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Calf Training: Build Bigger Lower Legs

Stuck with small calves? Jolt some growth with these 2 quick tips.

David Barr, CSCS, USATF Exercise

I loathe calf training. It's just terrible.

It's not that the load is too heavy or that I have to put in a lot of effort, and it's not the shoulder-bruising I get from using the calf standing machine. I wish it were any of those. The reason I despise working my lower leg is because I just don't feel anything.

I do standing calf raises next to a mirror, and I don't see anything happening! Granted I can see that my ankle is plantar flexing and my body is rising, but in terms of any semblance of an actual muscle contraction, there is none.

Even the burn that I used to get as a 160-pound teenager is gone. From a feeling standpoint, I'd probably have a better experience watching someone do them.

Feeling That Feeling

This mind-muscle connection is critical for any kind of muscle adaptation, and is usually the first thing to occur when you begin training. But for some reason, after a decade and a half my calves seem to have become “dumber.” They just don't know how to contract.

And then there's something called the bilateral deficit. Applying this deficit means you'll have a better contraction/muscle activation when doing unilateral work. The problem is that it doesn't seem to work for my calves. I'd love to say this is a universal problem, but I'm sure it's an isolated issue. I've thrown all of my applied anatomy, physiology and biochemistry at them, but my calves simply laugh.

The following tips are for anyone who has a hard time developing calves.