The first you need to consider when building bigger calves is your training frequency. Far too many people think calves are an “endurance” muscle and therefore, that they respond better to very frequent training in a much higher rep range.
While it is true that your calves typically get worked any time you are standing or walking, the degree of muscular force generated from performing these activities is going to be much lower than when you are in the gym working them out with a more targeted calf exercise. If your goal is building bigger and stronger calves, you will want to train them three days a week, being sure to allow for one full day of rest between each workout.
You should perform just one calf exercise variation each session, but be sure to switch your variation each week. The reason for this is because calves adapt very quickly to a given exercise stimulus; changing the stimulus, or workout variation, will force the calves to keep responding.
One big reason for a lack of growth in the calves for many people is because they perform the same calf raises each workout. You’re far better off using more variations but performing fewer sets. This allows you to really hit them hard and then allow for sufficient rest before hitting them again 48 hours later. When it comes to different calf exercise variations to perform, both seated and standing are good options. From there, you can also turn the feet slightly inward or outward to change the exact angle of force. Performing single-leg calf raises is also a smart move, as this will ensure that you are not overcompensating by using one leg more than the other.
Another additional move you can make for building bigger calves is to utilize a short rest period right at the bottom of the exercise. This will really increase the intensity of the exercise, stimulating the muscles further to grow larger. To do so, take about two seconds to lower to the bottom (where the calf is fully stretched), hold for two seconds and take two more seconds to rise up again. This pause makes a dramatic difference in your calf workout.
Alternatively, yet another variation is to take a short pause at the top of the movement, which will again really increase the total intensity. You should start out aiming to do three heavy sets for each session you perform, trying to increase the weight on each exercise each week.
Work across a variety of rep ranges throughout the week, shooting for a set of eight reps the first day (using the heaviest weight of the week), 12 reps the second day (adjusting the weight downward), and then 15 to 20 reps the third day of the week, using a slightly lighter weight. This third day will help train the muscles to deal with lactic acid. After that week is completed, cycle on to a different exercise for the next week of training.
Finally, be sure to stretch at the end of the workout. This is a common mistake that is made and will really stifle your progress. The reason the stretch is so vital is because not only does the stretch help to promote faster recovery between sessions so you can grow muscle faster, but it also increases your range of motion. As a result, when you are working through various exercises, you will be able to stimulate a higher number of muscle fibers in each rep thanks to the increase range of motion developed from stretching.
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