Never skip leg day, we all know that. But what about those skinny bits at the bottom of your legs? Yes we are of course talking about calves.
You train legs, and your quads are huge, but adding mass to calf muscles is easier said than done. There’s even been memes created about it, and Milhouse from The Simpsons knows the difficulties too well!
Here then, is a guide on all things calf muscle based.
But first, let’s see what the problem is.
Why are calf muscles hard to build?
To start, it could just be you. You aren’t training them enough and you aren’t training them in the right way. It’s all well and good drinking the best whey protein powder and doing some calf raises every now and then, but like anything, you get maximum benefit if you focus your efforts.
Let us not forget also, that for most of us, calf muscles get used every day, at a greater intensity than other muscles. This means that they are used to stress as we walk around, so putting them under the additional stress that progressive overload requires can be taxing.
Finally, it has been theorised (mainly by the bodybuilding community) that the density of “androgen receptors” can affect muscle growth. When you do resistance training, you produce testosterone and this binds to androgen receptors, which in turn helps you build muscle mass. The theory is that the density of these receptors is lower for many in your calf muscles, making gains harder.
Top 5 tips for building calf muscles
1. Calf raises are king
These are the mainstay of calf exercises. The go to choice. You might be doing them already, but as we have already said, you might not be doing them properly. If you’ve been doing them as bodyweight calf raises, then add more weight.
2. Volume Volume Volume.
The chances are, your calves are already strong, so you need to add extra volume in order to really get those gains. German Volume Training is ideal for building calf muscles.
3. On ya’ bike
Cycling mainly requires you to use your quads, your glutes and your hamstrings. But even this is beneficial as these are supportive muscles. The best way to maximise calf gains via cycling is to stand up when pedalling, and point your toes down towards the ground. Try it at low speeds first to make sure it’s safe, and stay clipped in. You could cycle more when out and about, or just get some cardio in the next time you workout at the gym.
4. Squats help calves too
Most people who lift love squats. They may bring on the DOMS worse than any other exercise, but there is something satisfying about them. So add in the tip on volume where possible, and build the supportive muscles up.
5. Skip the lift
When you climb up a staircase, you are using your calf muscles to push off. So the next time you are in an eight storey building or faced with the many flights of stairs at Embankment tube station, don’t take the easy option. Skip the lifts and escalators; take the stairs.
The Killer Calf Workout
If you don’t have equipment, or time to go to the gym, then improvise. Adding weight will get the additional resistance needed to really push those calf gains, so it’s worth doing more than just a bodyweight workout.
• Barbell or standing calf raise machine (free weight preferable)
• Squat rack
• Leg extension machine
• Exercise bike
Standing calf raise pyramid
10 reps at your 10 rep weight
9 reps with an additional 2.5kg
8 reps with an additional 5kg
9 reps with 2.5kg less
10 reps at your 10kg rep weight
The supportive section
4 x 10 leg extensions with 3 drop sets to failure
4 x 10 squats with one set to failure
The cycle section
Standing up on the bike, cycle for 10 minutes. Increasing resistance every 30 seconds. Reduce resistance, sit down and warm down for last minute.
Max resistance for 5 minutes then reduce resistance for 2 minutes and warm down. Walk on tip toes if possible.
Building calf muscles is no easy task, but we’re confident with a bit of adjusted focus, and by following these tips, you can get the results. Oh and here is Milhouse.