Are Calves All Genetics? Can you actually make them BIG? My experience confirms all stereotypes about calves.

As most ectomorphs I have calf muscles with extremely high insertions (long Achilles tendons). As a result my lower legs and ankles have always been skinny looking. Of course, I never really cared about that until I actually got involved in this muscle game, which turned out to be a very peculiar battle through which I learned a lot about the world.

Anyway, high calves just can’t grow in 99% of the cases I have observed. There’s overwhelming evidence suggesting that calf growth is at least 90% genetic and long tendons tend to kill all hypertrophy plans.

ARE HIGH CALVES BUILT FOR SPEED?


Some, if not all, of the best sprinters in the universe have tremendously short calf muscles. In the photo below you can see the lower leg muscles of the legendary sprinter Shawn Crawford.

Pay special attention how short they are and how long the Achilles tendon is. This makes his lower legs look like two fragile sticks, but of course they are not.

At the same time many photos reveal that every other muscle group on him is very well developed, including the upper body.

Shawn_Crawford,_Walter_Dix_2008_Olympics_200_m_final

Shawn Crawford (left) and Walter Dix (right) at the 2008 Olympics 200 m final;  photo by: Thor Matthiasson;

Question is, why? It’s not like one can control muscular growth to such high degree. Sure, you may choose not to train your calves at all, if you believe that affects your training performance positively, but you can’t stop growth completely when the whole body has to endure tremendous training.

Different people argue that high calves are more suitable for sprinting and jumping since the Achilles tendons act like rubber bands – the longer the rubber band, the bigger the power it generates on the way back. However, in this article, which focuses on the issue in detail, the author suggests that having small calves is not all that beneficial when it comes to sprinting. What’s beneficial are the other physical characteristics that people with high calves share – short torso, long legs (high hips), narrow hips, lighter bone structure. Those are way more important for running fast than having small calves.

Therefore, my logical conclusion is that high calves just don’t have much potential for growth, and this is the main reason why sprinters have smaller calves.

When a muscle group is short, there are not many fibers to grow in the first place and quite frankly there is no place for that growth to happen either. Where is the muscle supposed to grow? In the knee or maybe backwards like a weird smashed ball?

Hey, NattyOrNot, do you even sprint?

I have a perfect body for sprinting. Ironically, the only time I have actually exerted some sprinting efforts was when I was trying to get out of my permabulking state.

I went for a run in the yard of some old and forgotten school. It’s the type of place that makes you extra vigilant, but not because you are scanning the sexual material running around. It’s the fear of getting robbed that forces you to be attentive.

Anyway, I remember my fat gut bouncing up and down while I was running as fast as I could. The next day my hamstrings felt like they have endured some kind of medieval torture. This is probably the most profound soreness I have ever experience in my whole life. My calves, however, behaved as if nothing has happened. This proves once again that the true sprinting speed comes from the posterior chain which is the reason you will never meet a sprinter with poor rear development.

WHAT ABOUT PROFESSIONAL BODYBUILDERS?

There are many more facts proving that high calves are extremely unlikely to grow at all. A good example would be professional bodybuilders like Dennis Wolf and Johnnie Jackson. They are both massive, but still have poor calf development.

It would be naive to believe that bodybuilders, who do some of the craziest things on the planet to gain muscle mass, would have small calves because “they don’t train them right.” Don’t you think a professional bodybuilder and his trainers are more educated on the subject than the average gym rat reading FLEX?

Bodybuilders with small calves are well aware there are teenage girls who have bigger lower legs.

Aren’t professional bodybuilders on steroids? Are you telling me that even steroids can’t help in the fight against high calves?

I think so. Everytime a bodybuilder is reported to have small calves, the insertions are high. At the same time every bodybuilder with gross massive calves has mid to low insertions.

As Lyle McDonald states in this article the calf has low concentration of androgen receptors, which makes the muscle less influenced by steroid usage.

Everybody knows that your traps and shoulders blow up when you are on steroids. Well, the same obviously does not hold true for the lower leg. That explains why even the insane steroid dosages used by professional bodybuilder fail to produce the needed growth. Steroids cannot elongate your muscles and change your insertions and genetics.

What about fat people? They told me if I get fat as hell, my calves would get monstrous?

If you have calves with high insertions and thin ankles, you are most likely an ectomorph with a small frame (not to be confused with being short), which means that you are less likely to be extremely fat and reach something like 30% + body fat.

Anyway, you can still get fat as hell if you are willing to eat a ton. Guess what will happen? You will just have one big fat gut. Your calves will remain small as far as actual muscle size is concerned. Water and fat do not count.

It’s true that there are many fat people with enormous lower legs, but every single time they have low insertions and good overall genetics for growth (thick bones) in the first place. When you add 100 pounds of extra fat, those sucker will grow from taking all that lard to the park.

Does this mean that I should give up on having huge calves?

You could do anything you want, but if they are puny because of genetics, they will remain small. As you can seen there is plenty of evidence showing exactly that.

I can’t say that I have done some crazy routines for my calves, but I used to do about 10 sets on the standing calf machine followed by 10 sets on the seated calf machine for many months. Nothing happened. My father still has calves three times the size of mine without training at all. He is over 30 years older too. How is this even possible? Better insertions for growth and bigger ankles

The only exception I have ever seen to the rule is Michael Lockett. He also has high calves, but they are very well developed. But even in his case, you can see they are relatively weak compared to the rest of him.

But Arnold says I need to work on my calves for 500 hours before complaining…

Oh, brother! Don’t say!

I know the story. Arnold had shit calves, took river photos to hide them, then trained under the wing of Reg Park and returned with water melons. The truth, however, is as follows: Arnold never had really weak calves. They were pretty fine and with good insertions, which is why they responded so well to training.

Don’t be sad!

There is no need to obsess over things like that though. At the end of the day, there are much more serious issues than the size of your calves. Trust me, you will get over it. Time heals such small wounds quite easily. Go lift!

9 comments

  1. joesantus

    Excellent and necessary article Any idea that calf size isn’t controlled by genetics is wrong. Genetics control the potential maximum size and shape of each and every muscle group a person has, calves included.

    ATTAINING whatever size one’s genetics allow for the calves requires hard work, yes. Unless a person (who has finished puberty) is willing to put in at least two years of consistent, progressive, intense work on calves, then it’s usually impossible to attain that full potential.

    HOWEVER — some people’s full genetic potential allows for only small, underproportioned calves. Meaning, even after reaching the maximum size their genetics allow, they’ll still have poor calf size. Everyone can make their calves grow SOME, but that “some” may be so little that it hardly matters. Nature doesn’t treat everyone fairly about proportionate muscle size genetics.

    I’m age 60; I began bodybulding in 1972 at age 16. I’ve been life-long PEDrug-free since I began. I had tiny, underproportioned calves after three years of consistent training. After learning what to do to build calves, I bought a standing calf machine for my home gym at age 19, and, have trained calves consistently, intensely, and constantly ever since.
    For FORTY YEARS I’ve used programs of (various combinations of) high reps, low reps, medium reps; shorter rests between sets and longer rests between sets; high volume, low volume, high frequency; static stretching; slow reps, explosive reps, rest-pause reps; “giant-” and “super-” setting; standing raises, single-leg-raises, donkey raises, seated raises; focusing on rising on my big toes (to emphasize the gastrocs), or focusing on rising normally.
    I’ve always used a block for full range, worked barefooted, emphasized good form, avoided bouncing off the Achilles tendons.
    And, I from the beginning I’ve always done calves separately on their own day, not tacked them on after other bodyparts.
    I’ve done calf workouts so intense at times that I had trouble walking for the next 2-3 days.

    Two years after buying my standing calf machine, at age 21, my calf poundages reached 600 lbs at my bodyweight of 175 lbs. I was doing standing raises for 6 sets of 15-20 reps twice a week when I hit the 600 lb mark.
    Since then, I’ve constructed a specialized calf set-up incorporating a hip belt (to take the stress of heavier poundages off my upper body) and have steadily increased my resistance; currently I’m regularly doing 1,095 lbs (that’s ONE THOUSAND ninety five lbs) for 5 sets of 12-30 reps at 162 lbs bodyweight.

    In 1975, after purchasing the standing calf machine for my home gym and beginning serious calf programs, I was aware of Arnold’s claim to have increased his poundages to 1,000 lbs and that those heavier poundages were what achieved his great calves.
    I reasoned that, if an elite such as Arnold on steroids could get the 19-or-plus inch calves he achieved using 1,000 pounds, then that surely I could develop at least 15-inch calves if I could gradually increase my poundages to nearly the same as he’d used.

    After a couple years — after reaching 600 lbs for the sets and reps — and having learned more about genetic limitations, I realized from my lack of results that I didn’t have the calf genes to achieve even 14″ calves never mind a mediocre 15″. But, I decided to keep increasing my calf poundages, and try to reach the 1,000 lbs mark anyway. That began my 40-year quest toward a goal of 1,000+ lbs for sets n reps. I kept gradually adding poundages over the years until hitting that 1,000 lbs mark.

    My results? IN FORTY YEARS OF BODYBUILDING, MY CALVES HAVE INCREASED MERELY 1/2″ (one-half inch). To look even somewhat proportionate to my 5’8″ height and light-boned frame (I have 6.625″ wrists and 7.875″ ankles), my calves would need to measure at least 15″, but they’ve remained at a tiny 13.625 inches for decades.

    Yes, I’ve become amazingly strong in the calf raise, but, that increased strength has not translated to increased muscle mass. My calves are still cartoonishly tiny.

    The moral being, yes, Arnold did get better calves, and, he did only get them by working hard with heavier poundages — BUT, his intense work only succeeded because he already had the genetic potential for great calves; he just needed to put in that hard work to unlock his potential. Arnold required 1,000 lbs-plus to unlock his genetic potential to attain his proportionate calves — but, regrettably, even using 1,000 lbs like Arnold used won’t get proportionate calves for someone else UNLESS they too have great calf genetics. Regrettably, not everyone has such great calf potential, so even working as hard and as heavy as Arnold did won’t get everyone the great results his calf genetics allowed him to attain.
    Best anyone can do is consistently work calves hard and with progressively heavier poundages for at least two years. At that point, genetic potential for calf size is pretty much maximized. If by then, you don’t have proportionate calves, it’s simply not in your genetic mix to have them.

    1. Roger

      I needed to read that. I’m a bit taller and definitely thinner with my size gains plateauing after about a year or two. Even after following all the work harder, eat more, change it up, don’t over-train, blah, blah, blah ‘advice’. I still work my calves but acceptance of my genetics has made it easier.

      But, wow. You’re like a monster man. Never mind the calves, I’ve so much respect for you for never giving up.

  2. Neki Tamo

    I have naturally big calves without even training them.
    I am talking pro bodybuilder level calves and the rest of my body looks like “do you even lift” in clothes.

      1. joesantus

        “Who cares?”
        Actually, plenty of people searching for information explaining why some train hard and heavy yet can’t build proportionate calves, while others have proportionate calves yet don’t train them at all, most definitely do care.

  3. Ap

    Be happy about 13″. I’ve had Achilles’ tendon repair on both (full ruptures) and they are 11″ and will never grow! However, the muscle does get more dense with lifting.

  4. GILBERT

    yes arnold succeded with calves but one of the few who did. he never had forearms or great thighs. lee haney was 8 time mr o without great calves.

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