Focus Physique
The Best Calf Workouts You Haven’t Tried!

What you should know to get the best calf workouts:

  • The best calf workouts for mass involve high volume training
  • The soleus muscle underneath the “calf muscle” needs to be trained
  • You should consider training the tibialis anterior as well
  • Your genetics strongly determine your calf size
  • You should train calves from various different angles

Calves may be one of the most genetically predetermined muscle groups in terms of size and aesthetics! We’ve all seen certain men or women with insane calves, and chances are, they have never even trained them!

You’re probably here because you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum and weren’t genetically gifted with great calves. Well, I’m with you!

We both know how frustrating it can be to get any growth in our calves. In addition to this, calves are typically the only part of the leg most people will see. Having small calves can make it appear that you have small legs and throw off the balance of your physique.

This is especially unfortunate when you have a killer set of wheels just above the shorts!

Fortunately though, there is still hope! Proper calf training will increase the size of your calves. It doesn’t matter how bad your genetics are! In specific, proper training of the gastrocnemius, soleus, and tibialis anterior will increase the overall size and aesthetic of your lower leg.

Gastrocnemius, Soleus, and Tibialis Anterior Anatomy

There are three main muscles that will contribute to the overall size of your lower leg. These muscles include the: gastrocnemius, soleus, and tibialis anterior. The best calf workouts for mass should include an emphasis on all three of these muscles.

Gastrocnemius

gastrocnemius muscle anatomy
The gastrocnemius muscle.

The first one that we commonly know of as the “calf muscle” is the gastrocnemius muscle. This is the large, outer lying pear-shaped muscle, and it probably gets the bulk of training when you are working “the calves”.

What’s special about training the gastrocnemius, is you must keep your legs straight to place the emphasis on this muscle. This is because of the points in the body where the muscle attaches.

Soleus

Soleus muscle anatomy.
The soleus muscle.

The second and commonly forgotten muscle is the soleus muscle. The soleus lies beneath the gastrocnemius and is equally important to train for overall lower leg development!

What’s special about the soleus, is that you need to have the lower leg flexed to place emphasis on it. This is also due to the attachment sites of the muscle within the body.

Tibialis Anterior

Tibialis anterior muscle anatomy.
The tibialis anterior muscle.

The tibialis anterior is perhaps the most forgotten muscle of the lower leg from an aesthetic view point. Commonly, it isn’t functioning optimally from a proper human movement viewpoint, so it’s one you will want to train!

The tibialis anterior is located on the anterior (front) portion of the leg and is on the lateral side (away from the middle of the body) of the shin. Its function is to dorsiflex (toes to the sky) and invert (toes pointed in) the foot.

Muscle Fiber Type

Now that we know the anatomy of the lower leg that’s relevant to building big calves, let’s look at the anatomy of the muscle fibers. This is what makes calf training a bit more different than training something like your chest!

Generally, there are two types of muscle fibers: Type I and type II. Type I muscle fibers are considered slow twitch muscle fibers and are very fatigue resistant, but, they are not very strong or explosive. Type II muscle fibers are not as fatigue resistant, but they are much more powerful and explosive.

Your calves are a more endurance based muscle with a higher percentage of type I fibers versus type II fibers. Considering their function which is walking, running, and pointing the toe . . . this makes sense. This is why high volume workouts may make the best calf workouts!

From my experience too as a personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and one who takes his training seriously . . . high rep training for calves works.

Knowing this changes the game completely.

The Best Calf Exercises

There are many great calf exercises out there! I’m going to show you three that I highly recommend you incorporate into your training for great results!

The Calf Rock and Raise

The rock and raise works the gastrocnemius and the tibialis anterior which is why it’s a great exercise choice! In addition to both muscles being worked, you’ll be stronger because you’re working an antagonistic pair.

Essentially, this means that since the gastrocnemius and tibialis anterior are anatomically opposites, the force they create when trained together will be greater.

Proper Form:

Typically, this exercise will be done with a barbell, usually in a rack. With the barbell on your back in the same fashion as a high bar squat, you will want to slightly lean back while bringing your toes up off the floor. From here, roll forward onto your toes and do a calf raise and repeat.

You’ll just want to make sure you don’t rock back too far to avoid falling or hyperextending the knees! I would also highly recommend taking this exercise slow at first and having a spotter. Once you get the hang of it although, it’s a breeze!

Dumbbell Seated Calf Raise

The dumbbell seated calf raise emphasizes the soleus muscle because of the seated position. There are multiple ways to do this exercise including replacing the dumbbells with a barbell or using a specific machine. I prefer this version because you can do these in any gym, and using a barbell can be uncomfortable without the padding of something.

Proper Form:

Sit on bench with your legs making a 90-degree angle. The dumbbells should be sitting on top of your thighs closest to the knee. From here, do a regular calf raising motion.

Workouts to Build Big Calves

Below I’ll give you two of the best calf workouts to try. Both are simple and effective, but if you pick the second one, then you’re in for a treat!

Workout One – Traditional Tried and True

Calf Rock and Raise: 4 x 12-15

Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise: 4 x 12-15

Rest in between sets: 1-minute

Frequency: 13 days per week

Just like in any workout, make sure you are getting stronger on the exercises. Keep in mind strength gains with calves will be very slow.

Another option for this routine if you want something more intense is to superset the exercises. This means doing one exercise and then immediately doing another without any rest. It would look something like this:

Calf Rock and Raise + Seated Dumbbell Calf Raises: 3 x 12-15

Rest in between sets: 1:30

Frequency: 1-3 days per week

Since you are supersetting, the rest period comes after you have done both exercises. It’s also recommended that you cycle on and off of the superset routine every four weeks or so to avoid injuries since this routine is more taxing.

Workout Two – 1 x 75 Rep Calf Workout

This calf training workout is more intense! For this routine, it is highly recommended to cycle on and off of it every four weeks or so to avoid injuries too. The routine will look something like this:

Calf Raises: 20 reps

Rest: 10 seconds

Calf Raises: 20 reps

Rest: 10 seconds

Calf Raises: 20 reps

Rest: 10 seconds

Calf Raises: 15 reps

Frequency: 1-3 days per week

The reason behind the 10 second rest periods is to allow you to recover with just enough energy to keep going. This is a form of training called rest pause training and it’s an effective overload technique.

One set is all you will really need on this for it to be effective and you will definitely be sore the next day, so start small! If you would like though, you can add more to your calf training workout in addition to this, but I wouldn’t add much.

Common Calf Raise Mistakes

The best calf workouts don’t have form mistakes! Let’s look at the things to look out for.

Foot Positioning

There are two common mistakes I see when people position their feet going into calf raises. Unfortunately, these can put unnecessary stress on the joints, tendons, and ligaments around the knee and ankle.

Mistake One – Too Wide of a Stance

When doing calf raises, your feet should be underneath your hips and no wider than shoulder width apart.

Mistake Two – Pointing Feet Too Far in or out

Pointing the feet in or out will put a slightly different emphasis on parts of the calf muscle, but an excessive turn in or turn out of the foot is unnecessary and potentially unsafe.

Pointing your feet in or out  just a couple of inches is all that’s necessary. In addition to this, someone with flat feet or excessive foot pronation should avoid the turning out variation. This could contribute to further dysfunction at the ankle and up the kinetic chain.

Bouncing at the Knees

Bending at the knees and thrusting some of the weight up will take emphasis off of the calves. Don’t lockout the knees, but avoiding thrusting the weight up.

Final Calf Training Takeaways

  • The best calf workouts involve high rep training
  • Training the soleus and tibialis anterior is highly recommended for best calf training results
  • Those with flat or excessively pronated feet will want to avoid a turned out foot position
  • Advanced forms of calf training need to be cycled on and off of

* This article is property of FocusPhysique.com. For questions contact us here.

 

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About Brennen Elboeck

I'm Brennen, the founder of FocusPhysique.com. I want to give hundreds of thousands of people science based, practical physique and life transforming information! To never miss a post or what's new make sure to sign up for our newsletter above!

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