Welcome to The Calf Cafe. Imagine if that was a real fitness business.
You know, one of those boutique gyms where every workout, and every piece of equipment was all about training your calf muscles.
There’s a wall of seated calf raise machines. Hard-to-find-in-most-gyms donkey calf raise stations. Steps for standing calf raises. And a long list of tools like resistance bands, jump ropes, and foam rollers to stretch, strengthen, and massage the calf muscles.
And that’s it. Hate to break it to you, but a place like the Calf Cafe would probably topple in a hurry, unable to stand on its own two feet.
Why? The calf muscles are the most neglected of any body part. It’s an after-thought for a lot of people. Unless, of course, you’re totally driven and obsessed like Arnold Schwarzenegger was, when he decided to build bigger calves.
Let’s face it. For most people, developing the calf muscles can be a stubborn process. It might seem easier to wear pants,hide your legs as much as possible, and try not to think about it, than putting in the work to build bigger calves.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can build bigger calf muscles. Here’s what you need to know:
Calf muscle anatomy
There’s two primary muscles that make up the calf muscles.
These muscles help you flex your foot and bend your knee. Both work together to help you run, jump, walk, and move around.
The gastrocnemius, is the “calf muscle” you can see contracting and lengthening when you’re doing calf raises, for example. But the soleus, which lies underneath the gastrocnemius from the knee to the ankle, is actually the stronger of the two muscles and more resistant to fatigue.
Common calf training mistakes
Maybe you are training your calf muscles, but aren’t getting the results you want. That happens a lot. And it can usually be traced back to a few common mistakes like:
- Neglect. You avoid training your calf muscles. “What’s the point? My calf muscles don’t respond to training.” Or you randomly tack on a couple sets of calf raises at the end of a workout, but not consistently.
- Poor form. When you do train your calf muscles, it’s a half-hearted effort. Too much weight, not enough, and poor form that doesn’t give the calf muscles a good stretch or full contraction. Or just a rush job at the end of a workout that isn’t enough to fatigue these already-well conditioned muscles.
Blaming genetics. A favorite pass time for people with skinny calves. Probably what people are doing instead of going to The Calf Cafe. Genetics does play a part in what your calf muscles look like, but it’s hardly a reason to completely neglect calf training.
Training tips to improve calf development
So what should you be doing to strengthen the soleus muscle and get your gastrocnemius to grow?
There’s no real secrets. Your calf muscles aren’t that much different from the other 650-plus muscles in your body. These muscles will get stronger and grow if you train right and eat right.
But there is one thing to keep in mind. Your calf muscles are already highly fatigue resistant because you stand, walk, run, and jump using these muscles. But with the right approach to training you can fatigue these muscles to stimulate growth. Here’s how:
- Use full range of motion. Every time you train your calves, focus on using a full range of motion. That might mean dropping the weight. On a calf raise, for example, push off your toes, lift your heels and try to get as high as possible, squeezing your calf muscles at the top of the lift. Then lower your heels and get a good stretch at the bottom of the lift. The primary lifts for training the calves are isolation exercises, and when you do them right, you can get them to grow.
- Increase volume. Everybody responds to calf training a little bit differently. For starters, aim for training your calf muscles 2 to 3 times a week for a total of 10 to 12 sets, 15-30 reps per set. Even if you’re not lifting heavy, you can still fatigue your calf muscles to stimulate growth with enough volume.
Increase time under tension. Practice good form and using a full range of motion to train your calves. Then add one more element to maximize your results. Increase time under tension using a slow and controlled lifting tempo.
- Stretch your calves in between sets with wall stretches or heel drops on a step or stairs. And when your workout is over, including stretching and foam rolling can help with muscle repair and growth, too.
- Adjust foot positioning. Most people train their calf muscles with their toes pointed forward, and that’s it. But just like developing your chest, working your calves from different angles can make a difference. And it’s actually pretty easy. Complete a set with your toes pointed forward, toes pointed inward, and toes pointed outward.
King-Sized Calf Workout
Ready to build bigger calf muscles? Plug this workout into your training routine, preferably not on a day you’re training quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
Warm-Up Start with a couple lightweight sets of a calf exercise, or 5-10
minutes on the stair machine
Seated Calf Raises 2 sets, 15-20 reps
Standing Calf Raises 2 sets, 15-20 reps
Leg Press Calf Raises 2 sets, 15-20 reps
Jump Rope 1 minute
Stretch/Foam roll 5 minutes
Work hard. Train smart.
When you work hard and train smart, you can build stronger calves and develop the gastrocnemius and soleus. Add this calf workout to your training plan twice a week, and track your progress.
Having trouble growing your calf muscles? Let’s discuss on Facebook
1. Sechenova, R. (2007). Physiological effects of using the low intensity strength training without relaxation in single-joint and multi-joint movements. From:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17465271
2. Mitchell, C., et al. (2012). Resistance exercise load does not determine training-mediated hypertrophic gains in young men. Journal of Applied Physiology. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404827/
3. Schuenke, M., et al. (2012). Early-phase muscular adaptations in response to slow-speed versus traditional resistance-training regimens. European Journal of Applied Physiology. From: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00421-012-2339-3