How to Grow your Calves

Many individuals find it hard to grow their calves. However, just because it’s hard does not mean it’s impossible! Since most gyms are not yet open, many people are looking for calf workouts at home.

But before we dive into performing calves exercises at home, there are 3 crucial rules to follow and a few important things to understand when trying to grow your calf muscles.

1. Bypass your Achilles Tendon

Your Achilles tendon is one of the strongest tendons in the body, it is located between the ankle and foot and its sole purpose is to absorb large amounts of force, such as landing from a jump. A common mistake people make when doing a calf workout at home (or in the gym) is training their Achilles tendon, instead of the muscle they actually want to train (gastrocnemius).  Because the Achilles tendon is so great at absorbing force, the reflex automatically takes over when most people sit at a seated calf machine, for example, eliminating the work needed by the gastrocnemius muscle.

To bypass this, it is best to train your calf muscles slowly, at a controlled tempo, moving through a full ROM (range of motion). Make sure you are not “bouncing” and instead are really focusing on training your gastrocnemius muscle, not your Achilles tendon.

2. Calf VS. Soleus

The second important thing to understand about training your calves is the actual anatomy of your calf muscles. Most people don’t know their calves are actually made up of two muscles; the gastrocnemius and the soleus.

The gastrocnemius muscle is the large muscle at the top of the calves. This is the muscle that gives the “pop” and definition most people are aiming towards when wanting to grow their calves.

The soleus muscle is a bit smaller and sits underneath the gastrocnemius muscle. This muscle doesn’t necessarily contribute to the “pop” and definition of the calf muscles, but is equally as important to train if you want to see optimal muscle growth in the lower leg region.

The major difference between these two muscles is when they are activated. Your large calf muscle (gastrocnemius) is active when it is extended; standing up straight, for example. The soleus is active when the knee is bent.

The best calf workout would be a variation of seated and standing calf exercises; standing calf raises and seated calf press, for example.

3. Correct Tempos & Timing

Generally, when people work out their calves, they think going up on the ball of their foot is sufficient; they would be wrong. Instead of pumping out rep after rep after rep of ball-to-heel, try focusing on pulling your heel up as high as possible on the shin bone, bringing it to the hamstring, keeping your ankle forward. You should feel as strong contraction in your calves using this method.

Furthermore, make sure you’re going through the full range of motion. For example, when doing a standing calf raise, make sure you’re letting your heels drop and are extending as much as possible. When coming up make sure you’re consciously thinking about bringing your heel up to your hamstring and ankles forward. This will ensure you’re shortening that muscle to the fullest, thereby getting the best contraction possible, guaranteeing optimal long-term growth.

Tempo is another thing to pay attention to, not only during a calf workout, but in during any training. Following a 2-2-2-2 tempo will help ensure you get the most out of your sets/reps. 2 seconds on the way up, 2 second hold at the top, 2 seconds on the way down, and a 2 second stretch at the bottom.

What weight should I use?

Up until now, you probably weren’t performing your calf workouts correctly. Now that you know how, we would suggest starting back with a weight that is 25%-50% less than what you typically use for your calf workouts.

Remember, weight is less important than form and tempo. Focus first on form; going through the full ROM and bringing that heel up and ankle forward like we discussed above. Then focus on your 2-2-2-2 tempo. You should notice a significantly more intense calf workout after implementing these tips.

Now that you have a good understanding of how to properly train your calves, let’s look at the best calf workout at home.

Best At- Home Calf Workouts

Standing Calf Raises

It might come as a surprise that calves exercises at home are going to be very similar to the ones you’d perform in the gym. In a gym, these would typically be performed on the standing calf raise machine, however since most gyms are closed, we’ll need to get creative! Never fear, you can still perform calf raises without the machine in a calf workout at home.

All you’ll need is a bench or step. Place the balls of your feet on the edge of the bench/step, allowing your heels to hang off the bench/step. Let your heels drop down, extending to their full range of motion; this will be your starting point. Begin the exercise by raising your heels to your hamstrings, keeping your ankles forward. Focus on the form we previously discussed and keeping your 2-2-2-2 tempo.

Repeat 10-12 reps of 3 sets. If you feel the need to make the exercise more difficult, try holding a couple of dumbbells in each hand. If no dumbbells are available, get creative and try using gallon water jugs, paint buckets, or your dog.

Seated Calf Press

Similarly, the seated calf press can also be done during your calf workout at home. Simply find a seat and a small platform to place under the balls of your feet. The platform should only be a couple inches high, just enough to allow your Achilles tendon to fully extend. (A couple a textbooks can work great for this!)

After you’ve found your preferred platform, continue as you would for a regular seated calf press. Implement the same tips for form here as you would in the standing calf raise, keeping the same 2-2-2-2 tempo.

Repeat 10-12 reps of 3 sets. If you need to add extra weight you can rest a couple of dumbbells on your knee by gently holding them in place, letting your calf support the weight. If no dumbbells are available, just as with the standing calf raises, try using gallon water jugs or anything heavy you can find in your home.  

Performing calves exercises at home is probably easier than ever now, due to the current circumstances of the world. People everywhere have had to tap into their creative genius to figure out ways to continue their training at-home, or they should forfeit their gains altogether.

Try performing these calves’ workouts at home with the proper form and tempo at the end of your leg day and let us know if you feel the difference!

Good luck!

AND don't forget to supplement! They can take your all your hard-work and bring it to the next level, letting you get the most from your training!