying unilateral/a single leg calf raise for effective development as well.

Since the calves are such a small muscle with a small range of motion, slow and controlled is the key to bigger calves. Commonly, people put a heavy amount of weight on the machine and bang out calves by “bouncing” up and down. This is absolutely ineffective and an insult to me. 

When training calves, picture leading with the heels and ending with your toes. This means engage the liftoff with your heels first instead of your toes. You will contract your calves right at liftoff in doing this. 

To conclude our calf training section, genetics plays a big part in fitness, but that should be no excuse to not train calves.

Thanks for reading, Reforged Legion!

Until next time!

Tony Gjokaj
Tony Gjokaj

Tony is the Owner of Reforged Performance Nutrition. He has been in the fitness space for over a decade, previously coaching individuals in body recomposition and strength training. His goal is to connect others with the knowledge they need to reach their greatest potential.


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