Some of the hardest muscles to develop are your calves. This is perhaps because people fail to recognize how to properly build muscular calves and at the same time lack the will to train calves like all other muscle groups. Do you train calves as hard as a set of squats? What about quad or hamstring extensions? You need to understand that training your calves involves just as much time and devotion as anything else.
Everyday you walk around. When you walk you are using your calves. You are pushing at least your body weight every time you take a step. So, when you go to the gym and work out your calves with light weight, are you really stressing your muscles? – Arnold Schwarzenegger
Whenever you walk, jump or run, your calf muscles are pushing your bodyweight. Therefore, you need to train calves real heavy in order to build proper size and strength.
In order to build big calves, you need to understand how the calf muscles work. The calves are composed of two major muscles:
The larger of the two major calf muscles, the gastrocnemius is found in the top back of the lower leg and is between the knee joint to the ankle joint. The muscle looks diamond-shaped or the appearance of an upside down heart.
In order to properly stimulate the gastrocnemius, you need to focus on straight-legged movements, such as standing calf raises. Many people slightly bend their legs when training calves but this puts less emphasis on the gastrocnemius and more so on the soleus. In order to stimulate the gastrocnemius, keep your legs straight and lock your knees. Train the gastrocnemius heavy, do more sets and use fewer repetitions due to the higher presence of fast-twitch muscle fibers.
The smaller of the two major calf muscle, the soleus is found in the back part of the lower calf. It runs from just below the knee to the heel. It is smaller than the gastrocnemius but slightly wider. It lies under the gastrocnemius so it is not visible. The main purpose of the soleus is that it gives width to the back of the calf.
The soleus is properly trained with any bent-knee exercises, such as seated calf raises. Since the soleus is composed mainly of slow-twitch muscle fibers, you should focus on lighter weight, less sets, and more repetitions.
The tibialis is a smaller and minor muscle found in the calves. It is located at the front of the lower leg. Working the tibialis will make your calves appear bigger from the front and side. Toe raises are a good exercise to build up the tibalis.
When training calves, just like any other muscle group, focus on doing smooth and controlled repetitions. When training calves, you should lift heavier but never sacrifice form for weight. Many people bounce and slam the weight when training calves and feel no pump in the calves. Focus on the calves and always squeeze at the top of the movement when you lift your toes.
Lastly, if you expect to build rock solid calves, never neglect the cardio! You should do a minimum of 15 minutes of an incline treadmill, resistance bicycle or stepping machine every day to really hit the calves (and at the same time provide your heart with some exercise!). In addition, stretching your calves daily will break up lactic acid buildup and increase flexibility of the calves, which may lead to more muscle growth.