6 Tips For Building Lean Calf Muscles

Calves are one area that many people struggle with.

Go on your toes, all the way up, congratulations you have just performed a calf raise. Over the course of your weight training life it may take 60,000 repetitions or more with weight on your back to build up some lean calf muscles.

You can’t expect to get there overnight as with your arms and chest, you have to put the work in to see the results but starting today brings you one workout closer to achieving your goals. Let us take a look at six of the most important lessons when it comes to building up your calf muscles.

1) Understand Your Lower Leg Anatomy

There are two main muscles in the calves, the superficial gastrocnemius which has two distinct heads and also bunches up when flexed and the slightly wider soleus which is directly underneath the gastrocnemius. There are also some smaller muscles involved with calf raises but the two larger calf muscles amount for most of the action.

What is worth knowing about the gastroc is that it attaches both above the knee-joint and below the ankle joint and therefore has an action at each end., the gastroc is involved with a few lower-body exercises including squats.

When your knee is bent as when doing seated calf raises, the gastroc is unable to fully stretch and then unable to fully contract. Only the soleus is used during these bent leg movements. When the leg is fully straightened the gastroc is brought back into action. Straight legged calf exercises like the standing calf raise and donkey calf raise work both the gastroc and soleus.

Both seated and standing calve raises are beneficial but for different reasons.

2) Begin With A Challenging Straight-Legged Movement

You can begin your calf movement with a straight or bent knee movement but it is best to start where the greatest amount of muscle is involved. If you were to start with seated calf raises and fatigue the soleus, think about which muscle will give out first when performing standing calf exercises.

Calf raises can be done on a machine, leg press, sled or hack squat, they are all similar so just choose one right for you. Be sure to rotate the exercises regularly, nothing worse than doing the same exercise with the same weight forever.

Align your foot, knee and hip using a hip-width stance with your toes pointing forward or angled slightly out. All future variations of foot position are based on this basic foot position.

Here are a few tips that apply to all types of calf raises:

  • ¬†Don’t lock out your knees on straight-legged movements, this can add extra strain to the joints, keep the knees unlocked but maintain a nearly straight position whilst doing the set.
  • Use just the balls of your feet on the platform, your heels should be free to move through a full range of motion.
  • Lower as far as you can to gain a full stretch in the calves and Achilles tendons.
  • Don’t bounce at the bottom of the movement and reverse the direction as much as possible.
  • Extend up as high as possible on your toes, holding the peak contracted position for a count.

3) Work The Angles

Adjusting foot position can slightly alter where the stress is focused on your calves. Having your feet turned slightly inward better focuses on the inside of the calf muscles, while having your feet turned out shifts the stress to the outer areas more, a range of foot positions can be helpful in developing calf muscularity.

Exaggerating these foot positions can put more stress on your knee joints, this can be bad for both your knees and lower legs.

Always do any calve exercise last.

4) Experimenting With Sets, Reps And Intensity Boosters

Some rare folk can thank their mom and dad for their excellent calf muscles, everyone else will have to put in the work because calves, like forearms take time and are a slow-growing body part.

Why the big investment for such small returns? Well for one thing the calves, especially the soleus have a greater percentage of slow twitch muscle fibers than other muscle groups and the main reason is that our calves have to keep us on our feet all day long with no excessive fatigue, the bad point about this is that these muscle fibers are stubborn when it comes time to grow. For some bodybuilders, building their calves to match the rest of their body is the biggest challenge.

Go and try 8-12 reps with 4 sets to muscle failure and try it with a few different movements to see how far the training protocol takes you, then start getting creative, as an example:

  • Do a few 10-rep sets from an exercise and then a few 20-rep sets with a lighter weight.
  • Begin using techniques like dropsets, rest-pause sets, half reps and supersets.
  • Speed up the reps as it starts to burn.
  • Hold the peak contraction for a long count.

Basically experiment, new ideas are easy to discover by looking online and looking what methods will turn those calves into cows.

Getting the workout routine right will see your calves finally start to grow.

5) Taking A Seat

The seated calf raise pretty much eliminates the gastrocs, save this movement for the end of your workout, you can also vary the foot position here as well, just make sure you turn your knees in or out as well before jamming them under the knee pad.

The soleus is an endurance type muscle so to make it hurt you will have to pursue a higher rep range than you would with a straight legged movement.

6) Do The Thigh Routine First

Because the gastrocnemius is involved in a number of lower-body multijoint exercises, you don’t want to train calves before thighs, this can easily be done at the end of your leg-training workout.

Like some other small muscle groups with a greater number of slow-twitch muscle fibers, the calves recover pretty quickly from an intense workout. They can be sore for a day or two but will then be ready for more training. Try out different training  frequencies from twice a week upto every other day at least for the short-term. Keep a track of your progress as you may have to experiment with a number of different training variables for calves before settling on one that works for you.

Not many bodybuilders will claim that building calves will be easy, doing it right means you will have trouble walking for the next few minutes.

Box calf raises are very good at isolating the muscles correctly.

Calve Workout For Beginners

  • This workout does not include warm-up sets. Do as many as you need, but never take warm-up sets to failure.
  • Choose a weight that allows you to reach failure for the rep limit.
  • On second and fourth sets, including an intensity-boosting technique of your choice to keep the set going past muscle failure.

Calves Workout

1) Standing Calf Raise

2 Sets of 10 reps and 2 sets of 20 reps.

2) Seated Calf Raise

2 Sets of 12 reps and 2 sets of 25 reps.

Using all of these techniques above, you will be able to build lean calf muscles and be really impressed with progress that would otherwise seem impossible.

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