The calf muscle is notorious for being THE most difficult muscle to grow. Some people spend hours in the gym, only training calves, to barely see results. While there are others, especially dads for some reason, that seem to sit on the couch all day, only moving their legs to get a snack, and have massive, aesthetic looking calves.
It doesn’t make sense!
Are calves genetic? The simple answer is maybe. That doesn’t mean that you can’t turn your lackluster calves into rock hard boulders though.
Throughout this article, I am going to talk a little about the anatomy of the calf muscle and give you some tips on how to increase calf muscle size.
The Anatomy of the Calf Muscle
According to lumenlearning.com, the calf muscle is made up of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius muscle is the larger of the two and the one that is visible when you perform a calf raise, or if your lucky, while you’re resting. The gastrocnemius has two heads: the lateral head and the medial head. The lateral head is on the left side of the calf and the medial head is on the right side of the calf.
The primary purpose of the two calf muscles is to help the body move forward by mobilizing the achilles and lifting the heel. Which is exactly what you do when you perform a calf raise or any calf workout, raise the heel.
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Are People Born with Great Calves?
A common excuse that I hear from people that don’t train calves is, “calves are all genetic anyway what’s the point of training them?” Although that might be partially true, no matter how bad your genetics are, it is 100% possible to grow your calves.
After researching many websites, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one knows how much of your calf muscles are actually genetic. Some websites say 90% while some say not at all. A common theme throughout all these websites, however, is that your calves CAN and WILL grow with the proper training.
What I also thought was interesting through my research, from T-Nation.com, was that the main reason calves are difficult to grow is because we use them all day walking around and performing various tasks. This means that calves, by default, are already more frequently trained than the rest of our bodies So, in order to grow them, we have to work them much harder than other muscles.
Performing a Highly Effective Calf Workout
Similar to abs, calves are used to a high workload and are able to be trained more often than most other muscles. If you are just starting to workout your calves and want to see results as fast as possible, I recommend training them three times a week and performing at least two calf exercises per workout session.
Basically the only movement you can perform to train your calves is a calf raise. Where you stand on your tippie toes and flex your calf muscle. Although there is only one movement, there are various different ways to execute a calf raise.
My favorite calf exercise is to get under a smith machine and put the barbell on your shoulders like you are about to perform a squat. Instead of a squat, however, simply just stand on your tippie toes, squeeze at the top for two seconds and then slowly lower your heel back to the ground. This is one rep. With adequate weight on the bar, you should be shooting for about 12-15 reps for 4-6 sets. Remember, the higher the workload you can put on your calves, the more they will grow. Also, if you want to ensure that you hit your complete calf, stand on a block a couple inches tall so that your feet are elevated. This will allow your calf to stretch even more on the way down and make it harder to explode up.
Another important thing to remember while performing calf exercises is to GO SLOW. It is very tempting, especially when your calves start to burn, to want to go as fast as possible to get it over with. This is not ideal. Calves grow WAY faster when you explode up into a calf raise and slowly bring your heel back down to the ground while feeling the burn all the way through. If you are just exploding up into a calf raise and stomping your heel back to the ground, you are only performing HALF the rep.
Exercises and Nutrition
As always, to grow muscle on any part of the body, you must be consuming the appropriate amount of macro nutrients. Like I’ve said in my previous posts, you should be giving your body at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. After achieving this, you should be getting the rest of your calories from healthy carbs and fats. I recommend consuming around the same amount of carbs as you do fats and as long as you eat enough protein, your body should be primed to build muscle.
Along with macro nutrients, there is no better supplement in the world that helps build muscle better than creatine monohydrate. Check out my previous post for a more thorough explanation of how creatine aids the body in muscle growth. I even recommend one of my favorite creatine supplements!
As for exercises, like I said earlier, you should be performing different variations of the calf raise to effectively work the calf muscles. Other than the smith machine, you should be utilizing sit down machines and leg presses in which you are basically laying on the ground. Hitting your calf from all angles will ensure that you are giving it a full workout.
The best part about calves is that you can give them a good workout ANYWHERE and don’t have to be in a gym to do it. In the shower, at work, or even on the toilet it doesn’t matter. Whenever you have free time, simply start performing body weight calf raises for 30 second intervals. You might look goofy in public, but trust me, growing your calves is worth it.
The Final Verdict
Overall, calf size might somewhat be related to genetics. But who cares! Some guys just naturally have amazing looking calves without ever stepping foot in a gym. Nevertheless, just because you aren’t born with great calves, doesn’t mean you can’t grow them into even greater calves.
As long as you are exercising them 2-3 times a week, consuming the right macro nutrients and performing the workouts correctly (SLOW), you should have no problem proving the people who think big calves are all genetics wrong. And let me tell you, nothing will be more satisfying than looking in a mirror and flexing your leg to see an actual MOUNTAIN popping out of it.
Good luck with your future calf endeavors and please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions!