Fitness

How to Get Bigger Calves
5 Calf Exercises That Actually Work

Exercises to Build Bigger Calves Cover Image
Written by Isaac Robertson

​If you want to stand out like the true bodybuilder that you are in a sea of ripped abs and big arms, then you need to start determining how to get big calves.

One of the best advice that we can probably give you is this:

Show some love to your calves.

It’s true that Arnold Schwarzenegger had weak calves at some point in his life, but you also can’t deny that weak calves are something you don’t want for yourself.

Which means that you need to start looking for the best calf exercises you need to build muscle and improve your leg health.

As a beginner, do not shy away from the calf training regimen you will read today because once you get the drift, you can comfortably step on procrastination and get those calves you’ve always wanted. 

The only way to be a champion is by going through these forced reps and the torture and pain.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

​5 Great Exercises to Build Bigger Calves

1. ​​Seated Calf Raises

​This is a strength exercise that not only trains calves, but also trains the soleus.

Aim to complete at least 10 reps as you climb to your maximum weight. You can use a seated calf machine or you can improvise with a bench and a step to lift your feet off the ground.

To perform this exercise, position your knees below the pads of the seated calf machine. Rest the balls of your feet on the step or block (improvise by holding dumbbells on your thighs to create more resistance).

calves workout

Your knees should form a 90-degree angle while your toes turn inwards at an angle of about 15 degrees.

Let your heels drift towards the floor until you feel the calves stretch. Drive the balls of your feet into the platform and raise the heels as high as you can, then hold on for a second. Slowly control your legs back to their normal position while concentrating on the relaxation of the calves.

​2. ​​​Standing Calf Raises

​The minimum number of reps you should do during your workouts should be 10 reps using a comfortable weight on the shoulder (using a barbell) or on the sides (holding dumbbells).

You can also use a standing calf machine found in almost any gym.

This reasonably straightforward exercise needs you to position yourself under the shoulder pads (if you are using the standing machine).

Standing Calf Raises

Make sure your legs are slightly bent and are at shoulder width apart. Straighten your legs into a standing position as you push the weights up.

The next step is to complete the movement by slowly raising your heel from the stepper until you rest on your toes. Hold the position for a few seconds and once again take a slow pace when placing your heels below the platform as you enjoy the stretch in your calf muscles.

​3. ​​​Leg Press Calf Raises

​This routine targets the plantar flexion or the ankle extension muscle.

Sit on a leg press machine with your toes at the lower part of the feet platform.

Make sure your heels are hanging on the lower side of the footplate along the edges. Press the weight sled upwards until your knees are straight.

Use the ball of your foot and your toes as you press up the weight, and as you move upwards, you will feel the calf muscles contract as you lower your toes back to their original position.

Leg Press

You should feel a good stretch in the calves as you slowly take your feet back.

If you’re using a leg press machine you should keep this in mind: Due to the different designs, if your foot does not allow the hanging of the heels off the footplate, it may not be as effective due to the partial range of motion in the calf area.

​4. ​​​Squat Calf Raises

​This exercise targets the muscles on the back of the lower legs. It also strengthens the glutes and inner thighs.

Stand with your feet about three to four feet apart with toes facing outwards.

Bring your hands together in front of your chest as you squat down creating a parallel plane between your thighs and the floor.

As you execute this move, make sure the knees are over the ankles.

Raise the right heel off the floor and push your hips up and down in a pulsating motion while isolating the right calf.

Woman doing squats

​Continue pushing for about 30 seconds before relaxing and switching to the other side to complete the exercise.

​5. ​​​Jump Rope

​Skipping rope will target the soleus, gastrocnemius, and tibialis anterior muscles.

You only need a skipping rope to execute this fitness exercise.

 It’s very difficult to set the minimum number of reps or counts that you should take because jumping a rope even for beginners should not be a hassle. Do the right thing and take a 30-second break in between rounds.

Jump Rope

You can set the maximum number of counts and use a timer to stop for a few seconds, then continue until you complete the workout.

​Jumping rope helps you to build up and tone your calf muscles. [1]

8 Tips to Skyrocket Your Results

​1. Hold and Squeeze

Hold and Squeeze calves workout

We know you’ve always wondered how to get bigger calves, and we’re here to tell you that one of the ways in which you can do that is if you hold and squeeze your calf muscles at the top of every rep.

A full contraction and release of the muscles completes the rep, but holding and squeezing instead of immediately releasing works your muscle fibers harder and, over time, gives you a set of stronger and bigger calves.

​2. Get the Full Calf Contraction

​It is very important to make sure you fully contract your calf muscles in every exercise and rep for best results.

For instance, when doing a calf raise, you will want to contract your calf muscles until you are on your toes to maximize the full range of motion.

You should be able to feel your calf go from relaxed to fully contracted in every rep you do.

​3. Adjust Foot Placement with Different Angles

​In the same vein of adjusting the angle of bicep curls to target different areas of the bicep, you should also do calf raises with varying foot placements.

Try turning your feet out, turning your feet in, standing with your feet close together, or standing with your feet far apart.

Placing your feet at different angles will use all areas of your calf muscles and lead to bigger muscle gains.

​4. Mix Rep Ranges (Heavy But Less Rep and Light But Higher reps)

Doing the same workout over and over again can be ineffective once your muscles become accustomed to performing the same exercise, so it is important to switch things up.

Start with heavy weights and low reps and move to lighter ​ones with higher reps. This will stimulate all of your muscle fibers, and lead to better muscle growth.

Heavy But Less Rep and Light But Higher reps

​5. More Frequency (Train 3-4 Times Per Week, with 4-6 Sets for each Workout)

Instead of only working on your calves on the day you do your other leg exercises, start working in your calf exercises into other workouts for maximum growth. 

Calves are rather small muscles and are made up of slow twitch fibers, so they should be worked 3-4 times per week with 4-6 sets each workout.

Don’t be afraid to do them in between pull-ups and presses!

​6. Go Barefoot

​Working out barefoot is more effective than you think! It can help target muscles in your calves, as well as your shins and lower legs, that help stabilize ​your body and absorb shock.

Just make sure to slowly work your way to training barefoot because jumping right in could injure your legs and make you take ​a day off from exercising.

​7. Don’t Neglect Single Leg

body builders calves

Anyone who has ever played a sport knows what it’s like to favor one side of their body over the other, even subconsciously. To avoid this when growing your calf muscles, you can modify every calf exercise to only work one leg at a time.

When you focus working out on ​one leg, you are more likely to see equal growth in both calves.

​8. Train to Failure

​If you feel like your calf muscles are being stubborn and are not growing, then you may need to train to failure. Do this by adding more reps or holding a position until you physically cannot continue with the exercise anymore.

This will shock your calves into cooperating and lead to bigger . It will burn, but you will see great results.

​FAQ

​1. Why are calves so hard to grow?

Calves are so hard to grow because of their anatomical configuration, which resists the act of hypertrophy (an expected increase in the size of the skeletal muscle through the growth of component cells).

Calves are often either the most complained-about-muscle when it comes to building mass, or the most overlooked.

body builder calves

​2. Are calves based on genetics?​​​​​

​Calves’ growth may be tied to genetics because their muscle fiber is composed of 90% slow-twitch dominant.  [​2]

This dominant muscle growth rate is half that of fast twitch fibers. As long as you train your calves in line with their functionality, they can grow up to the size of your arms or neck.

​3. Can you get big calves without weights?

male doing squats

You can get big calves without weights by incorporating walking, hiking, and running into your exercise routine.

All you need to is keep your calves active while carrying out routine activities on a daily basis. Remember that they are muscles, and for them to ​develop, they need to be “activated.”

Other recommended resources:

Final Thoughts on Building Bigger Calves

​Calves are like any other part of your body that need time and exercise. If you are a beginner, seek every opportunity to move so that the little movements add up to the overall strategy of your weight loss program.

The critical thing to remember here is that calves also need a lot of training and intensity like the biceps, squats, and chest.

Do not neglect them at any cost because they grow at a much slower pace.

Remember, all you have to do is hit the gym so you can blast your calves into new levels of growth.

calves workout

​References

1. Benefits of jumping rope during injury rehabilitation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://us.humankinetics.com/blogs/excerpt/benefits-of-jumping-rope-during-injury-rehabilitation

2. Henselmans, M. (n.d.). 3 Reasons Your Calves Aren't Growing. Retrieved from https://www.t-nation.com/training/3-reasons-your-calves-arent-growing

About the author

Isaac Robertson

I’m a personal fitness trainer and nutritionist living in sunny Indianapolis, IN. I’ve spent the last 8 years staying at the forefront of the health and fitness industry. In that time, I’ve helped hundreds of people shed the excess weight and get into shape, maintaining their healthy new lifestyle through proper training and eating habits. You can read more about me here​.

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