If you’re fed up with skinny, stick-like calves, there’s hope yet for growing these muscles big. I’m a certified personal trainer. If you’ve been unable to grow your calves, first see if you’re even flexing them properly in the first place. Chances are, you’re not.
This may be because the nervous system isn’t particularly dedicated to staying in touch with the lower leg muscles. You may have limited nerve connections to your calves. If you know someone with naturally large calves, look at how they walk. Don’t be surprised if at the end of each step, this person goes up a bit on their toes before proceeding to the next step.
I’ve noticed that men who walk this way almost always have prominent calves. These men bob up and down when they walk, and have the big lower leg muscles even though it’s obvious they don’t do any overall body training in the gym.
Their lower leg muscles are being continuously stimulated throughout the day with this excessive nerve innervation. Normally, only a small part of the brain is connected to the calve muscles, but in these individuals, the connection is stronger.
To make your stubborn calves grow, change your walking habits; alter your gait. I don’t mean bob up and down as if you’re in the water. But focus on flexing just a little more with each step. Walk this way on a treadmill (don’t hold onto the rails, please; this will screw everything up). This will strengthen the neurological connection between the brain and the lower legs.
Test the strength of this connection by seeing how well you can flex and extend your ankles while seated, feet against a leg press platform with moderate weight. Can you really, really flex your foot? Is it a weak, lame flex? Then you have work to do, in strengthening that connection.
I had a female client who had the most difficult time simply flexing her feet against a platform while seated, and she had stick-like calves. It was maddening to witness someone unable to flex her ankles, a joint action that’s easy for many people, but challenging for others. This showed a very weak connection between her brain and lower leg muscles, and this certainly carried over to her walking gait.
When you flex the ankles, makes sure you feel your muscles really being squeezed! Practice, practice, practice with just simple calve raises off a step to the point that these stubborn muscles are burning.
Forget the super heavy weight loaded standing calve machine; all that weight forces you to use your quads, and the calves end up getting virtually no workout.
Go high on the step, then very low, up and down, feeling the squeeze. Go fast, slow, medium. Do one leg at a time, then two. Eventually add hand weights and really burn out these muscles.
Remember that blood supply to these stubborn muscles is limited, which predisposes calves to being stubborn for size growth. Upper leg muscles hijack most of the blood supply during exercise, robbing the calves of ample nourishment. Hence, begin your leg training session with some calve work. Get it all done, then move on to the squats and deadlifts. Genetics do factor into calve size and growth potential. But this doesn’t mean it’s hopeless.
Do both standing and seated calve raises on equipment to recruit the major low leg muscles, and when doing standing calve raises, pay attention to form and technique (a good, solid flexing and extending motion with maximal squeezing and burning), rather than how many 45-pound plates you can load on the machine.