How to build big calves-turning those calves into bull’s

I don’t know if it’s just my imagination, but aren’t calves a little more stubborn to build up? I remember back in my earlier days of training I would keep pounding out set after set of calf raises and it seemed like my calves would never grow, I would add more weight on and thinking if I went really heavy my calves would miraculously start growing,

After a while I come to the realization that it wasn’t a matter that my calves were never going to grow, I’ll get them to grow I would tell my self, but I had to tackle the situation in a different manner, I had to figure out how to build big calves and turn them calves into bull’s.

The legends

Back in the day when Arnold Schwarzenegger was training for Mr Olympia Arnold took a loss, he came to the realization that his calf muscles were weak looking and training at the gym wasn’t all about training only the upper body. Arnold didn’t like to accept defeat so he trained his calves hard and heavy six days a week and in a matter of time Arnold’s calves were stretching the tape at 20 inches.

Another legend that was a firm believer in volume training was Reg Park whom Arnold had turned to for guidance about getting the size to come up in his calf training. Reg Park is a follower of 5×5 training, that’s five sets of five reps with compound movements he believes is a good way to train for strength as well as size.

Back when Arnold was competing in the Mr Olympia, his volume size training he did to bring his calves out brought them to massive sized proportions that would make his calves stand out in a lineup among today’s top competitors. So I took the advice that i had learned from the legends and incorporated it into my own training program and before long my calves started growing as well.

How the calf muscle is designed

Gastrocnemius (calf muscle) is a large muscle that connects to the heal, it flexes and extends the foot, ankle and knee.

Soleus, it extends from the back of the knee to the heel, the soleus purpose serves for walking and standing.

Plantaris, this is a thin small muscle that is absent in about 10% of people.

The Achilles tendon is the most important tendon as for mobility, this tendon connects from the back of the calf and ankle and connects the plantaris gastrocnemius and soleus muscles to the heel bone and has the elasticity for physical activities.

Standing calf raises

Standing calf raises are the most common exercise for building up your calf muscles. Try to go heavy on these and always use full range of motion, lowering your heels as far down as possible to get a full stretch in your calf muscles and raise up on the ball of your foot flexing the calf muscles and holding for a count of two.

Another variation to the calf raise machine is the Smith machine as shown in the photos, the Smith machine works rather well for doing the standing calf raises, if you don’t have the option of a Smith machine at your gym, the calf raise machine works great, you don’t need to incorporate both exercises into your calf training program as long as you can do one or the other.

When doing calf raises some guys will do these barefoot although I wouldn’t recommend it because doing heavy calf raises can put a lot of stress on all the small components that make up the foot so it would be best to wear a pair of gym shoes to give you plenty of support. Calf raises I would recommend from 10-20 repetitions.

Donkey calf raises

You seldom here about or see people doing the donkey calf raises these days but they are a great exercise to add to your calf training program, they give you a little more stretch to the calf muscles due to the position you adopt when bending forward and the donkey calf raises tend to localize the targeted area you are stressing on your calves.

Some people have a training partner sit on their back as shown in the picture for added weight, another option is to attach a weight strap around your midsection for added weight and I have seen guys use a Smith machine press where they rest the bar across there lower back.

With this exercise, follow through with a full range of motion getting a full stretch at the bottom of the move and raising your heels up as far as you can and hold for a count of two, shoot for 10-20 reps.

Seated calf raises

The seated calf raises take on a whole new twist to the targeted area of calf development, it all depends on your knee placement. The standing calf raises work the gastrocnemius, the large part of the calf muscle that gives a upside down heart shape on the inside of your calves.

The seated calf raises, because of the angle of the knee there isn’t much stress on the gastrocnemius¬† muscle, the stress from the seated calf raises goes to the soleus part of the calf muscle which is a longer segment of muscle that extends from the back of the knee to the heel.

Even though the soleus seems like a smaller more insignificant part of the calf muscle compared to the larger gastrocnemius muscle, the soleus when proportionately developed can actually bring out more width to the calf muscle, so I would give the seated calf raises a two thumbs up and would recommend including the seated calf raises into your training program.

When performing the seated calf raises, use a weight that you have to work hard to complete your set but not so heavy that you are giving up good form, they need to be a slow and continuous tension letting your heels down as far as you can to get a complete stretch and then raise up on the balls of your feet until you can’t raise your heels any further.

When doing seated calf raises if you are not using a seated calf raise machine and you are using a Smith machine or simply resting a barbell across your knees, you will want to make sure that you have a block of some kind, roughly two inches thick placed under your toes to get a full stretch for your calf muscles and to get a full range of motion.

Perform the seated calf raises for 10-20 reps.


The calf muscles tend to be ignored a little more than other body parts but the calf muscles need attention too. Anyone who is into lifting weights likes to go around in the summer with a sleeveless shirt so they can show off their muscular arms, but nine times out of ten if someone is wearing a sleeveless shirt they are probably wearing shorts which means their calf muscles are going to be showing.

So if you start working those calf muscles hard and turn those pipe cleaners into pillars, you will be proud to walk around in shorts and show off those calf muscles.

There used to be a time when Arnold Schwarzenegger would stand in water when posing just so he could hide his calves from the camera until he could develop a large set of calf muscles of his own. The calf muscles are a difficult muscle to develop, as Schwarzenegger had put it, the calf muscles get a lot of stress on them when walking every day so when you go in the gym you have to train them even harder to get them to grow, Arnold would train his calves six days a week until they were developed enough to match the rest of his body.

I wish you the best on your journey to greater calf development, if there are any moves that I didn’t include in this article that you enjoy doing, don’t be afraid to continue using them, the exercises I included in this article are just an outline of some of the basic exercises for packing the muscle on your calves.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the box below.

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