Ask the Experts: How Do You Get Big Calves?

Calf training is a funny thing. Some people are born with great calves, while others have to work hard to build them. I asked 18 fitness experts the following question “How do you get big calves?”. These were their answers:

anthony dexmierAnthony Dexmier

Calves can be a tricky body part for a lot of people, but everyone can grow big calves. Calves need to be trained frequently, and with a variety of rep ranges. It is also important to train them in a full range of motion. The most complete exercise is the single leg calf raise, and can be done with just a plate and a step. Make sure to go down as slowly as possible to overload the eccentric phase. Another great trick is to go on a leg press machine, press with two feet, and slow down the descent with one foot. Do that for 4 sets of ten reps, take 6 seconds to lower the weight, make sure to reach the stretch, and hold it for at least two seconds. Finish every calf session with a set of 25 reps. Hit your calves three to four times per week for a full month, and see if they don’t grow.

spencer_nadolsky-150x150Spencer Nadolsky

I have genetically small calves, but I have built them up by hitting them pretty much every other day with standing calve raises!


Nick-ShawNick Shaw

Calves can be trained a bit different than other muscle groups. Due to them being smaller than say, your chest or back, they can be trained more often per week. For this reason you’d want to train them at least twice each week, up to 3-4x/week, as long as you’re recovering properly. Another common mistake I see ALL THE TIME is that people aren’t using the full range of motion on calf exercises. They bounce around on the machine with these absurd weights, and just aren’t getting much out of it. Take your time and get that full stretch at the bottom of EVERY rep, and then make sure you’re getting up as high as you can on your toes to ensure that full ROM.

mike-samuels-150x150Mike Samuels

In my experience, calf size has a lot to do with genetics. So unfortunately, if you’re based with lower limbs that resemble strands of spaghetti, you’ll never get “cannonball calves.”

That being said, even a guy with the suckiest calves can get them to a decent level by playing with one crucial training variable …


In my experience, calves respond best to a much higher training frequency. That means training them 3, 4, 5, 6 – even 7 times per week.

Hell, chuck in twice-a-day workouts if you can.

Use moderate weights (i.e. mainly in the 10-20 rep range) and train close to failure, mixing it up between different calf raise variations.

The 2 groups of people who always have epic calves are endurance cyclists and fat people. Endurance cyclist because they’re constantly working their calves for 3 to 6 hours a day on a bike, and fat guys place stress on theirs simply standing up!

If that anecdotal evidence shows us anything, it’s that your calf muscles like frequency.

Adam-Ali-150x150Adam Ali

The common mistake guys make when trying to get monstrous calves is volume. Our calves are extremely well adapted to tolerate higher volume through all the walking/standing we do day to day.

But, for whatever reason, the average trainee still hits them once or twice a week in the hope that they’ll grow.

Don’t be afraid to train your calves 3-4x a week with a mix of rep ranges.

Your calves are made up of two muscles : The Soleus and the Gastrocnemius.

The Soleus muscle responds better to higher rep ranges while the Gastrocnemius will respond best with both high and low reps. The solution?  Use a variety of rep ranges to milk the most amount of growth from your calves (pun intended).

This is how I would programme the calves to spur the best growth :

  • 1-2 sessions a week in a moderate-high rep range (15-30 reps)
  • 1 session focus on going heavy (6-8 reps)
  • 1 session to really get ‘the pump’ focussing on a higher rep range (30-50 reps) On these sessions, really focus on stretching the calves in the eccentric (bottom) part of the movement and squeezing at the concentric (top) of the movement.

john-meadows-150x150John Meadows

For calves, these stubborn SOB’s seem to respond best to high frequency training. When I say high frequency, I mean high frequency.


Think 4, 5, 6 maybe even 7 days a week.   Also, the biggest calf mistake made (other than skipping them) is to ignore your tibialis anterior. I think loading your lower leg with blood results in fantastic gains, but loading it also means using your tibialis anterior as well. This is one reason why I believe doing bis and tris together works so well. Training your gastrocnemius and soleus along with your tibialis anterior together follows the same principle.

Christian-Finn-150x150Christian Finn

If you want big calves, you’ll need to pick the right parents. I’ve known guys with great calves who do absolutely no direct calf work at all. I’ve also known people whose calves don’t seem to budge no matter how much work they put in. If your calves are small, you can make them bigger. But if they’re small and high, the potential for growth is limited.

Guys with high calves can do endless sets of calf raises. However, the long Achilles tendon and short muscle belly – neither of which can be altered through training – will limit their capacity for growth.

That said, there are also plenty of people who start out with puny calves and are able to transform them with a lot of hard work and persistence.

The first step to making your calves bigger is to train them more often – 3-4 times a week rather than once or twice a week. You’re going to alternate between two workouts. The first will will comprise heavy standing calf raises – 4-5 sets of 5-8 repetitions, resting for 2-3 minutes between each set. Follow that up with 3-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions on the seated calf raise machine.

The second workout is going to involve standing calf raises and nothing else. But this time you’re going to use lighter weights and higher repetitions. There was an interesting study done a few years back where researchers tested a number of different set and rep configurations, to see what effect each one had on muscle growth. There was one in particular that worked particularly well. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Set 1: 10 reps with 80% of 1-RM
    Rest 30 seconds
  • Set 2: 10 reps with 60% of 1-RM
    Rest 30 seconds
  • Set 3: 10 reps with 40% of 1-RM
    Rest 3 minutes
  • Set 4: 10 reps with 70% of 1-RM
    Rest 30 seconds
  • Set 5: 10 reps with 50% of 1-RM
    Rest 30 seconds
  • Set 6: 10 reps with 40% of 1-RM
    Rest 3 minutes
  • Set 7: 10 reps with 60% of 1-RM
    Rest 30 seconds
  • Set 8: 10 reps with 50% of 1-RM
    Rest 30 seconds
  • Set 9: 10 reps with 40% of 1-RM

My calves got so sore the first time I did this that I couldn’t walk properly for the next two days. So don’t do it if you have any plans to run around a lot the next day – you won’t be able to.

lee-boyce-150x150Lee Boyce

Choose good parents.  Really, that’s got plenty to do with the size of areas like the calves, neck and forearms. But that doesn’t mean that someone who wasn’t blessed with the genetic gifts can’t make the best of their situation. Calf raises are fine, but for some people they don’t do the job. For me personally, whenever I tried them, they’d seriously aggravate my achilles tendons. I do like plyometric exercises like box jumps, bounding, single leg jumps, and standing broad jumps to train the fast twitch muscles of the calves and stimulate growth and development. It’s a less-used approach that can really make change.

Second, the next best thing to jumping off the ground for calf stimulation would be a loaded explosion in the form of olympic lifts. Cleans and snatches (given you’ve learned safe, proper technique) can have a similar effect that works wonders for calf and trap development that can tend to stagnate itself through conventional weight training.

Lastly, look at thickening the entire lower leg by activating the tibialis muscles. Instead of only looking at your plantar flexion, look at your dorsiflexion. Larger tibialis anterior and peroneal muscles can do a lot to fill out the lower leg and add much needed size that you thought was all the fault of small calf muscles. Spend a period of time walking on your heels (with both toes in and out) doing toe raises, and sprinting with dorsiflexion (which actually is proper technique – take it from a sprinter!)  can help your cause.

mitch-calvert-150x150Mitch Calvert

The key to big calves is enduring obesity from early childhood through teenagehood. OK, not ideal, but have you seen a heavy set guy or girl with calves like a flamingo? No chance.There’s a correlation here. Think about it: If you have to do heavy calf raises with every step of your day, they’re going to grow!

But for those of you who don’t want to eat their way to big calves, the healthier alternative, which has helped me fine-tune the shape now that I’m no longer a fat ass, is to hit them with frequent volume with heavy weights. I train them 2-3x a week, alternating standing and leg press variations primarily.

Emphasize the eccentric (negative) portion of the movement. That’s where the growth originates. When muscle fatigue kicks in late in the set, I like to do 5-10 partials, and a static hold in the stretched position on the last set.

Here's How to Gain Muscle

Enter your name and email to learn how to gain 10lbs of muscle (and get a free ebook).

We value your privacy and would never spam you

Andy-Morgan-150x150 (1)

Andy Morgan

Take up cycling.



top 40 fitness prosTim Berzins

The calves are a very unique muscle group that require a specific type of training for primarily two reasons: tendon elasticity and passive/active insufficiency.

Let me explain.

All tendons in the body have an elastic nature, where they will store energy when stretched, just like a rubber band. That means that quickly stretching a tendon and then “bouncing” into the concentric part of the rep uses mostly stored elastic energy and very little work from the actual muscle. Since the Achilles tendon is the biggest tendon in the body (which makes sense since we were built to be walking all day), that means its ability to store elastic energy is that much stronger.

So in order to actually work the muscle and overcome the tendency for this elastic energy to take over, we need to incorporate an extended pause in the stretched position between each rep. Just an extra second or two is all you need to let that elastic energy dissipate.

The second reason calves require a specific training protocol is because of passive/active insufficiency in one of the primary muscles that makes up the calf: the gastrocnemius. All this means is that the gastrocnemius in unable to contribute to lifting the weight if the knee is bent (active insufficiency) or stretched (passive insufficiency). Instead, the tension is primarily placed on the other major calf muscle group: the soleus.

All of this basically means that in order to adequately stimulate all of the calf muscles, you should spend some time working in all three positions: the bent-knee position, the straight-knee position, and the stretched-knee position. You can accomplish this by using seated calf raises, standing calf raises, and donkey calf raises.

In addition to these main exercises, you can maximize calf growth by adding in explosive plyometric training, isometric training, and some work for the tibialis anterior, the muscle that sits on top of the shin.

Since the gastroc is primarily fast-twitch muscle fibers that respond to heavier weights and explosive movement, you’ll want to train standing calf raises with heavy weights, low reps, and an explosive concentric. Remember, you want to pause for a second or two in the stretched position to let the elastic energy in the tendon dissipate.

The soleus, on the other hand, is primarily slow-twitch and responds best to higher reps. That means you’ll want to train seated and donkey calf raises with lighter weights, higher reps, and a slightly slower and smoother rep speed. Again, pause for a second or two at the bottom of each rep.

For explosive training, I recommend box jumps and jump rope. Box jumps allow an all-out display of power from your entire leg musculature, including the calves. These are great for training “max power” production from your calves. Jump rope on the other hand will hit your calves with submaximal explosive power for many more reps. Plus you’ll get a great conditioning workout from it and burn some extra Calories.

For isometric type work, I recommend Siffie lunges and Tip-Toe Farmer’s Walks.

Siffie lunges are basically walking lunges done without letting your heel touch the ground. This requires that your calves stay contracted the entire time as the gastroc passes in and out of active insufficiency. Tip-toe farmer’s walks are just like they sound: farmer’s walks done on your tip-toes. Grab some heavy dumbbells and walk around the gym like a fairy princess. Ignore the funny looks you’ll get.

Finally, train the tibialis anterior with reverse calf raises on the standing calf machine. To do these, face the opposite direction you normally would on the machine and place your heels on the foot pad instead of the balls of your feet. Raise your foot up as high as you can before lowering it. Similar to training the soleus, use lighter weight, higher reps, and a slower and smoother rep speed.

Alternate between these two workouts, adding them to the end of your weightlifting workouts, or training them on off days. The calves respond best to high volume since we use them to walk all day, every day.

Note: Tempo is written as eccentric/pause at bottom/concentric/pause at top; X = explosive movement.

Gastroc Emphasis Workout:

  1. A)     Standing Calf Raise – 5 sets x 5 reps – 2/2/X/0
  2. B)      Box Jumps – 3 sets x 5 reps

C1) Tip-toe Farmer’s Walk – 3 sets x 15 steps per leg

C2) Reverse Calf Raises – 3 sets x 15 reps

Soleus Emphasis Workout:

  1. A)     Seated Calf Raise – 5 sets x 10 reps – 2/1/2/0
  2. B)      Siffie Lunges – 3 sets x 12 reps

C1) Jump Rope – 3 sets of 100 jumps (switch to single leg hops to increase difficulty)

C2) Reverse Calf Raises – 3 sets x 15 reps

Bret ContrerasBret Contreras

Adding a bunch of mass overall via basic compound movements seems to benefit calf development, but in general, you want to get much stronger in a variety of rep ranges in a variety of calf exercises. If you double the weight you use for an 8RM, 15RM, and 30RM standing calf raise machine, seated calf raise machine, and donkey calf raise machine over the next 6 months, your calves will be bigger.

top 40 fitness prosNick Tumminello

You train your calves like you’d train any other muscle when the goal is maximizing hypertrophy. You have to create a training environment that elicits the three mechanisms for muscle growth: muscle damage, metabolic stress and muscle tension. And, generally this is done by using a mixture of loads and reap ranges, all while using a controlled eccentric.

Anthony-Mychal-150x150Anthony Mychal

I’m not sure I’m the best person to be dishing out advice on this, as I’ve always had bigger calves, but if I were at gunpoint here’s what I’d consider:

Most people have terrible calf (lower leg as a whole, really) strength throughout out the full range of motion. I’m not talking about getting the heels two inches off the floor. I’m talking about FULL range of motion. Imagine the shin and top of the foot creating a continuous straight line. Most weight resting on your toes. This is full range of motion. If you do controlled reps going to this end range, how many can you do? Can you do any without wobbling and losing balance? This is where I’d start.

Chad Waterbury wrote about a similar progression and method not long ago. Sounds like I stole program (and I kind of did—I enjoy his high frequency methods). But this is something I wrote about previously. On my blog, I called this full range of motion position the “ballet thing.” Getting on the tip top of your forefoot in full plantar flexion.

Squeeze the quads so the knees lockout. Keep your body upright. Come to top position described above, then press the toes into the ground (don’t claw the ground with your toes, keep your toes straight). Do this slow and controlled. When you get good at these, do them on one leg. If needed hold onto something for balance. But look to eventually doing this with no balance support.

Two legs, balance support. Two legs, no support. One leg, balance support. One leg, no support. That’s the progression. Slow and controlled reps.

I bet, if you try the one leg no support variation, you’ll be hard pressed to get one rep. It’s not easy, but it says a lot. If you can’t control your body throughout a full range of motion with minimal external resistance, would you expect to gain muscle? So when people load up weight on some machine and do tiny range of motion calf raises, it’s kind of like the dudes doing quarter squats, no? And what’s the answer for quarter squat guy complaining about big legs?

top 40 fitness prosBojan Kostevski

Ridiculous amounts of volume, then a few more sets.



top 40 fitness prosGreg Nuckols

I’d tell you if I had big calves!



eric bachEric Bach

Consistent rope work leads to wicked awesome calf hypertrophy.

It’s no secret that minuscule calf development is a problem for most guys. Hell, even Arnold, the Austrian Oak himself, struggled with “relatively meager” calf development. So what gives? How can we grow these bad-boys from pencil thin sticklings to diamond cut calves?

Due to their involvement in every plantar flexion movement you make, calves are accustomed to extraordinarily high volume. That means walking, standing already provide a high frequency, high volume workload for the calves. So what’s missing?


High volume, high frequency, and high loading are three obvious ways to speed up muscular development of any muscle group, and jumping rope, especially single leg hops, fit the bill.

Try This:
Single Leg Countdown Skips: Start with 10 hops on your right leg, perform them all in a row, and move directly to 10 hops on your left. If you miss just pick up where you left off and continue all the way to 1.
Start with three sets, adding one set each week for the next six weeks.

jason-maxwellJason Maxwell

This is something I picked up from Ben Pakulski, and it works awesome. Set aside 10 minutes at the end of every workout. This will be dedicated for your calves. Each workout day, alternate between seated calf raises and standing calf raises. So if you workout Sun, Mon, Wed, Fri, then you’d do standing Sunday, seated Monday, standing Wednesday etc. Set a timer for 10 minutes and do as many reps as possible in these 10 minutes. For standing calf raises, try to do 10 reps at a time, and rest as needed (just not too much). For seated calf raises, do the same, but with 20 reps. Increase the weight every month or so. Do this for a year and your calves will be your best body part.

Here's How to Gain Muscle

Enter your name and email to learn how to gain 10lbs of muscle (and get a free ebook).

We value your privacy and would never spam you