Stubborn Calves? FORCE Them to Grow

Posted on Feb 01, 2019

Every one of us has got a body part that just won’t grow.

(Hey – some unlucky guys even have two or three!)

It’s frustrating … heck – it’s infuriating, as it seems no matter what you do, you just can’t build muscle.

Whether you hammer your biceps to within an inch of their life every session and don’t see them grow an inch, or you’ve worked tirelessly to build up your squat, but still your quads stay stubbornly small, these things can get you down.

One of the most common complaints I’ve found though, is stubborn calves.

There is a degree of genetics and luck involved in calf development.

We all know the big fat guy who never trains, yet has calves that resemble Sergio Olivia’s, and likewise, there’s always one dude in the gym who looks like Frank Zane from the knee up, but has the calves of Kate Moss.

If you’re sitting there thinking –


That’s me!

I blast my calves, but nothing happens.”

Then this article is for you.

Keep reading to find out how you can force your calves into growth.

The Genetics Card

We guess we should clear this up first.

With the calf muscles, genetics are involved.

If you have low insertion points (i.e. your calves insert low on your ankle, right down towards your heel) then they’ll naturally be bigger.

High insertion points (they attach nearer the knee) – and you’ve got your work cut out.

That doesn’t mean they can’t grow though, just that it may be slower, so you need to be patient.

What Do Fat Guys and Skinny Cyclists Have in Common?

The answer – big calves.

One group does very little, and the other does a hell of a lot, so how can they both have huge calves?

The fat guys are carrying a heavy load all the time. Any time they walk, or just stand up, their calves are supporting their entire bodyweight, putting them under a high degree of stress.

Over a period, this time under tension adds up, and the muscle cells grow to accommodate and adapt, meaning that often, the larger gents (even if they slim down) have calves that rival many bodybuilders.

As for endurance cyclists, they may be skinny as a rake, but they can pack some great gastrocs and super soleuses. (NB – the gastrocnemius and soleus are the two parts of the calf muscle.)

While they may be slight and slender, the hours they spend pounding the pedals up and down hills means their calves are constantly working at a high intensity.

Put both of these together and we learn something –

Your calves can handle a very high volume, high frequency style training.

That means training them once a week, or only doing a few sets at a time just won’t cut it. You need to step up intensity, volume, time under tension, frequency – hell, you gotta throw the kitchen sink at your calves.

Golden Rules for Stubborn Calf Training

What does your ultimate plateau-busting calf routine need? –

  • Hit them at least 3 times per week.
  • Train them on a separate day to the rest of your lower body, so that they’re getting hit indirectly with squats, deadlifts and lunges, and directly with extra calf work.
  • Strategically mix up tempos, rep ranges and loading schemes.
  • Make sure you’re incorporating progressive overload, by adding weight and reps, or reducing rest over time.
  • Work on feeling your calves every rep. Using poor technique and forcing the weight up using momentum is not good here.
  • Take a full week off calf training once a month to let them recover.

Sample Routine –

Monday –

Upper body workout (either total upper body, or split) followed by –

  • Standing Calf Raise Machine – 5 sets of 5 reps with a 3-second pause at the top and 3-second negative.
  • Donkey Calf Raises – 3 sets of 60-second continuous reps.

Tuesday –

Lower Body

  • No extra calf training

Wednesday –

Upper body workout (either total upper body, or split) followed by –

  • Seated Calf Raises – 6 sets of 8 reps using a 2-2-2-2 tempo
  • Leg Press Calf Raises – 6 sets of 5 reps with 5-second negatives

Thursday –

  • Rest or cardio, followed by –
  • Smith Machine Calf Raises – 5 sets of 10-12 reps with a 2-second hard squeeze at the top of each one.
  • Superset each set with 60-seconds of bodyweight calf raises on a step.

Friday –

Lower body

  • No extra calf training


  • Upper body workout (either total upper body, or split) or rest or cardio followed by –
  • Single-Leg Calf Raises – 4 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Seated Calf Raises – Hit 200 total reps using a weight that’s around 70% of your 10 rep max. Rest as needed.


  • Off/ upper body/ cardio

Calves to Cows

What else do you need to know?

1. Eat to grow.

It doesn’t matter how hard you hammer your calves – if you’re not in a calorie surplus, they simply won’t get any bigger.

2. Always strive to add more weight, increase your reps, or decrease rest times.

This shouldn’t be at the expense of form, or your mind-muscle connection though.

Leave your ego at the door, and think about how much you want fat guy or cyclist calves, just without the beer belly or the matchstick torso!

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