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How to Get BIG Calves - 6 Secrets

Updated on September 17, 2012
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When I first entered the muscle building scene, I did not have much knowledge. What I did have was a strong desire to workout hard and put on as much muscle mass as my small, ectomorph body would allow.

As the years passed and I gained more knowledge, I learned what worked and what did not work. Unfortunate for me, a lot of knowledge came after trudging through insane workouts, pain, sweat, and exhaustion.

Like mentioned above, I am what is classified as an ectomorph body type. This is what scientist describes as being small framed and a hard gainer. Through my genetic profile, I have a fast metabolism. This makes it very hard to put on muscle mass because I burn calories at a rapid pace.

So I simply wanted to know, "how to get big calves." This is what inspired me to write this hub.

I have always been enamored with BIG CALVES. After all, having big calves alone can make someone look twice as big as they really are. Because calves are the most exposed part of a person’s leg (males and females alike), having big calves gives the illusion that the rest of the leg is just as muscular as the calves. Look at the picture above. Can you envision what the rest of the athletes body looks like just by looking at his calves?

I found out the hard way that working out smarter instead of harder saves a lot of headaches and frustration when it comes to how to get big calves. Regardless of what body structure a person is, I am hoping this article will be beneficial to bodybuilders, fitness enthusiasts, and anyone wanting to gain strength and tone in their calves. If anything, it should prevent wasted time in the gym and unnecessary soreness.

Anatomy of the Calves
Anatomy of the Calves | Source

Tip #1 - KNOW WHAT YOU ARE WORKING WITH

Knowing the anatomy of the calf muscles is important if you want to improve on them and share the knowledge of how to get big calves. There are two separate, primary muscles that make up the calves: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius crosses over two joints, the knee joint and the ankle joint. The soleus crosses over one joint, the ankle joint. In order to get big calves, you need to be exercising both muscles by doing isolated exercises for each. Because the gastrocnemius crosses over both the ankle and the knee joints alike, any straight-leg calf exercise will isolate and target the gastrocnemius. In order to target the soleus, one must alleviate the activation of the knee joint, thus putting the strain of the exercise on the ankle joint alone. This is accomplished by any bent knee calf exercise.

Tip #2 - INCREASE YOUR REPITION COUNT

Calves are muscles that respond best to high reps and fast stimuli, thus activating type two muscle fibers. This is simply because calves are being used every time we walk and take a step. Think of how much we walk, run, leap, back pedal, and reach for something during an average day. All of this requires the stimulation of the calf muscles.

For most of you reading this, you are probably wondering what type two muscle fibers are. Do not be concerned so much as to what these muscle fibers are because it really is not relevant in how to get big calves. What is important is realizing that calves respond better to high reps because they get a lot of stimulus throughout a normal day. For all the meat heads out there (yes I am one myself), this is one of the hardest things because you have to start out using a lower weight then what you are probably accustomed to using. Besides fore arms, this is the only time where I ask you to check yourself and go against lifting the heavy weight for low reps propaganda that you have probably been doing since puberty. When it comes to training calves, I recommend shooting for 50 reps per set.

Tip #3 - VOLUME

Doing calves as part of a leg day is sufficient. If calves are one of your weaker areas, I recommend training them twice a week. Depending on your workout split, calf training should be done in the beginning and end of the week consecutively. Even if your current workout routine does not have you training legs twice a week, you can add calves to the end of any muscles group training day to reach the two times per week quota.

If you are including calf training on your leg day, exhaust your calves by training them first and then your quads and hamstrings. Most people do the opposite, train their upper legs and then the calves.

Training calves afterwards is usually the preferred method simply because it has you training your larger muscle groups before the smaller. In how to get big calves however, you want to focus on training calves first. It pre-exhausts the calves and continues to stimulate growth throughout the remainder of the leg workout. Squats, lunges, and dead-lifts all involve movement in the ankle joints, therefore forcing the calf muscles to work through functional movements. By the time you finish your leg workout, your calves should feel like they are ready to explode out of the skin.

The volume should be eight sets of calf exercises, broken down into four sets of straight-leg calf raises and four sets of bent knee calf raises. This is the minimum number of sets needed for how to get big calves.

Difference in Plantarflexion and Dorsiflexion
Difference in Plantarflexion and Dorsiflexion

Tip #4 - INCREASE YOUR TEMPO

Again, calves are fast twitch muscle fibers due to their function and amount of stimulus given in an average day. Because of this, the tempo of the rep performance needs to be fast. Having spent years in gyms around the country, I know the majority of calf crushers were taught to pause at the peak of each rep. This is at the muscle contraction phase of the exercise.

In order to get big calves, there should be no pause while performing reps of calf exercises. This means once you begin any calf exercise, you should perform reps non-stop until you hit your target number of reps. The muscles are fast twitch which means you should be following a 1-1-1 rep count. This simply means that it should take no more than one second to plantar flex your ankle and contract the calf muscles (raise the weight to the balls of your toes), no more than one second in the contracted phase, and no more than one second dorsiflexing the ankle and stretching the muscle back to the starting position. Make sure all reps are completed through an entire range of motion. It is especially important to make sure completed reps involves the weight being lowered all the way until your ankles will not dosiflex any further and the muscles are stretched out to maximum capacity. Half reps are not welcomed nor recommended in the pursuit of how to get big calves.

Different Positions of the Ankle

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Tip #5 - SWITCH FOOT POSITIONING

For maximum results in how to get big calves, one should perform calf exercise sets with the ankle supinated, ankle neutral, and the ankle pronated (refer to pictures). Because eight sets is the minimum, I suggest switching ankle position every time you perform a set of calf raises. By switching ankle position, the weight bearing is transferred to hit the targeted muscle groups by breaking down muscle fibers on the inside, middle, and outside of the calves. Due to the nature of human anatomy, the stimulus of a rotation acts on the opposite side of the direction your foot is positioned. Whereas it is obvious that a foot positioned neutral will break down more muscle tissue in the middle of the calves, a supination shows a higher percentage of muscle tissue breakdown in the muscle fibers located on the inside of the calves and a pronation shows a higher percentage of muscle tissue breakdown in the muscle fibers located on the outside of the calves. Overall, by switching foot position each set, this will increase your chances of training the entire surface area of each calf.

Examples of Calf Stretches

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Gastroc stretch against wallVariation of gastroc stretch against wallBend the knee to stretch the soleous Gastroc stretch on wooden angled board
Gastroc stretch against wall
Gastroc stretch against wall | Source
Variation of gastroc stretch against wall
Variation of gastroc stretch against wall | Source
Bend the knee to stretch the soleous
Bend the knee to stretch the soleous | Source
Gastroc stretch on wooden angled board
Gastroc stretch on wooden angled board | Source

Tip #6 - STRETCH IN BETWEEN SETS

Finally, in continued support on how to get big calves, stretch out your calves in between sets. This might sound like a no brainer but stretching the calves not only rids the calf muscles of lactic acid, it also continues to improve the function and flexibility of the calves. The goal is to have a refreshed calf each time you perform a set. As the calf workout pushes on, naturally the more tired your calves will feel. Dumping the lactic acid out of the muscle and into the blood stream allows for maximum break-down of the muscle tissue each set. This will allow repeated sets at a higher rep count when the calves are starting to get tired and succumb to the stress of the workout.

Stretch calves by placing your foot on an elevated surface placing your ankle into an extreme dorsiflexion. Now hold for approximately 20-30 seconds. Depending on where you work-out, you may have to improvise to find a place to stretch your calves. I recommend taking a balance board and placing it against a wall or stacked up weight plates. You can even use just a stack of three 45 lb weight plates lying on the floor. Be creative but try to find something close to where you are lifting your calves so that you can immediately stretch after performing a set and without having to walk all the way across the gym.

Good luck! No go and build yourself Big Calves, BIG CALVES!!

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      jason 4 years ago

      stretching the calves before and during the sets temporarily inhibits muscle strength and force production, this could lead to injuries. it's better to do foam rolling before and after along with those stretches you mentioned.

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 3 years ago from Nottingham UK

      As your calf muscles are often filled with type 2 fibre that don't have a predisposition towards excessive bulking- why do sets which target muscular endurance? Surely this will only target tone?

      Surely with studies showing that muscle plasticity allows you to increase your ratio of type 1 to type 11 fibres over time you should be targeting reps which aim for muscle size with lower reps and higher weights?

    • dwelburn profile image

      David 3 years ago from Chesterfield, UK

      Some good points about calf development here. You are right in that calves need a lot of volume and frequency to develop them. Though I would not go anywhere near as high as 50 reps as this will mostly target the slow twitch (endurance) fibres. And you want to target the fast twitch fibres.

      German volume training (10 sets of 10) works great for calves. But start with 5 sets and build up. Also train them at least twice per week, and later increase to three times. You could even do some bodyweight calf training on your off days when you are fully accustomed to the three day per week training. Build up gradually.

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