<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none;" alt="" src="https://ct.pinterest.com/v3/?tid=f4de1632775725aa6fdc3fb6c132e778&amp;event=init&amp;noscript=1">
Muscle Growth, Resistance Training

Why Can't I Build Bigger Calves?

By Joe Talarico on Mar 18, 2022 11:30:00 AM
4 Minutes Reading Time

As we get a couple years of lifting under our belts, we tend to find certain areas grow quicker than others. I know for my physique, my chest and biceps always grew pretty quickly, but my back and triceps seemed like they showed little to no progress. Most people usually write this off as bad genetics and that they will never grow that lagging body part. 

The truth of the matter is while yes, some of us may have better genetics in terms of overall muscle structure (better insertion points making muscles look “fuller”), we can all get any muscle to grow. What is usually lacking is the mind muscle connection.

The Mind Muscle Connection

In order for any muscle to grow, you have to be able to fire it properly. For me, I spent YEARS doing every back exercise I could find. I always assumed as long as I am doing a back exercise, with heavy weight, then it should grow right? Then I had a coach make the SMALLEST tweaks to my form and it seemed, out of nowhere, that my back blew up! 

The difference was in the way we targeted that weaker area. If you find your calves aren’t growing, it could be a matter of proper cueing. Instead of focusing on adding more and more weight to force growth through high numbers, try the opposite. Go lighter with the weight, and focus on letting your calves get a full stretch and the bottom with a 1-2 second pause, and then a full contraction at the top with a 1-2 second squeeze. By taking these brief pauses, with lighter weight, you are now allowing your mind to really isolate your calves, and getting the proper contraction to stimulate growth.

If you see guys at the gym doing these bouncy, quick rep sets, they are training their tendons more than the calves. This bouncing of the weights and no pause sets are not providing enough stimulus to target or grow the calves. Slow the pace down! You wouldn’t expect growth just swinging your entire body doing bicep curls would you?

Not Spending Enough Emphasis

Calves aren’t exactly on the top of anyone's list when they enter the gym. I’ll see guys do 15-20 sets of their chest, and then finish their workout with 3 sets of calves and wonder why they’re lagging. Body parts need volume to grow, and particularly if you are struggling with seeing growth you will need to place an emphasis on them.

Treat your calves like any other muscle group. You can even start your workouts with 3 sets of calves so that you are most fresh. If you are still not seeing growth, you may need to add more weekly sets to stimulate growth. Calves tend to be more slow twitch dominant seeing as we are on our feet everyday. If you have been doing mostly low rep sets, try switching to higher rep sets. Shoot for training calves 3 days a week, for 3 sets of 15-20 reps, with short breaks in between. If they still aren’t growing, consider building up to 6 sets.

Training the Soleus vs The Gastrocnemius

There is the actual calve muscle (gastrocnemius) and the soleus which sits under the calve. Both can get trained depending on how you are working your calves. What most people want when they say they want big calves is increasing the size of that gastrocnemius. This is achieved through mostly standing calf work. Those machines that have you sitting with your knees bent 90 degrees will place more emphasis on the soleus. Spend less time on the seated versions if you find your growth is stalled.

If you need more help adding calve programming into your workouts check out our MAPS Calves Mod. Also, check out our article Can You Build Your Calves, or is it All Genetics?

Achieve Great Calves | Mind Pump

FREE Flat Tummy Guide


Free Resources

Everything You Need to Know to Reach Your Fitness Goals

Learn More

Joe Talarico

Joe is a certified Precision Nutrition and strength & conditioning coach. He assisted the UCLA Women’s Tennis team in winning their 2014 NCAA Championship Title, as well as study under the great strength coaches at Pepperdine University. He was a collegiate rower at the University of Rhode Island (where he got his Kinesiology degree) as well as an amateur physique competitor. He is currently the master trainer at Upgrade Labs in Santa Monica where he is combining his years of training clients in the gym with newer technology to optimize their performance and recovery. He also cohosts The RelationSH*T Show Podcast with his fiancée where they discuss all relationship topics unfiltered from who pays on dates, to open relationships.

Read more from the Mind Pump Blog

Have a question for us?

Feel free to send us an inquiry and allow up to 24 hours for a response.

Contact Us