Why Your Calves Won’t Grow (5 Common Mistakes)

Okay, so your arms are JACKED, but what do your calves look like?

Most lifters will admit they’d like their calves to be bigger; and that they’re seemingly impossible to grow.

In this article we’ll be revealing 5 common mistakes gym-goers make when trying to build BIG calves.

Thus, by avoiding these mistakes your toothpick calves will surely transform into those of a bull (in no time).

Note: although big calves can be achieved through good genetics, this isn’t an excuse to lack motivation on calf day; as almost anyone is capable of growing jacked calves. Arnold proved this by taking his calves from a weak point, to a muscle group he loved to show off.

1. No Exercise Variation

One of the best ways to add size is by shocking your muscles into growth. This means changing up your workouts (implementing different exercises, sets, reps etc) and keeping your muscles guessing. Consequently your calves will be constantly be adapting to new stimulus.

Despite being one of the best ways to induce muscle hypertrophy, gym-goers are often unimaginative and lazy when it comes to planning calf workouts. The average person will just do 9 sets of standard calf raises, then call it a day.

Here’s some other calf exercises you can do, to switch things up, and force new growth:

  • Farmers walks (on tip-toes)
  • Box jumps
  • Jump rope
  • Leg press calf raises
  • Use a balance board
  • Donkey calf raises

For those who don’t know, a balance board is one of these (also known as a wobble board):

2. Not Enough Reps

The calf muscles are a very small muscle group, meaning they typically recover quickly from workouts. So, in order to fatigue your calves as much as possible, it’s a good idea to increase your rep-range. So if you’re used to doing 12-15 reps, increase this up to 25+ reps per set.

A higher rep range will maximize fatigue, (hopefully) giving you DOMS in the days following your workout.

There is a sheet of connective tissue that surrounds your calf muscles called fascia. The problem with this tissue is it’s very tight, thus when your muscles try to grow bigger, this fascia acts as friction – causing less growth. Such fascia is particularly stiff in the calf region.

This is why it can feel somewhat uncomfortable when doing calf exercises (as opposed to training other muscle groups), due to such tightness.

Having less rest in-between sets and doing sufficient volume will also maximize your pump, further stretching the fascia and making it more flexible.

3. Not Enough Volume

This one is self-explanatory.

How many arm days have you missed this year?

Compare that to how many calf days you missed.

99.99% of gym-goers will confess they don’t prioritize their calves as much as “flashier” muscle groups.

As a result, their calves get trained less, and even when they do get trained – there’s not a sufficient volume being completed.

The typical gym-goer (with small calves), is happy to train chest for 1 hour, but then will never smash their calves for an equal duration of time.

Heck, some guys are even willing to do an 8 hour arm workout…however, I’m yet to see anyone do an 8 hour calf workout.

If you want bigger calves, you’ve got to train them for just as long as other muscles (if not longer, as they’re typically stubborn muscles to grow).

As a rule of thumb, you should be training your calves for a minimum of 30 minutes in each workout/day you’ve set aside to train them. If they’re really lagging and you want faster gains, train them for 45-60 minutes.


big calves

Note: Bodybuilders could learn from cyclists, in regards to time under tension. The average cyclist probably has just as good calves, if not better than the average weight lifter. This is even more impressive considering cyclists aren’t even trying to build muscle.

The reason why cyclists have well-developed calves is because they cycle for long durations, and the calf muscles are contracting during the downward leg thrust portion when pedaling. The average cyclist will train a lot longer, than the average gym rat will doing calf workouts. Thus it’s not just about HOW MUCH weight you lift, but how long you are working your calves. In an ideal world, you will lift a fairly heavy weight, for lots of reps (20+), frequently and for a long duration of time. This is what will stimulate the most growth.

Soccer Players

The same time under tension philosophy applies to soccer players, and why they often have good-sized calves. They are often standing/running on the balls of their feet, enabling them to change direction at any given moment – rather than getting caught flat footed when receiving the ball.

soccer player calves
Soccer player calves 

4. Not Training All Heads

Another reason why gym rats struggle to build big calves is from a lack of knowledge.

There are 3 heads to the calf muscle:

  • Inner
  • Medial
  • Outer

However, most guys and girls will only ever train the medial head.

To work each head is a matter of foot positioning.

To work the inner head, place your feet so your toes are pointing inwards and the balls of your feet point outwards. Thus to work the outer head, position your toes so they’re pointing outwards and the balls of your feet are facing inwards.

Also when people are working their calves, they’re mostly stimulating the soleus part. This essentially is the bottom region of the calf. Thus the upper region (called the ‘gastrocnemius‘) is left largely under-stimulated.

To correct this and work the gastrocnemius part of the calf, simply bend your knees during calf raises which will help to activate the upper portion of the muscle.

5. No Stretching

The fascia surrounding your calves will be very tight during the days following your calf workout, due to fatigue. Thus it’d be a wise idea post-workout and the days you don’t train calves to stretch them.

As a result, your fascia will become more supple, giving you more potential to add size.

Here’s a simple calf stretch you can do:

Stretching for 5-10 minutes each day will really loosen the fascia, creating less resistance to your muscles, enabling more growth. However, if you can stretch for longer than this – the more, the better.

Ballerinas have exceptionally well-developed calf muscles, in comparison to the rest of their body. They also happen to stretch their calf muscles with rigorous stretching routines every day, combined with lots of volume (standing on the balls of their feet for long periods).

big calves

Do you struggle to grow your calves? Implement these tips and let us know how you get on! 

Ernst Peibst
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