I know that training legs isn’t as “cool” or “fun” as training arms, but it’s a must. You will create a much more rounded, full physique if your legs pack a serious size. And who wants to go to the beach if you have legs like a chicken? Today I’m going to show you the best way to grow your calves with exercises.
I think the go-to joke is the guy who visits the gym and skips leg day (if you always skip leg day, does leg day even exist?)
Your calves are the triceps of your legs: if you want to get them to grow, you’re going to have to hit them hard and heavy. I mean, really hard (you might cry).
Have you ever noticed how overweight people have huge calves? That’s because they are constantly carrying that weight with them. Think of your calves as load bearing muscles. They’re used to stabilize yourself during squats, help you jump, and any flexion of your ankle joint.
To gain a better understanding of how your calf muscles work, jump into the anatomy.
The major muscles in the lower half of your leg is comprised of the soleus and gastrocnemius muscle.
Similar to your shoulders, the gastrocnemius is comprised of the medial and lateral head which is just a fancy term to mean inner and outer head. The gastrocnemius is connected to fast twitch muscles, which equates to multiple key points:
- Fast twitch muscles generate more force than slow twitch muscles
- Fast twitch muscles are engaged secondly if slow twitch muscles cannot sustain the force necessary
- Responsible for overall shape of a muscle
Knowing that fast twitch muscles are directly related to the size of a muscle, the gastrocnemius is the ideal candidate for weight training.
That’s not to say the soleus muscle isn’t important; it is the fact that if there is any way at all to make a body part beneficially larger, we want to aim for the muscle group that is most efficient in growing.
The other large muscle in your calf is the soleus. It is a flat muscle underneath the gastrocnemius.
Opposite to the gastrocnemius, the soleus muscle is a slow twitch muscle. This means that it is most engaged during high rep movements, it’s proportionally smaller than fast twitch muscles, contains much more blood, and have much more endurance.
To sum it up succinctly, they contract quickly (as opposed to the name), consume large amounts of energy, not as big as fast twitch muscles, and take longer to tire under recruited conditions.
So What’s The Best Way To Grow Your Calves?
Now that science and anatomy class is over, a much deeper understanding can be said about how we want to train muscles and how we can do it the best way possible. You can spend a very long time training the wrong way or spinning your wheels and getting no traction. I know why you’re here, so let’s jump into the best ways to grow your calves.
The Easiest Way To Grow Your Calf Muscles: Standing Calf Raises
This is one of my favourite exercises to do when it’s Leg Day™ . Some gyms don’t have all the fancy machines and extension bands, but all should have a power rack. If you didn’t skim the introduction and had some patience, we now know the gastrocnemius muscle is responsible for the overall size and surface area of your lower leg. So, if we want to make a body part bigger and if you following bodybuilding training in any regard, let’s isolate it and train the hell out of it.
You will want to complete this exercise with heavy ass weight. You use your calves all day long using your body weight doing a million reps (using slow twitch muscles remember). If that worked, you wouldn’t be in the gym training your calves.
My rule for sculpting your calves: hard and heavy.
Performing the exercise: Load up the weight on the bar, like you’re going to squat. Pinch your traps so the bar can rest on it . Make sure your have proper posture and foot holding, this exercise can be delicate if you don’t have very good balance or pick too heavy of a weight.
You will probably know what weight you can squat, but you may not know what weight you can comfortably use when standing calf increases. If you have any hesitation or don’t have the ability to call on a spotter, considering using the smith machine instead.
Using the Smith Machine To Grow Your Calves
Using the smith machine to do standing calf raises is much more linear and inherently safe. You can get away with not having to make a ledge with traps by pulling them together and simply almost leaning back into the bar. The other benefit is that there is always a safety on the bar. Smith machines operate vertically by the bar in the middle of the structure, with imposed safety restrictions. By just rotating the bar towards or away from your body, you can unlock or lock the bar in a fixed position. If your looking to advance in training your calves, one is able to overload the weight being carried and really train the best way a muscle can grow.
As with any bodybuilding weight training you’ll encounter, you will want to perform the eccentric part of the specific exercise which is a roundabout way of saying is that you want to extend your leg all day way and flex your calf in the process.
Tips: Stick a small plate under the front of both of your feet to get a higher range of motion. Even better is to use a step-up platform since you’ll gain a better range of motion. This will allow you to better have a full, deep stretch of the muscle under tension. This is what will grow you.
For the ultimate leg killer workout with calf training, superset these in between squats or split squats. Instead of taking rest like a pansy, leave the bar on your back and perform calf raises instead. This means zero time lost running halfway through the gym to complete supersets.
Another Way To Build Bulkier Legs: Leg Press Calf Extension
If you’re already incorporating the leg press into your workout, this exercise is easy to superset. To start things off I want to clarify and say this is NOT the linear or vertical leg press machine we want (the machine where feet are usually at a 45 degree angle and you move the weight with your legs), what we want is the seated horizontal leg press (where your seat moves and the platform is static). If you’re having difficulty getting a full range of motion with standing calf raises for some unknown and mysterious reason, this is your next step.
See how the vertical leg press allows you to bend your hips forward, which means that your spine is unreasonably flexed also forward. You don’t want that in general as it is, plus the horizontal leg press has a better safety mechanism.
One of the reasons this exercise is phenomenal is that you can really overload the muscle for optimal growth. Plus, who doesn’t like to move big weight?
Completing the exercise: Put the ball of your feet (first front half of your foot) on the edge of the platform, in such a way that your foot can function as a lever.
Tips: Place your feet as close as you can together, leaving little to no space in between. This will flow you to target your gastrocnemius much more effectively. Just like placing you feet closer on either the horizontal or vertical leg press, the muscles on the outside will be mainly targeted. This means by targeting the lateral head or outside head of your calf, it can be seen better and more visibly.
Grow Your Calves By Hiking: Weighted Walk On Stair Master
Have you ever been in a shopping mall where the elevator broke so you had to use the stairs like some sort of caveman? Chances are you had a few shopping bags with you. Or perhaps if you ever went on any hike or camping trip and were required to carry everything necessary on your back. You may have noticed your legs, especially your calves, were especially sore.
Walking up those stairs or going for a hike is much more difficult now with that added weight, so let’s apply the same concept in the gym.
Completing this exercise: This is literally walking, I shouldn’t have to explain this to you.
But seriously, grab a plate and stick it in your favourite backpack or put on even a weighted vest if your gym has one and start walking.
Tips: Walk on the ball of your foot, so you’re constantly on the edge of your toe. You’ll hit your calves much harder this way
Most gym goers don’t think legs are that fun to do, but I find it the most rewarding. You get to move a large amount of weight, what’s not to like? The more often you incorporate leg exercises into your training program, the more enjoyable it will be for yourself and the better physique you will sculpt.
If you ever want to look like a bodybuilder, fixing your calves is one way to get there so don’t stop here.
Don’t be afraid to skip exercises that plain just don’t work for you, it’s not worth spending time doing things that won’t lead to optimal growth. If weighted walks work, but sitting calf raises don’t, you don’t need to do the exercise. In a real example, I absolutely love incline bench press, but despise decline bench press because it doesn’t work for myself, also makes all the blood rush to my head.
At the end of the day, you have to find something that works for you.