Like any other muscle, the origin, insertion and shape of the calves are determined by genetics, so there are those who are born with a good genetic predisposition and those who are not.
A mistake not to make, however, is to think that the calf cannot grow just because our genetics are not favorable. As with any other muscle, in fact, we can achieve good results if we are constant over time. This is in fact the most common problem with calf training, namely the lack of consistency in the long term …
The calf on a mechanical level is actually not particularly difficult to train since the gesture performed by this muscle group is quite simple. It is in fact a simple flexion-extension of the foot. We will see that the most complicated part, however, is the attention to small details that in the end make the difference.
Why do I have small calves that don’t grow?
As anticipated, although it is now very common to hear that for the calves it is all a matter of genetics, the reality is quite different. The key to calf growth as for all other muscles is consistency over time.
Although it is true that there are subjects who work hard for years and see half the results of those who are genetically predisposed, excellent results can also be achieved by those with average genetics (most of the population, or do not would speak of media …).
This, however, is not an abnormal thing as there are always more gifted and less gifted people in every area of life, but this should not prevent us from working to maximize our potential. It is in fact useless and senseless to waste time reflecting on factors that we cannot change or control, such as our genetics. So the only thing we can do is an act, in this case by training.
The lack of consistency over time leads to making two mistakes mainly:
The first mistake is to train the calves too little. Think about it even if only doing 10 sets a week, doing it for 10 years (do the math) we will have done so much work that it is literally impossible for the calves to stay the same (if obviously those 10 sets we have done decently). If, on the other hand, you do 10 sets a week for 4 weeks, then it dries you out because you see little results and you don’t train them for two weeks (if all goes well), how can you think of developing this poor and neglected muscle well?
Reasoning that no one does for the arms for example, which at any cost are trained in the most assiduous way.
So rather than genetics, we should often blame ourselves …
The second mistake, on the other hand, is the failure to develop an optimal technique, a good mind-muscle connection and good movement control.
Often we start by mistaking the positioning of the foot on the appropriate support. It is in fact essential to support the area of the foot called the transverse arch, (which you can find in the image below) and not the toes.
By placing the toes, the flexors of the fingers are used and the work on the part of the calf is reduced.
Another very common mistake is to push up explosively without actively working the calf along the entire range of motion. Even more common are the loss of calf control during the eccentric phase and the rebound when reaching the stretch. In the end practically the calf will not have done anything concrete.
How to increase (hypertrophy) and develop large, muscular calves?
Like any other muscle, the calf needs to be trained following the principle of progressive overload and to be constantly stimulated, trying to develop good technique, a good mind-muscle connection and good movement control.
A very useful tip is to perform a 1-2 second pause in maximum contraction and another 1-2 seconds pause in maximum elongation in order to reduce the use of the elastic component of the Achilles tendon.
In the climbing phase, you can think of pushing with the forefoot as if you were walking. So instead of thinking about pushing up, try to think of having to push forward, always remembering to exclude the push from the toes; in the descent phase, on the other hand, you must always try to “slow down” the movement without ever losing the contraction on the calf.
Another point to underline is the difference between the soleus muscle and the gastrocnemius muscle , for which the exercises performed with the knee extended such as calf raises direct the focus on the gastrocnemius while those with the knee flexed emphasize the work of the soleus muscle.
However, both variations stimulate both muscles to a great extent, which is why many choose to train the calves with the straight-leg variants only.
From my experience I would say that in fact, it is enough to carry out the exercises with straight legs consistently to have an optimal development of the calves, but if you want to be sure to specifically hit the soleus also two sets of seated calves you can also insert them in the program.
How many reps to do for the calves? Which intensity to use?
As with other muscle groups, it is advisable to use more repetition ranges for the calves.
Being a small muscle (although very powerful) it is preferable to train it without going below 10 repetitions, therefore using a range between 10 and 30 . To do this, for example, you can simply set up two sessions per week, one with a more metabolic rep range (15-30 reps) and one with a more mechanical rep range (10-15 reps).