ARE YOU A CALF OR A CALF-NOT?
When it comes to the calf size, a lot of people would have you believe that you were either destined to be a CALF OR A CALF-NOT.
What I’ll say is that this is partially true.
Genetics play a large role in calf size.
I am Jeff Caveliere, no doubt, but I’ve never been confused with Jeff CALF-aliere!
My struggles in building bigger, stronger calves have provided me with motivation to find more ways to get the calves to respond, and there is definitely something you can do to build this stubborn muscle.
If you want to know how to get bigger calves, let’s start with a basic understanding which muscles of the lower legs are involved. Then we’ll discuss what type of exercise for calves actually works in the first place and a simple home body weight leg exercise to help you get those calves growing.
The main muscles in the calf are the gastrocnemius muscle (gastroc for short) and the soleus which is behind it.
The top portion of the soleus muscle fiber is behind the gastroc (the most visible calf muscle), so if you can increase the size of the soleus it will push the gastroc outward and make the entire calf appear larger and more developed.
So what kind of exercises work to build three-dimensional calves? To find out, let’s consider WHO has the most well-developed calves… athletes!
WHY DO ATHLETES HAVE SUCH WELL DEVELOPED CALVES?
Having worked with professional athletes, one thing that you will notice about their training is there’s not a lot of direct calf exercises in it.
Athletes really don’t need to train calves.
That’s because the essence of their activities – running, jumping, cutting in multiple directions – create stronger calves because those athletic activities have one thing that our typical specific calf exercises do not.
That is high tension, spontaneous contraction.
What am I talking about?
It’s when you get a high level of tension generated in a single contraction over a quick period of time. Almost every professional athlete incorporates this into their sport naturally, which leaves them with tremendous calf development without having to spend much time at all on specific calf workouts.
That high tension spontaneous contraction is the key to building bigger calves, because that is how they respond the best. That is how you create true overload. A dedicated calf workout routine is unnecessary and not the best way to do this.
#1 BEST WAY TO DEVELOP YOUR CALVES AT HOME
Here I’m going to show you an excellent calf exercise that you can incorporate into your lower body workouts that trains your calves without any equipment at all.
Starting position is kneeling on a mat or on the floor with your feet hipwidth apart, ankles flexed backward and balls of your feet anchored under a bench or under a piece of furniture, tops of the feet flat on the floor.
In this starting position with your feet secured under the bench or couch, lift your heel and flex your feet in order to keep your body upright. You will feel the calf contraction as soon as you set up if you do this properly.
Begin with your butt sitting on your heels. Then, when you are ready to light a fire in your calves, slowly launch your body out, leaning forward with core engaged, as I show you in the exercise. Use only as much range of motion as you need to feel the calf muscles kick in. A limited range of motion is fine if that’s what it takes to set those calves on fire.
The only thing holding me up from falling flat on my face is an incredibly strong contraction of the calves.
If you do this, I guarantee you’ll feel a stronger contraction than with any other calf exercise you’ve ever done. This move trains the calves like none other!
For example, doing heavy weight 300 lb barbell calf raises if you are a 150 lb person will do nothing to overload your calves. You are already carrying the entire weight of your body during single leg stance in the swing phase of gait.
This is not a new challenge.
What I am showing you here WILL be an incredible overload for your calves!
And believe me… you will have sore calves the following day.
EXAMINING HOW THE CALF MUSCLES ARE INVOLVED
This movement demands a sudden and extremely high level of contraction from both the soleus and the gastroc muscles in your calves.
The more knee flexion involved (as it is in the beginning of the exercise) the more you will be working your soleus.
The soleus is a really important component of your calves. It’s the muscle that lies beneath the more visible gastroc.
As you develop this you can start to build that soleus and push out the gastroc adding more size and definition to your calves. As you get stronger and can extend your body even further out against gravity, the more you will be working the gastroc as well.
The cool part about this move is that I move from a flexed knee position to an extended knee position. So I’m actually activating more gastroc as I get myself further out.
As I get even stronger in the exercise I can actually get more and more gastroc because I can extend even further out.
If you want, you can start that right away by putting a physioball out in front of you to get more activation, because you can actually lean on it as an assist to get you there.
Aim to complete as many reps as you can until failure for each set of this exercise to strengthen your calf muscles. Perform a few sets at a time with plenty of rest between rounds and do this 2-3 times per week to increase the size of those stubborn calf muscles.
Don’t try to rely on the same calf exercises over and over again despite the fact that they are not giving you the calf growth and size that you are looking for. Remember, no dedicated calf workouts necessary!
In order to get your calves to grow bigger you have to start incorporating an element of spontaneous instant contraction with a high degree of tension.
This is a solid calf exercise to do exactly that!
Remember, if you want to build massive calves it’s not about how many exercises or reps you do. It’s about doing quality reps in the way the calves prefer to work, with a high tension overload in a spontaneous manner. It is possible to replicate this at home with no equipment using the simple exercise I showed you above. Incorporate this into your weekly leg workout routine for optimal results.
If you’d like to develop stronger more functional muscles at home check out our ATHLEAN-X programs.
- Direct calf training doesn’t work as well for calf development as high tension spontaneous contraction which is a high level of tension generated in a single contraction over a quick period of time
- Athletes naturally have great calf development because the running, jumping and cutting in multiple directions during sports creates that high tension spontaneous contraction
- To replicate this at home, first anchor your feet under a piece of furniture and then perform a quick launching action to get your calves to fire and create the high tension spontaneous contraction.
- You can use a physioball assist to help you get even more gastroc activation.
- This effective calf exercise should leave you with sore calves the following day! Incorporate it into your regular leg workouts and you’ll see a difference quickly.
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.