Time and time again, we see it — people with decent quadriceps and hamstrings on top of sub-par calves. Of course, the first go-to is “genetics”. It’s always the ‘because they inherited skinny calves from their great grandmother on their dog’s cousin’s side’ or something. No one ever wants to admit (or accept) that, like any other muscle, you can train your calves to be well defined and — yes — bigger. That being said, here are a few tips on how to train those calves to get the size and definition that you want.
Choose the right type of Cardio. If you are trying to gain mass, then be careful of Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) Cardio. It has been shown to inhibit muscle growth. Instead, opt for High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). The shorter, higher-intensity bursts of exercise are less likely to stimulate muscle-loss and could even promote muscle development.
Train from different angles. The thing is that your calves are made up of two major muscles — the gastrocnemius (the big one that everyone sees) and the soleus (under the gastroc) — and some minor muscles. The gastroc has two heads. This means that to work both heads of the gastroc and the soleus, one has to find ways to target each. Putting the feet at different angles (internal rotation, neutral and external rotation) when working the calves.
Utilise a full Range of Motion. The gastroc and soleus control different parts of plantar flexion (pushing the front of the foot downward). This means that if you limit the range of motion of your calf raises, you will only work one or the other muscle completely. One of the ways to ensure this is to do calf raises with knees straight (stretching the gastroc) as well as with knees bent (seated or standing, keeping the gastroc more relaxed and focussing a bit more on the soleus). Also, remember to fully stretch the calves at the bottom of the movement by pushing the heels down as far as possible.
Train more than once a week. The calves are meant to take a beating. This means that they recover faster than most other muscles. While conventional wisdom may say that when doing a split routine, you can only train a muscle group once or twice a week, you can actually train calves two or three times (as long as it is not done on consecutive days). This gives the best possibility of hypertrophy or muscle growth.
Focus on form. This should be the golden rule of all exercises. Bad form, at best, leads to sub-standard results and, at worst, can lead to serious (maybe even permanent) injury. Even mild injury is enough to set your goals back by a few weeks. Don’t rush your exercises — take your time and focus on proper form when doing them.
I’m not guaranteeing eighteen inch calves or that you will see dramatic growth within three weeks, however, following these tips gives you the best chance at achieving some level of calf hypertrophy and ridding yourself of those skinny calves.