How to Build Big Calves


donkey-calf-raiseQuestion: I have a question about how to build big calves. Mine are like string beans and I can’t get them to grow. Got any good suggestions?

Answer: Whenever people ask me how to build big calves, I immediately check their training volume.

High volume works best for calves. They are probably the hardest muscle to build, and if you chose the wrong parents getting them to grow is gonna be a bitch.

Like my dad, I have always had calves like string beans. Just doing a few sets for them never did anything for me. Since I had no desire to train them and preferred to focus on strength, athleticism and bigger compound lifts they stayed that way for years.

Even as I got stronger on my twice weekly sessions of 2-4 sets nothing ever happened.

The only time they finally responded was when I hit them with very high volume. I usually do this for about a month and then I am bored to tears and stop training calves again for another year.

But that’s my problem.

If you really want yours to grow you’re going to have to pound away at them. I’d start with four sets twice per week for the first few weeks and and work your way up to about twelve sets twice per week. Do this over the course of about six months. That will give you ample time to adapt to the increased volume and also put some nice size in your calves.

Also be sure to work in some deload periods.

So it will look like this:

Week 1-3: 8 total sets per week
Week 4-6: 12 total sets per week
Week 7-9: 16 total sets per week
Week 10-12: 20 total sets per week
Week 13-15: 6 total sets per week (deload)
Week 16-18: 12 total sets per week
Week 19-21: 18 total sets per week
Week 22-24: 24 total sets per week

One thing you’ll find is that you can’t really tolerate the extreme high volume loading for too long before you will start to develop some ankle/achilles problems so you’ll have to deload for two weeks every 8-12 weeks. If you are an athlete and run or jump a lot, don’t even consider doing high volume calf work for more than a few weeks straight.

If you just want to get them jacked then you need to really increase your volume and frequency. I have put two inches on my calves in just over a month! Now, don’t get me wrong, my calves are still far from impressive, but the point is you can gain muscle and add significant size to your calves if you really want to.

They were Arnold’s worst body part and he dedicated all his time and effort to bringing them up. He even cut all of his pants off at the knee so he had to suffer the embarrassment of having his calves exposed wherever he went.

One option is to do a set of calves between every set of every exercise you do at each workout. For example, do a set of chest, then follow it up immediately with a set of calves. Continue to this throughout your workout.

Be sure to go heavy, get a good, deep stretch and hold it for 2-3 seconds (and up to ten seconds) at the bottom and get all the way up on your big toe at the top while flexing your calves hard. Pause again at the top for another 2-3 seconds. When you do standing calves your knees should be slightly bent on the way down and then locked out on the way up.

Another option is to start each workout (or each lower body day) with calves. One day per week would be heavy standing calf raises for 5-10 sets of 8-10 reps and the other day would be seated calf raises done for 4-5 sets of 20-50 reps.

You should also consider training the tibialis anterior muscles. These are the muscles that run down the front of your shin. Some people develop imbalances from too much ankle extension and not enough ankle flexion. When this happens and becomes a problem, the calves will not grow. So train these muscles by hanging your feet off the end of a bench and holding a dumbbell or DARD device between them and flexing your feet up toward you for a few sets of 10-20 reps, twice a week.

After you finish up with standing, seated and donkey calf raises and the tib raises, try doing farmers walks for up to five or even ten minutes while remaining on your toes the entire time. This will absolutely smoke your calves.

Finally, finish up your workouts with 10-20 minutes of jumping rope.

In addition to the direct calf work and the finishers make sure you are jumping and doing some Olympic lifting in your routine. This will also have a positive effect on calf size, as will pushing a heavy sled for conditioning a couple of days per week.

The above strategies should definitely get anyone’s calves to grow rapidly in a couple of months. Just be sure to ease into the extra volume slowly and gradually and take a step back if your ankles start to bother you.

Now you know how to build big calves.

Good luck.

 

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6 Responses to How to Build Big Calves

  1. Bill February 12, 2009 at 10:23 am #

    That’s a GREAT calf building routine! I recently read a snippet from Arnold about the very things you talk about. He actually even went to South Africa to train with Reg Park, who had great calves. They totally overloaded the calves by doing high volume (lots of sets AND reps) and heavy weights.

    Arnold says it took him two years to bring his calves up to the rest of his body. That’s a seriously long time of total dedication.

    But, obviously, it can be done! Thanks for the awesome routine. You’re the best!

    • Dan October 23, 2013 at 11:54 am #

      Bill

      Arnold did hit everything with very high volume.

      Having said that, rumor has it that he actually got calf implants.

      No joke.

  2. Nick April 2, 2009 at 3:29 am #

    heyy Jason Ferruggia!! they was very good tips but the thing is im 15 and i have chicken legs, so can you help me out??please??

  3. Josh Denny June 15, 2010 at 8:50 am #

    I have an easy way. Pack on some pounds :) I have had decent calves and half always worked them hard so they are a pretty good size. I quit working out for a time and I aam now am official fat-ass. I am getting back into the gym and fixing this fat-ass issue but I noticed that my calves are still huge comparatively. So I have deduced that the only benefit of my fatness of an extra 60 lbs is that my calves are still good. Look at really overweight people, they usually have big calves. Not reccomending that anyone get fat but it just illustrates the volume approach to calves.

  4. Frank August 18, 2010 at 7:02 pm #

    Great article. I have found the best results in building calf muscle has been weight bearing exercises. Loaded up standing calf raises work the best, and do variations on flat ground and on a small step. I have also had good results in decreasing the weight and increasing reps, up to sets of 15 to mix up my routine.

  5. mark October 23, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    Go for a run! Talk about high volume, you are pushing more than your body weight on each stride, on each individual leg.