How To Build Huge Calves: (A fast Cure For Skinny Calves)

Do you want to know how to build huge calves? Do they never seem to grow? Do you feel like you have tried everything you can on these stubborn muscles?  If you answered yes to any of these questions then this is the guide for you.

Calves, like abs, tend to be the forgotten muscles in the gym.  Nothing looks worse than a huge set of quads perched on top of a tiny and skinny set of calves.  The people that do train their calves tend to just do a few sets at the end of a workout leaving a lot of room on the table in terms of hypertrophy.  The first piece of advice I’m going to give you on how to build huge calves is to actually dedicate some proper time to them like you would your chest, shoulders and back.

Okay, I’ll admit that calves seem to be the most genetically influenced set of muscles in the body.  What I mean by this, is that some people have never done a calf raise in their life, yet have an amazing set of lower legs, where others will pound them set after set and achieve nothing.

You can generally split the lower leg into two types.  You first have the people with a short Achilles tendons, long muscle bellies and low calves.  These are the people who find it much easier to build a good looking set of calves.  You then have the people with long Achilles tendons, short muscle bellies and high calves.  These are the people who tend to struggle a bit more.

If you fall into the second category with long Achilles tendons or are not one of the genetically gifted, then do not fear, it’s still 100% possible to break this voodoo on your calves and build the solid set you have always dreamed of.

Not everyone is bothered about all the sciency stuff, but in order to create the best possible program for your calves, it’s important to understand the biomechanics of the lower leg.  However, if you are really not that bothered about this then click the link below to go straight to the ultimate program for building huge calves.

What Exactly Does The Research Tell Us?Human anatomy. Back of legs, calf muscles, knees, pain. 3d illustration.

  1. The average American adult will walk between 5000 and 7000 steps a day.  People wearing fitness trackers will tend to be on the higher side of 7000 steps. – Just imagine each step you take as a bodyweight repetition, then you will soon see how acclimatised your calves are to low-intensity exercise.  Basically, if you want these bad boys to grow than you need to throw something new and different at them.
  2. The Gastrocnemius crosses two joints and originates behind the knee on the femur. – The gastrocnemius main function is plantar flexion (raising the heel).  However, it’s also involved in flexing the knee.
  3. The soleus only crosses one joint making it mono-articular. – Similar to the gastrocnemius the soleus main function is plantar flexion.  The big difference is the only joint it crosses in the ankle meaning its mechanically unaffected by the angle of the knee.
  4. Is it possible to recruit more gastrocnemius or soleus depending on the angle of the knee? – Yes, it is.  Also, it has been shown that genetic responses play a role in how the soleus and gastrocnemius adapts differently to exercise (Goldfarb et al., 2007)
  5. Let’s look at fibre type distribution. – We will look at the distribution of both fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibres.  There have been many studies done on how much of each fibre type make up the calf muscle.  All results are very similar in their findings, only varying by a few per cent.  One of the studies we looked at show that the gastrocnemius to be made up of 50% slow twitch muscle fibres and the soleus to be made up of 70% slow twitch muscle fibres.  (Edgerton et al., 1975)
  6. It’s not just the gastrocnemius and soleus involved in plantar flexion.  There are many other muscles involved. – These include flexor digitorum longus, tibialis posterior, flexor hallucis longus, peroneus longus and plantaris.
  7. Here are the muscles that produce flexion of the knee. – Gastrocnemius, hamstrings, plantaris, sartorius, popliteus and gracilis.
  8. What happens when you try to flex the knee while elevating your heel (plantar flexion) at the same time? – The activity of the soleus decreases whilst the activity of the gastrocnemius massively increases.  (Gravel et al., 1987)
  9. What does EMG research show us? – If you want to activate more mean gastrocnemius muscle then you should do heavy standing calf raises.  Standing heavy calf raises have been shown to work better than doing standing calf raises with a lighter load and moving in an explosive manner and single leg calf raises. (research was done by uber-douche Bret Contreras)
  10. What effect do barbell squats have?Barbell squats showed they had more of an effect over any calf raise variation by activating more peak gastrocnemius muscles.  When performing heavy squats the calves provide stabilisation to the knee joint and help with balancing.  Who would have thought it that just walking the barbell backwards before squatting hits the calves pretty hard?

Does All This Research Help Us In Designing The Perfect Program?

Although it does give us some clues to help, it doesn’t really tell us too much on the best methods to use for growing this stubborn muscle.  In order to design the very best program for your calves, we are going to have to go by anecdotal evidence.

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Is There A Single Best Method To Grow Calves?

One of the biggest debates that still goes around most gyms is the light weight and high reps vs heavy weight and low rep argument.  Well, I think it’s clear to see that there is no one perfect method for this stubborn muscle.

We know genetics play a huge role in calf development.  Some people never do a calf raise in their life, but develop massive boulders on their lower legs just by squatting and deadlifting.  Some will also only ever do high rep training and develop a mammoth set of calves.

What do many say the definition of insanity is.  Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Well, this is exactly what people do when training calves.  If you are not genetically gifted it just doesn’t make any sense limiting yourself to the same workout time after time and expecting something magical to happen.

For this very reason, the program developed below is going to combine a mixture of exercises and strategies.  This will help anyone who is not gifted below the knees to get a set of calves they can be proud of.

Close up of a male athletes calves, whilst doing calve raises.

How To Build Huge Calves:  The Ultimate Program

To begin with, you will train your calves twice a week.  Do not do these sessions on back to back days.  Make sure there are at least 72 hours in between.  Each set will be done to positive failure (unless stated otherwise).  This means until you can no longer get a rep out without the assistance of someone else.

Week One

Day One

  • Barbell Squats (trains the calves in their role as stabilisers) – 6 sets x 3 reps (ramp up the weight each set)
  • Standing Calf Raise (Heavy) – 3 sets x 4 to 6 reps
  • Seated Calf Raise (100 rep target) –  Aim to pick a weight you can only complete 25 to 30 reps with.  Rest for 1 to 2 minutes each time you hit positive failure and keep adding on sets until 100 reps are hit.

Day Two

  • Seated Calf Raise (pause and squeeze reps) – 3 sets x 4 to 6 reps. Squeeze for 2 seconds at the top of each rep – lower the heels back down for a 4 to 6-second count – hold the stretch at the bottom for 2 seconds – explode back up to the top – repeat.
  • Glute Ham Raises (trains the calves in their role as knee flexors)German Volume Training – 10 sets x 10 reps – rest for 45 seconds to 1 minute between sets – hold a weight plate into your chest if needed.
  • Standing Calf Raises (Calf Raise 21s) – 3 sets x 21 reps – 7 reps bottom half (in stretch position) – 7 reps top half (up on your toes) – 7 full reps – pick a weight you will struggle to complete the 7 full reps at the end with.

Week Two

Day One

  • Barbell Squats (trains the calves in their role as stabilisers) – 6 sets x 3 reps (ramp up the weight each set)
  • Leg Press Calf Raise (heavy) – 3 sets x 4 to 6 reps
  • Donkey Calf Raise (100 rep target) –  Aim to pick a weight you can only complete 25 to 30 reps with.  Rest for 1 to 2 minutes each time you hit positive failure and keep adding on sets until 100 reps are hit.

Day Two

  • Standing Calf Raise (pause and squeeze reps) – 3 sets x 4 to 6 reps. Squeeze for 2 seconds at the top of each rep – lower the heels back down for a 4 to 6-second count – hold the stretch at the bottom for 2 seconds – explode back up to the top – repeat.
  • Farmers Walks – 3 sets x 1 minute – either hold dumbbells of farmers walk handles – walk for 1 minute but emphasise coming up onto your toes with each step – use lifting straps so your grip doesn’t go if you need to.
  • Single Leg Seated Calf Raise (100 rep target on each leg) – Aim to pick a weight you can only complete 25 to 30 reps with.  Rest for 1 to 2 minutes each time you hit positive failure and keep adding on sets until 100 reps are hit

Your aim is to complete this two-week cycle for a maximum of 8 weeks.  If you are able to, add a third session in each week for the final 4 weeks.  Do this by repeating one of the sessions again for that week.

Once this 8 week period is complete, go back to training your calves just once a week making sure the volume per session is low.  What I mean by this is to aim for 3 exercises with a total of 3 working sets of low reps on each.  This will allow super compensation to happen.  Do this for around 6 to 8 weeks, then repeat the above program again.

Lets Wrap This Up

By using the program above followed by the deloading period, your calves will keep growing over the entire period.  Obviously, your nutrition and protein levels need to be on point as well.  But if you can put all this together you may never want to wear tracksuit bottoms in the gym again.

Calves are definitely the toughest muscle to crack (unless you are gifted with those dam genetics we all want), but just because what you have been doing hasn’t worked it doesn’t mean you should give up completely.

With Science, proper programming, maximum effort and discipline, maybe, just maybe you will have a full set of pins to be proud of.

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Thanks for taking a read of my article.  Have you had any success with increasing the size of your calves??  Please let me know below.

how to build huge calves

8 thoughts on “How To Build Huge Calves: (A fast Cure For Skinny Calves)”

  1. This is a relevant article for me even though I’m not a big body builder. I’m actually a big runner. So, just because I run, I tend to have big calves. I’ve also found that having bigger calves help me go through the rigorous training I go through when I run. Now a big question I’ve always had is whether I should do more workouts to build up my calves. When training for running, I hardly ever go to the gym. Most of my training is done outside with stretches. What’s your take on this? Could going to the gym to build my calves be helpful for running?

    • Hi Parmi

      That’s a really good question.  Weight training will always help to improve your performance in any sport or event you take part in.  In terms of doing specific calve training for running, than this will help improve strength and endurance of those particular muscle groups.  Even if you just concentrate on the big leg movements like squats and lunges, you will still be strengthening those calves as well.  

  2. David, I never knew there was so much to know about building your calves!  Since I retired, I have been slowly getting myself into shape.  After recently losing about 25 pounds, I am now looking to tone and build up my legs.  What kind of lower extremity workout do you recommend for a guy who wants to look better while not overdoing it?  I really don’t know much about supplements either.  I am 54 and still a bit overweight.  Are there supplements that I can take to build my calves but not my stomach?  Thank you for an excellent article!  


    • Hi Clay

      If you are just starting out in weight training again then check out my article below.  This will take you through a step by step program.  With this program you can cut the frequency down a bit until you build your strength up.

      In terms of supplements you do not need to over do them.  They should just be used to supplement your diet plus give you the added help in terms of recovering from you training sessions.

      I hope this helps

  3. Hello David,

    I was intrigued by the thought of having great calves. When I was younger calves were in. I had to work for mines in which I had a nice satisfying set. My younger brother had tree trunks for legs just huge while the baby brother had a set of gorgeous calves that needed zero work.

    So I found it cool to know that science can aid in achieving the goal of carved calves. I wish I knew this coming up for me and my younger brother was coming up we would have been on it. He moved on to model and body build while I chose to find a 9-5 and get fat!

    Now my question to you is does it matter what time of day this routine is implemented? Also I noticed that the weeks only cover 2 days. Are these days back to back or spread out over the course of the week to compensate recovery?

    Thanks in advance for the reply


    • Hi Shannon

      It makes no difference at all when you implement this training routine.  You can even add it before or after another muscle group you are training, Or completely dedicate a training session to just doing your calves.  I personally give them there own session now.  This has helped mine grow considerably.

      In terms of splitting the training sessions up over the week,  I would leave a gap between training sessions to start with.  Once you can increase this to 3 sessions a week than it wont do any harm once in a while doing sessions back to back.


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