How to Get Big Calves Fast (Even If You Have Bad Genetics)

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: June 19, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
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As a fitness instructor, I have seen people easily gain ripped abs and big arms but struggle with their calves.

Why is this?

Not every calf exercise gives you the desired results. From experience, there are five calf exercises that I would recommend to you and you can be assured of bigger calves.

Calves are the back portions of your legs. Anyone can perform the calves' workout routines, including beginners. Simply get a grip on what you are supposed to do, and you will be good to go.

Remember, results won't be attained overnight. It requires patience and commitment.

Quick Summary

  • To achieve bigger calves quickly, incorporate specific calf exercises like seated and standing calf raises, leg press calf raises, squat calf raises, and jump rope into your routine.
  • Maximize calf muscle engagement by holding and squeezing at the top of each rep and using varied foot placements to target different calf areas.
  • Research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning suggests that altering foot angles during calf exercises, as outlined in the study, can lead to an increase of up to 12% in muscle gains.
  • Based on my experience and expertise in sport and exercise science, I've found that consistent, varied calf workouts, coupled with a balanced diet and adequate rest, lead to substantial calf growth.

5 Great Exercises to Build Bigger Calves

1. Seated Calf Raises

Seated Calf Raises

In my training sessions, I've seen significant improvements in clients who consistently incorporate seated calf raises.

Aim for 10+ reps, increasing weight. Use a machine or improvise with a bench and step.

  • Sit, knees under pads, balls of feet on a step
  • Keep your knees at 90 degrees and your toes slightly inward
  • Lower your heels, feel the stretch, then raise them high
  • Pause at the top
  • Lower slowly, focusing on relaxing your calves
  • Repeat to get the hang of it

2. Standing Calf Raises

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.

  • Stand with slightly bent legs, shoulder-width apart
  • Straighten your legs while lifting weights
  • Raise your heels off the stepper, resting on your toes
  • Hold
  • Slowly lower, enjoying the calf stretch

3. Leg Press Calf Raises

Leg Press Calf Raises

This calf movement routine targets the plantar flexion or the ankle extension muscle to help with the stubborn calf muscle fibers.

  • Sit on a leg press, toes on the foot platform edge, heels hanging off
  • Straighten your knees, pressing the sled
  • Push up with the balls of your feet, feeling the calf contract
  • Lower slowly, stretching the calves

Note for the leg press machine: 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

Squat Calf Raises

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

  • Stand, feet wide, toes out
  • Hands together in front, squat until thighs are parallel to the floor
  • Raise one heel, pulsing hips up and down, isolating that calf
  • Continue for 30 seconds, then switch sides

5. Jump Rope

Woman doing a jump rope

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

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

  • No set rep count
  • Jump and rest for 30 seconds between rounds
  • Use a timer, pause briefly, and then continue to complete your workout

Learn more in this video:

youtube

9 Tips to Skyrocket Your Results

lower leg bones

Here are some easy tips you can include to aid your calf muscle growth:

1. Keep It Under Tension

At the top of each calf rep, hold and squeeze. This intensifies muscle fiber engagement, leading to stronger, bigger calves.

2. Get the Full Calf Contraction

From my experience, ensuring a full contraction in every rep is crucial. I always emphasize this in my coaching.

Like in calf raises, go from relaxed to fully contracted, rising to your toes for maximum range.

3. Adjust Foot Placement with Different Angles

Mix it up like bicep curls: turn feet out or in, stand close or wide. Different angles work on different calf areas.

Research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning suggests varied foot angles can boost muscle gains [1].

4. Mix Rep Ranges

Don't stick to one workout pattern. Alternate between heavy weights with low reps and lighter weights with higher reps.

This variation stimulates all muscle fibers, enhancing growth.

Heavy But Less Rep and Light But Higher reps

5. More Frequency

Integrate calf exercises into multiple workouts, not just on leg days, for optimal 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 per workout.

6. Single Leg Focus

To promote balanced growth, perform calf exercises one leg at a time. This prevents favoring one side and ensures even development.

7.Change Walking Technique

Walk or run on the balls of your feet. This approach more directly targets calf muscles compared to the traditional heel-toe method.

8. Go Barefoot

Exercising barefoot can effectively target the calf, shin, and lower leg muscles, enhancing stabilization and shock absorption.

Gradually transition to barefoot training to prevent injury and avoid enforced rest days.

body builders calves

9. Don't Neglect Single Leg

Avoid muscle imbalance by working one calf at a time. This ensures equal development in both calves, countering the natural tendency to favor one side.

Why Are Calves So Hard to Grow?

body-builder-calves

Calves are notoriously challenging to grow primarily due to their anatomical structure, which resists the process of hypertrophy, making them a common source of frustration for many fitness enthusiasts.

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

Are Calves Based on Genetics?

Genetics do influence calf muscle growth, but training, diet, sleep, and hormonal balance also play crucial roles.

Calves’ growth may be tied to genetics because their muscle fiber is composed mostly of 50% to 70% slow-twitch fiber, as described in the Histochemical Journal article [2]. And this dominant muscle fiber growth rate is half that of fast-twitch fibers.

Additionally, some people have found that high-insertion calves (where the calf muscle attaches to the bone) can affect the ability to increase calf size.

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

- Arnold Schwarzenegger

Yet, as long as you train your calves in line with their functionality, they can grow up to the size of your arms or neck. Just make sure you're supplementing your training with a good diet and sleep, as well as maintaining healthy testosterone levels.

Can You Get Bigger Calves Without Weights?

big calves without weights

Yes, you can get bigger calves without weights by engaging in activities like walking, hiking, and running, as well as incorporating specific calf exercises into your routine.

All you need to do 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.”

You can also check out these calf exercises that will help you grow them into bad boys.

References:

  1. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2020/08000/different_foot_positioning_during_calf_training_to.30.aspx
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01003594
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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