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. Naturally, my awareness of this fact increased when I joined the muscle game.
Sadly, high calves just can’t grow in the cases I have observed. There’s overwhelming evidence suggesting that calf growth is at least 90% genetic.
ARE HIGH CALVES BUILT FOR SPEED?
Most sprinters have tremendously short calf muscles. In the photo below you can see the lower leg muscles of the sprinter Shawn Crawford.
Pay special attention to the length of the muscle. Similar insertions make his lower legs look like two fragile sticks even though they are not.
According to some, high calves are more suitable for sprinting and jumping since the Achilles tendons act like rubber bands – the longer the rubber band, the higher the power generated on the way back.
However, in this article, which focuses on the issue in detail, the author suggests that small calves are not that beneficial to sprinting. The material states that the actual benefits are the other physical characteristics that most people with high calves share – short torso, long legs (high hips), narrow hips, lighter bone structure. Those structural qualities are more important for running fast than having small calves.
My logical conclusion is that high calves just don’t have a good potential for growth. When a muscle group is short, there are not many fibers to grow in the first place.
Hey, NattyOrNot, do you even sprint?
I have a perfect body for sprinting. Ironically, the only time I have actually exerted some sprinting effort was when I was trying to get out of my permabulking state.
I went for a run in the yard of an 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 had 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 underdeveloped glutes and hamstrings.
WHAT ABOUT PROFESSIONAL BODYBUILDERS?
There are even more facts showing that high calves are extremely unlikely to grow. A good example would be professional bodybuilders like Dennis Wolf and Johnnie Jackson. They are both massive and yet their calfs are underdeveloped.
It would be naive to believe that bodybuilders (people doing the craziest things on the planet to gain muscle mass) would have small calves because “they don’t train them right.”
Don’t you really think that a professional bodybuilder and his trainers are more educated on the subject than the average gym rat reading FLEX magazine?
Bodybuilders with small calves are well aware of the fact that there are teenage girls with bigger lower legs.
Are you telling me that even steroids can’t help in the fight against high calves?
It seems that way. Every bodybuilder with small calves has high insertions. Conversely, every bodybuilder with massive calves has mid to low insertions.
As Lyle McDonald states in this article, the calves have a low concentration of androgen receptors. This explains their poor response to steroids.
Everybody knows that your traps and shoulders blow up when you are on gear. Well, the same obviously does not hold true for the lower legs. Consequently, even the insane steroid dosages of professional bodybuilders fail to produce the needed growth.
What about fat people? They told me that if I get fat as hell, my calves will 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). This means that you are less likely to reach something like 30% body fat.
You can still get fat as hell if you are willing to eat a ton, though. Guess what will happen? You will acquire a 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 suckers 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 see, there is plenty of evidence pointing in that direction.
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 that 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 that they are relatively weak compared to the rest of him.
But Arnold says that I need to work on my calves for 500 hours before complaining…
Oh, brother! Don’t say!
I know the story. Arnold had small 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 truly weak calves. They were average and with good insertions, which is why they responded so well to training.
Don’t be sad!
At the end of the day, there are more serious issues than the size of your calves. Trust me, you will get over it.
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.
Thank you for the detailed comment and insightful information.
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.
I’ve only been training for 2 months and my calves are 14 inches, they have medium to high insertions but their size isn’t horrible. Im 17.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chestbrah calfs r sik
Before I started lifting, 15 years ago, my calves were my best muscle at *almost* 16″ (38cm). I don’t have high insertions either.
My intention was to take my best part and train it to the extreme. “I will have 20″ calves soon”, I thought.
I did every routine there was with every possible set&rep scheme.
When I began training my routine was the brosplit with a dedicated leg/calves day, I did standing rocking calf raises with heavy weights and low reps.
Eventually, I started training twice a week. Then I read the Arnold story, how he used donkey calf raises six days a week so that’s what I started doing.
I lifted a lot of weight for sets of 10-15 reps but got no results.
Then I read how calves are supposedly slow twitch muscle and benefit from higher reps. So I did the Arnold routine, six days a week with a lot of weight, for sets of 30 to 70+ reps. I did sets with toes pointing in, with toes pointing out, with toes pointing forward. The burn was intense, the DOMS actually made it difficult to walk for 2 weeks or more sometimes.
Still no growth.
One day I met a chubby fellow who didn’t even lift and he looked like he had shredded 20″ calves all natural.
I asked him how come, he said it’s because he plays soccer every week.
“Maybe bodybuilders got it wrong”, I thought.
So I went to play soccer with him of course. When I got there he was the only one with big calves, everyone else (chubby or not) had normal sized calves.
Still I didn’t give up. I decided to start sprinting uphill and sprinting in the beach.
No growth either.
I met a soldier with big calves, asked him, he said “I walk a lot with a heavy backpack”. So I purchased a backpack and started walking uphill.
Still no results.
Now don’t get me wrong, my calves didn’t grow but after all of this they had excellent muscle definition. I had good quads too.
Now, around this time the Internet convinced me that “bulking” was the only way to gain muscle.
So I started my bulk, I’m a short guy but got nearly to 200lbs. I was doing rocking calf raises with high reps again.
Finally I saw some growth, my calves were now over 16″ although I didn’t have any definition anywhere.
It makes logical sense, you see, the calves of fat people get more stimulus from moving all that extra mass. It’s all logical.
Becoming overweight is obviously not the reason why I exercise, it was time to cut and see just how much muscle I gained during my bulk.
When all that was done my calves were… still at 38 cm. Not even 1 cm after so much effort. Never even got to 16″.
I tried other exercises too, the only exercise I never did was seated calf raises. Maybe THAT was the key to unlocking unlimited calf growth, then I saw a “natural” bodybuilder on Youtube who “developed his calves over a period of 24 years!” saying he is against seated calf raises. HAH!
As a natural, I’ll sure never worry about training calves again XD
Sorry for the bad English.
Thank you for the detailed comment describing your journey. I have also concluded that training calves for hypertrophy is a waste of time. You can train them as a form of conditioning for sports or injury prevention, but if growth is your goal, you are wasting your time. There are pro bodybuilders on heavy anabolic cocktails who still don’t have big calves. I think this reveals everything.
Truth Seeker, if my calves are 14″, can they grow until 15″? I got high insertions.
In theory, yes. It depends on age, genetics..etc.