Calves are undoubtedly the hardest muscles to train and develop. Yet, it is possible to build definition and size if patient and do the right exercises, but even more importantly, if you do the right type of training.
There is nothing more masculine from an aesthetic perspective than having diamond-shaped calves. Possessing big arms and shoulders isn’t that impressive as having nicely-built calves and legs in general. In reality, it doesn’t matter how strong and muscular the upper is unless the legs are trained too. People will always take on your calves and legs if they are not equally developed. Imbalances rapidly catch everybody’s attention and make them focus on the problems always.
It’s all about achieving a harmonious physique, and you can’t have it without properly growing your calves.
Nonetheless, many have their upper muscles much more developed than their calves and legs simply because they have utterly no idea how to train them to make them look strong and masculine. It’s easier for these guys to focus on where the muscles respond quicker and more efficiently, and that is the upper body. Wrong though!
I can give you a solution if you are willing to put in the time and effort. Your calves will grow very aesthetic and functional, but it’s a painful journey.
Bodybuilder Calves vs. Athlete Calves
Let’s make a clear difference between having calves built inside the gym with the use of machinery and calf raises, and those built as our ancestors did or how professional athletes do it nowadays, by moving around a lot.
There is a significant distinction. Take a look at a bodybuilder’s calves and then watch over the calves of soccer players or runners and sprinters. Professional athletes will always develop more natural and manly looking calves even if a bodybuilder can grow them bigger.
However, size is not everything, and while many bodybuilders grow the calves big and aesthetic successfully, the majority who follow the same exercises will never achieve that level. Continue reading!
Far too many abuses of drugs and supplementation, and is one of the major reasons their calves eventually develop. Then many others try to emulate and fail in the attempt. Calves, if trained naturally, don’t grow overnight and with calf raises only!
How Calves Are Meant to Work
The genetic makeup isn’t to blame to the extent many do, and I agree that calves are very stubborn and don’t respond quickly. Still, it happens because the training method is wrong, so are the exercises utilized.
Calves don’t require dedicated training nor isolated exercises. It’s extremely boring, and the exercises look hilarious at the same time!
Calves activate consequently and in a system with the entire leg muscles. In a few words, they respond better when you focus on training the whole legs and core together rather than the calves alone. So do leg training with a little more emphasis on the calves like when you run or sprint uphill. Take a look below:
Trust me that no soccer or football player does any hilarious calf exercise or dedicated training, and they all build very aesthetic and manly looking calves. Plus, they grow resistance to lactic acid for high-endurance activities, an ability not achieved by most of the bodybuilders who show a great muscular physique on the stage.
Calves are meant to work as they are designed, and that is by moving around every day.
Therefore, don’t expect me to provide conventional calf exercises like Calf Raises and derived variants, firstly because I am not a professional bodybuilder and secondly because I don’t lift weights, attend gyms, nor I like doing exercises that look ridiculous. I want to show you another way around it that doesn’t include Calf Raises, not that I have something in particular with the exercise other than that fact it isolates to a certain extent, which makes it too dedicated for calves only. After all, I included it in my training programs but mostly because many don’t want to do the training I instead recommend. Therefore, they need something to replace in this case.
The Best Calf Exercises
- Trail Running and Long-Distance Road Running
- Sprints and Variants
- Squats and Plyometric Variants.
Perhaps you may wonder why this shortlist, and the quick answer is that the most important thing in calf development lies in the training method rather than how many exercises you include in your weekly training log.
You have to do more with less. Never forget this!
It doesn’t matter whether you do dedicated training for calves or not. It matters if they engage, to what extent, and for how long even if by consequence only.
For instance, running on trails where you also have to face very steep hills or mountains will certainly overload the calves, although the goal might be purely cardiovascular or to burn fat. You can shoot more rabbits with a single bullet, and it isn’t boring at all.
Why These Exercises Though?
I increased my size in the calves and shaped them more aesthetically since I started trail running. I run with consistency every week and actually focus on this cardio activity even more than on everything else.
I also do calisthenics training, and if I did a lot of weekly workouts to develop my upper muscles with pull-ups, dips and pushups, then I copy the exact training method for the lower body.
That’s why I run with consistency and try to include sprints so that I train my legs and calves at the same time with my cardiovascular system and conditioning. They are compound moves exactly as pull-ups and pushups.
Then if I want more emphasis on calves, I seek elevation gain and more mileage to cover.
Variants such as backward sprints, hill sprints, short flat sprints, or stair sprints, all employ the calves and stimulate them to enhance. In addition to that, you have long-distance running on flat but even more for the calves, on trails with elevation gain. The more often you do it, the more your calves will evolve.
Practically, you need nothing else for calf development. But let’s say you need more just to make sure you do enough, then simply focus on squats variations and plyometrics. Along with your sprints and running sessions, add squats and jumps too:
- Regular squats, walking lunges
- Various types of jumps.
The Best Training Method to Grow Your Calves
Calves don’t respond with low volume unless you generate high tension and overload with weights or high-volume bodyweight work.
In many cases, the first option works neither, but charging with volume on the calves, with consistency and every week, will surely work overtime.
Calves respond to continuous pressure and tension even if the only resistance applied is given by your bodyweight. That’s why you can see many professional athletes who run a lot, to develop such impressive calves. They do it almost every day, with consistency.
So I’ve found that training my legs 3 times a week on average, 2-running sessions, and one that includes squats and plyometrics is enough for calf development. When I run, I try to cover anywhere between 10 and 24k, trail or road running, but definitely as much elevation as possible.
Then I do my sprints session, very often after a 10k run or in combination with squats. Hence, it doesn’t have to be a totally separate session for sprints alone. It all comes down to how much time you have available and how fast you can recover from a workout to another. Here I can suggest a foam roller and more so, deep tissue massages. Attend those massage sessions as regularly as possible.
The training method and how hard and often you work is what matters the most in calf development, way more than your exercises. The training method and mechanism are what’s left once you do the right exercise. Here you have:
- Workout Duration.