The calf muscles are often neglected in a training program. Most people train calves in combination with another body part, for example, legs.
However, most people do not train them on a separate day because, well it’s not really the most favorite body part and not everyone has the time to train 7 days a week.
That’s why we will show you how to train calves in the most effective way so that you still will gain muscle mass.
In this article, we will reveal the 5 best calf exercises for mass and how to perform them safely.
Table of Contents
Why You Should Train Your Calves
As mentioned earlier, calves are not the most favorite body part for the average gym rat. However, calves are very important for bodybuilding purposes since an overall balanced and aesthetically pleasing physique will win shows.
You probably know that guy in the gym, that’s always training his upper body but when he’s wearing shorts, you will notice that he has small calves.
This is not very aesthetically pleasing in my opinion.
Wearing shorts is basically the same as wearing a t-shirt. If you have big arms, people will notice. It works the same with your calves, they will stand out and give you a powerful look.
Big calves will not only make you look powerful, you will also be much stronger at explosive exercises. It will also help you with ankle mobility which comes in very heady if you’re doing heavy squats.
Calf Muscle Anatomy
First of all, let’s take a look at the calf muscle anatomy. It’s important to know how each muscle works and what function it has.
If you know where a specific muscle is located you can really focus on that muscle group when you’re doing a calf exercise.
The calve muscle is also known as the triceps surae and consist of 2 main muscle groups:
- Gastrocnemius Muscle
- Soleus Muscle
The gastrocnemius muscle is the most known and visible calf muscle. It has a lateral and medial side and is its main purpose is to bend the lower leg in the knee joint and lengthen the foot in the ankle joint.
The Soleus muscle is located underneath the gastrocnemius muscle, its main function is to extend the foot in the ankle joint. Although the muscle lays below the gastrocnemius, it’s clearly visible from the side.
When training the calves, we try to focus on both muscle groups as hard as possible.
The 5 Best Calf Exercises
The following list of exercises has been selected based on years of experience and real science.
The main thing that is vital when training calves is to perform at least a standing and seated calf exercise.
When performing a standing calf exercise you will focus more on the gastrocnemius and seated will focus more on the soleus muscle.
1. Standing Calf Raises
Based on the research from Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000, the donkey calf raises are the best in terms of EMG activity. However, not everyone has a donkey raise calf machine ready to go.
That’s why I prefer to do a standing calf raise since it’s slightly better than a seated version.
When performing this exercise it’s important to have a good stretch at the bottom. You can force the stretch by holding your position for a couple of seconds at the bottom.
A quick tip is to massage your calves after each set to stimulate blood flow, which can help reduce muscle soreness.
2. Seated calf raises
Seated calf raises are perfect to train the Soleus muscle. Most gyms have a seated calf raise, however, you could also perform the same exercise by placing weights on your legs when seated on a bench.
When performing the seated version of the calf raises, it’s important to get a good stretch on the bottom and squeeze at the top that way you will hit every muscle fiber available.
The reason why it’s placed as the second calf exercise is that it’s focussed on the Soleus, which is actually bigger than the gastrocnemius.
Sometimes it’s hard to get a good pump in the calf muscle, so make sure to add enough weight and reps.
3. Single Leg Calf Raise
The number three on the list is the single-leg calf raise. This calf exercise is essentially the same as the normal standing calf raise, however you perform the exercise individually.
When you do this exercise with just one leg, you will have the full focus on one calf making it much easier for you to get a good muscle pump.
You will also not have any muscle imbalances, which is very common when training both calves at the same time.
You can do the single-leg calf raise either in a specific machine or you can do it with holding a dumbbell making it a perfect exercise if you’re training at home since you do not need much equipment.
4. Farmer Walk on Toes
The farmer walk exercise is a very simple but extremely effective workout since you need to use your legs, calves, forearms, and core. I also included the farmer walks into my best forearm exercises guide.
However, we will perform the farmer walks on the toes. That way you will amplify the calf muscle.
The tiptoe farmer walks are also a great way to strengthen your feet and ankles.
The theory behind this exercise is that people with obesity all have big calves because they have to carry lots of weight when walking.
The tiptoe farmer walks will do the same since you are essentially only walking with heavyweights.
You can just grab some dumbbells or kettlebells and start walking on your toes.tiny
I’ll bet that you will feel this the next morning!
5. Hack Squat Calf Raises
Last but not least, the Hack Squad Calf Raises.
This exercise is perfect as a finisher of your calf workout.
Make sure to get a good stretch at the bottom and squeeze at the top just like the other calf exercises.
The Bottom Line
Training your calves with these exercises will most definitely give you good progress and muscle mass.
The key to building big calves is training them hard, heavy, and consistently.
Combining standing and seated calf raises is best since you will target both calf muscles.
The 5 best calf exercises are:
- Standing Calf Raises
- Seated Calf Raises
- Single Leg Calf Raise
- Farmer Walk On Toes
- Hack Squat Calf Raises
If you're a beginner it's best to start off with just two calf exercises. That way you will give your body the time to adjust to your new training regime.
If you're an experienced lifter I would highly suggest doing at least 3 different calf exercises with 3-4 sets each.
You can also include some drops or supersets to speed up the training session.
The calf muscle can handle a lot of volumes and, therefore, should be trained at least 2-3 times a week for optimal muscle growth.
You have to remember that you basically use your calves every single day. Every time you walk, jump, or sprint, you activate your calves.
It's also known that calves have type 1 fibers, meaning they have slow-twitch fibers and have a way lower potential for muscle hypertrophy.
This question is relatively simple to answer: Do you want to have big calves? Then yes, you need to train them frequently; otherwise, nothing will happen.
If you do not wish to get bigger calves than doing deadlifts and squats will be enough activation for your calves.
Getting bigger calves simply requires you to overload them multiple times a week either through compound exercises or through walking, jumping, sprinting, etc.