Having small calves is every guy’s nightmare, especially when beach season arrives. We’ve all seen that guy in the gym who has the huge, sculpted upper body, but when you see his calves you wonder how he’s holding himself up. He looks like a cheese triangle.
The calves are the aesthetic equivalent of the forearms; they should be a preview of the size and definition of the entire lower body. But not everyone finds calf-building a simple process – and that’s what we want to address right here.
Have you been hammering away at your calves for months or years without success? Let’s take a look at 7 tips to kick-start the growth of even the most stubborn calves right now.
1 – Master the technique
Growing your calves all starts with one thing; mastering the technique of calf exercises.
If you’ve been rushing through calf workouts with shortened and fast-paced motions, you’ve been doing it wrong. Develop a strong mind-to-muscle connection. You can do this by using lighter weights and practicing in front of a mirror.
Although this will apply to all calf exercises, let’s use standing calf raises as an example:
- Move slowly as you push up on the ball of your foot
- Pause at the top and contract the muscle – You must squeeze the muscle so you can see it flex
- At the bottom of the exercise, make sure you’re fully stretching the muscle by letting the heel drop below the platform
- Only after you’ve mastered the technique and developed that mind-to-calf connection should you consider increasing the weight
2 – Use the best exercises for stubborn calves
When it comes to calf exercises, not all are created equal. Some are much more effective than others,
During all workouts, you should be using two types of calf exercise: one straight leg exercise and one bent leg exercise. Why? Your calves are made up of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius responds best to straight leg exercises while the soleus likes those bent leg exercises.
Here are a few options for both:
Straight leg calf exercises
- Standing calf raise machine
- Donkey calf raises
- Jumping calf raises
Bent leg calf exercises
- Seated calf raises (plate loaded)
- Seated calf raise machine
- Seated dumbbell calf raises
When you perform either type of exercise, don’t forget to contract at the top and drop the heel below parallel for a full stretch.
3 – Isolate the muscle
Continuing on from the point above, it’s important to isolate the calf muscle to avoid any imbalances in size or strength.
I recommend using a single leg version of a straight leg exercise and a bent leg exercise. To emphasize the gastrocnemius, balance yourself on a wall while holding a dumbbell. Stand on an elevated platform with one leg and perform standing calf raises.
For the soleus, lower the weight on a seated calf raise machine, and perform a few single leg sets as part of your calf workout.
4 – Learn the right sets and reps
Mix both higher repetition with lower weight and lower repetitions with more weight. If you’re a beginner or if you have to re-master your technique, begin with the higher repetition ranges. One study suggests that for each workout, you should aim to complete between as few as 70 repetitions in total, but no more than 90.
For example, your workout may look like this:
- Standing Calf Raise: 2 sets of 20 repetitions
- Seated Calf Raise: 2 sets of 20 repetitions
- Total: 80 repetitions
Once you’ve mastered the technique, you can begin to mix up your workouts to include both higher and lower repetition ranges:
- Standing Calf Raise: 4 sets of 10 repetitions (more weight)
- Seated Calf Raise: 2 sets of 20 repetitions (less weight)
- Total: 80 repetitions
5 – Train three times per week
How often should you workout to grow your calves? Once a week? Everyday? In the same study mentioned above, researchers suggest that three times per week is ideal for promoting the growth of stubborn calves. The catch? You have to use perfect technique and progressive overload.
Progressive overload is when you continue to challenge your muscles by increasing one of several acute variables: weight load, sets, repetitions, intensity. You can also take shorter rest breaks to influence progressive overload.
6 – Supplement your gains
Results are determined by what you do in the kitchen as much as in the gym. You can tear down your calf muscles every workout, but if you aren’t supplying the right nutrients, you won’t see growth.
When size is what you’re after, I recommend combining a well-balanced diet that is rich in protein and complex carbohydrates with supplements that have been shown to promote growth.
D-Bal is one of our most popular bulking supplements. It contains Tribulus, which has been shown to support healthy testosterone levels for recovery and growth. It also has whey protein isolate and BCAAs to increase muscle recovery, promote protein synthesis, and boost overall muscle growth.
Because of its ability to help your body to grow muscle during times of recovery, D-Bal is one of our most recommended natural bodybuilding supplements to take while you’re kick-starting the growth of stubborn calf muscles.
7 – Consistency and patience
Finally, there are two principles you must practice if you want to grow your stubborn calves: consistency and patience.
Most people who want big calves become discouraged and throw in the towel if they don’t see the results they want within a few weeks. Calves are a unique muscle that requires different types of exercises, repetition ranges, and intensity to see results. It’s going to take time before you see growth, but you’ll never see the results at all if you quit.
To motivate yourself, I recommend taking pictures of your calves before you begin your new calf-building regime. Then, once a week, take another set of pictures: one in a neutral stance and one with you flexing. Do this for three months full of consistent workouts, then revisit the first picture. Seeing even a little bit of progress will fuel you to keep going.
The good news? Once you’ve grown calf muscle, it should be a simple task of just maintaining it. So get to it! The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll reap the rewards.
Did you crack the code to getting monster calves to be proud of? Have any further tips for our fellow readers on how to grow theirs? Let us know in the comments below.