How to build big calves regardless of your genetics
I don’t know about you but I laugh my ass off when I see a jacked guy with big pecs, arms like guns, wide, thick back……..and when you see him in shorts he has those damn chicken legs.
I’ve seen plenty of guy who have a great upper body, or even great quads, but with very poor calves. If you don’t have a good developed upper body you may get away with it because there is not such an obvious difference between your legs and the rest of the body.
But when you start to get bigger from all the incline bench pressing, all that bicep curls and triceps extension, all that pull-ups and a shitload of dumbbell pressing, your calves will start too lag behind if you do not train them.
I’ve seen so many people having this issue.
And most of the times it’s not because your genetics, it’s simply because you don’t train them effectively or even worse, you don’t train them at all.
There is a general misconception that you don’t need to work out your calves if you are squatting, doing leg press and dead lifting. That is very wrong if you ask me.
Yes, you engage those calves a bit when squatting or when working out your legs in general, but those little muscles down there need their own attention, their own time and effort.
If you are like me and have average or even poor calves genetics then you are in the right place. I am going to teach you how you can make those guys grow and stand out from the crowd with your nice and swole calves.
1 minute of anatomy
I never liked anatomy in school so I am going to keep this part short and to the point.
As opposed to what many people think, the calf is made out of two muscles. No it’s not just one.
They are called the gastrocnemius and the soleus.
If you have a little bit of size down there…..this didn’t sounded right…..well, if you have a minimum amount of size in your calves you probably seen for yourself that the calved kind off split up into two when you are flexing.
That is actually just one of the muscles – the gastrocnemius to be more specific – and is the larger of the two.
The second one, the soleus most probably you can’t see because it’s positioned under the gastrocnemius.
The role of these two muscles is to move the ankle joint, but they also have a role in supporting the knee movement and stabilization.
But enough with the boring science stuff, let’s get back to making some gains.
What are the best calf exercises?
Well, there are not that many you can choose from. I mean, how many calf exercises do you know?
You have the standing calf raises, you have the seated calf raises, you have the donkey raises and then there’s the calf raises on the leg press. And that’s pretty much it.
In fact these 4 exercises are variations of just 2 basic exercises – calf raises and calf press. So, as you can see exercise selection is not likely the problem here.
Most of the case the problem of poorly developed calves is simply ‘forgetting’ to train calves. Doing a bunch of calf raises doesn’t make you look as cool as bench pressing 3 plates on each side, but that’s not a reason to skip them.
On top of that you can squeeze in a few calves sets even when you are resting between other upper body sets. Because of the short range of movement, calves exercises don’t really take your breath away and are not that taxing on energy.
Remember the 1 minute anatomy lesson above? We have one large muscle – the gastrocnemius – and a smaller one – the soleus.
The smart thing to do in order to get the more size is to focus on the larger muscle. This can be done by doing standing calf exercises. The standing variations of the calf exercises put more focus on the soleus, which will not get as big as the gastrocnemius.
Therefore, if you want big calves do more standing calf work. Personally, I like to go to the Smith Machine, place the bar up high on your back just like you do when squatting, place the tip of your feet on a step box and start lifting. I simply love this exercise.
I like to split my calves training in 70/30 between standing and seated exercises.
Even though is good to put more emphasis on standing work, developing a great soleus will make your overall calves look better by offering a good underlying base for the gastrocnemius.
What about genetics
In the title I said you can build great calves regardless of the genetics. And I stay behind what I say.
The reason I brought up genetics into the picture is because in this particular case, when it comes to calves, genetics can be very, very different in different people.
If you’ve been reading my other muscle building articles, particularly this one over here, you should know that there are two types of muscle fibers:
- Slow twitching (type I) – which are responsible for endurance but don’t have much strength and have little potential for growth
- Fast twitching (type II) – which are the exact opposite to type I – these are responsible with strength, don’t have good endurance but have great potential for growth.
Our main goal as a bodybuilder is to target specifically the fast twitching fibers and make the muscles get bigger.
Going back to the genetics, it seems like for whatever reason, in calves particularly the ratio of the fast twitching fibers vs. slow twitching can vary from 15% up to 60% based on genetics alone.
This means the lucky ones can grow calves 4 times faster or easier than the less gifted ones. But don’t panic, just because your calves genetics suck this doesn’t mean you can’t build great calves. It will just require more time and effort.
In fact, Arnold Schwarzenegger had lagging calves in the first years of his career, but with higher volume and higher intensity he got great calves. So, regardless of your genetics you can still make yours look at least decent if not great.
You just need to put in the effort and have a proper diet.
How to do calf exercises
We’ve talked about different type of exercises, we’ve talked about genetics, now let’s discuss form and execution.
I don’t know about what’s happening at your gym, but over here I see a whole lot of guys just jerking up and down when doing calves or doing tens of reps with light weights. That’s not good for muscle growth.
Range of motion
With calves specifically you want to pay extra attention to the range of motion. Because the range of motion is quite limited even when having perfect form, you don’t want limit anymore by cheating on the reps.
Make sure you go all the way up and really squeeze the calves and then go down until you feel the muscles stretching to the max while still feeling comfortable – you don’t want to put too much pressure on your ankles.
Control the weight throughout the movement, stretch the muscles at the bottom and squeeze them at the top.
Another thing you want to track is getting stronger. Just as any other muscles in our body, the calves will grow bigger when they become stronger.
Once you hit 10-12 reps per set up the weight with another 10 pounds and focus on getting back up to 10-12 reps again and so on and so forth. You don’t need to a whole buck of reps per set. Keep it in the 6 to 12 range and try to get stronger.
There is not really that much creativity or different exercises you can do for your calves, but in case you want to try out something different you can try rotating your feet position between 3 different positions:
- Toes straight
- Toes slightly outwards
- Toes slightly inwards
Me personally I do just about 10 sets of calf exercises per week and that’s it. But I head many people saying that the calves respond better the higher volume training routines, so it might be beneficial to start training calves more than just once or twice a week. Just make sure to have at least one day of rest between 2 consecutive calf workouts.
Calf workout examples
- Standing Calf Raise 4 sets x 6-12 reps
- Seated Calf Raise 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Calf Raise on Leg Press 3 sets x 6-12 reps
- Seated Calf Raise 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- Standing Calf Raise 3 sets x 6-15 reps
That’s about it.
Follow this simple guidelines and you see your calves growing bigger and faster than ever, regardless of your genetics