Understanding how muscles grow is key in targeting specific regions of your body, and the calves are no exception. Did you know that stretching your calves can increase muscle growth? Or that foot position plays a crucial role in maximizing results? This article will investigate variations of the calf raise exercise and common mistakes to avoid. So, let's get started on raising the bar for the best results!

Understanding how muscles grow is key in targeting specific regions of your body, and the calves are no exception. Did you know that stretching your calves can increase muscle growth? Or that foot position plays a crucial role in maximizing results? This article will investigate variations of the calf raise exercise and common mistakes to avoid. So, let’s get started on raising the bar for the best results!

Understanding the Gastrocnemius and Soleus Muscle

Strong calf muscles are essential for optimal performance in sports and daily activities. They help maintain mobility, prevent discomfort, and reduce the risk of injury, such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendonitis.

The calf muscle, located at the back of the lower leg, is primarily composed of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the larger, more superficial muscle with two heads – medial and lateral – which give it its distinctive shape. Conversely, the soleus is a smaller, flatter muscle that lies beneath the gastrocnemius.

Getting the calves to grow involves a strength training program that combines tension, metabolic stress, and muscle stretch. Recent studies have found that prolonged calf stretches can increase muscle growth.

Why Are Calves So Hard to Grow?

Calves are often considered harder to grow than other body parts, primarily due to their unique muscle fiber composition, genetic factors, and daily use. Additionally, they often need more focused attention in workout routines, further hindering their growth. Here are a few reasons calves are harder to grow than other body parts:

Type I Fibers are Harder to Grow

The calf muscles have a higher proportion of slow-twitch (type I) muscle fibers compared to other muscles. (1) Slow-twitch fibers have higher endurance capabilities but are more resistant to growth than fast-twitch (type II) muscle fibers, which are more responsive to hypertrophy. This unique composition may contribute to the difficulty in growing calf muscles compared to other body parts, requiring more targeted and intensive training strategies to overcome this inherent resistance to growth.

calf growth calf raises calf stretches
Type 1 fibers, genetics, and lack of volume can result in impaired calf size.

Genetics Play a Role in Calf Size

Genetic factors also play a role in muscle growth. People with naturally shorter fascicle lengths and smaller muscle belly sizes in their calves may find it more challenging to achieve substantial muscle growth compared to those with longer fascicles and larger muscle bellies.(2) This genetic predisposition can make it necessary for some individuals to work even harder and smarter in their training to see significant muscle size and strength improvements.

Lack of Volume Can Impair Size

Unfortunately, many people also neglect their calf muscles in their training, which can lead to slower growth. Calves are often overlooked in favor of larger muscle groups like the quads or hamstrings, leading to insufficient training volume and intensity for muscular development. To overcome these challenges and promote muscle growth, it’s important to incorporate a variety of exercises, rep ranges, and training modalities into your workout routine. This can help you challenge and stimulate your muscles in new ways, leading to greater gains over time. Furthermore, prioritizing calf training in your workouts can ensure they receive the attention necessary for optimal growth and development.

Calf Stretches Increases Growth

Stretching the calf muscle can also increase ankle dorsiflexion (foot upwards, toward the chin) range of motion and reduce the risk of injuries. In addition to better ankle joint flexibility, recent research has highlighted the benefits of stretching in muscle growth. For instance, a study on volleyball players found that stretching five days a week increased muscle thickness by 23% compared to a control group.(3) The calf stretching protocol led to greater increases in jumping performance. In another study, stretching for just 3 minutes a day led to a 5.6% increase in muscle size.(4) However, it’s essential to note that not all studies have found a positive correlation between stretching and muscle growth. (5) The discrepancies could be due to differences in duration, frequency, and intensity of the muscle stretch.

calf growth calf raises calf stretches

Do High Reps Work Better for Increasing Calf Growth?

Many people believe that doing high reps is the only way to go when it comes to increasing calf growth. While high reps can effectively stimulate muscle growth, they are not always necessary. In one study, researchers sought to understand whether calves grew better in response to using heavy weight (8-10 reps) or light weight (20-30 reps) for 8 weeks. The study found that the soleus and gastrocnemius grew equally in response to both heavy and light weight.(6) The myth that calves only grow with light weight can be put to rest.

calf growth calf raises calf stretches
Both high and low reps increased calf muscle size.

The Science of Regional Muscle Growth

Muscle growth is not uniform in all regions, regardless of the training status. This means muscles do not grow evenly across a fiber, so you must train a muscle with different angles. (7) This concept applies to all muscle groups, including the calves.

A 2020 study found that incorporating multiple exercises for the triceps, such as close-grip bench presses, tricep pushdowns, and overhead tricep extensions, led to greater muscle activation and growth compared to solely performing a single exercise like the close-grip bench press. Triceps growth was +4.6% with just bench press, but bench press with triceps skull crushers resulted in an 11.5% increase in muscle growth of the triceps. This research highlights the importance of including various exercises in a training program to maximize muscle development.(8) This concept applies to all muscle groups, including the calves.

The Importance of Foot Position During Calf Raises

Effective foot positioning is crucial for optimizing calf raises and achieving optimal growth. A 2020 study examined the effects of calf growth with 3 different foot positions: Feet forward, Toes pointed inward, and toes placed outward. The researchers found that the feet placed forward with the traditional calf raise had the greatest effect on the overall muscle size of the calves. However, they found that when toes were placed inward, more growth of the outer calf took place, and greater inner calf growth took place when the toes were placed outward.(9) You can selectively target and develop specific muscle portions by incorporating different foot positions (standard calf raise, toes place inward and outward) in your calf exercises.

calf growth calf raises calf stretches

Calf Raise Variation Exercises for Optimal Growth

Introducing a variety of calf exercises into your workout routine is crucial for achieving optimal growth. Donkey calf raises can provide resistance and activate both muscles for those looking for a challenge. Single-leg calf raises are another beneficial exercise that can help target imbalances and build strength in each calf. Finally, box jumps are a plyometric exercise that not only targets the calves but also improves explosive power and overall athleticism. By incorporating these variations into your workout routine, you can achieve maximum results in your calf growth journey.

Variations to Try Out

Incorporating different variations of calf raises in your workout routine can prevent plateauing and help maximize calf growth.

  • Standing Calf Raise: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and slowly rise onto the balls of your feet. Hold for a moment at the top, then lower back to the starting position.
  • Seated Calf Raise: Sit on a bench or mat with a weight (dumbbell or barbell) resting on your thighs. Place the ball of your foot on an elevated surface and raise your heels, squeezing your calf muscles at the top.
  • Resistance Band Calf Flexion: Loop a resistance band around the ball of your foot and hold the other end with your hands. Flex your foot, pulling against the band’s resistance, then slowly return to the starting position.
  • Isolation Exercise: For targeted calf strengthening, consult a personal trainer or physical therapist for exercises that specifically target the inner calf or other areas of concern.


There are several common mistakes people make when training their calves, which can limit growth. Addressing these mistakes can help improve muscle development:

  • Neglecting calves in the workout routine: Many people do not prioritize calf training, often placing more focus on larger muscle groups like the chest, back, or thighs. To promote growth, it’s essential to include specific calf exercises in your workout routine consistently.
  • Limited exercise variety: Sticking to only one or two exercises can limit growth. Incorporating a variety of exercises that target the different muscles of the calf (gastrocnemius and soleus) and using various foot positions can help stimulate growth more effectively.
  • Inadequate training volume: Insufficient training volume (sets and repetitions) can impede muscle growth. Gradually increasing the volume over time, as well as incorporating progressive overload can lead to better results.
  • Poor exercise form: Incorrect form during calf exercises can reduce the effectiveness of the movement and increase the risk of injury. Focusing on proper technique, ensuring a full range of motion, and avoiding excessive bouncing or momentum can help maximize calf muscle engagement.


  1. Abe, T., Kumagai, K., & Brechue, W. F. (2000). Fascicle length of leg muscles is greater in sprinters than distance runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 32(6), 1125-1129. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-200006000-00014
  2. Wakeling, J. M., Jackman, M., & Namburete, A. I. (2013). The Effect of External Compression on the Mechanics of Muscle Contraction. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 29(3), 360-364. https://doi.org/10.1123/jab.29.3.360
  3. Panidi, I., Bogdanis, G. C., Terzis, G., Donti, A., Konrad, A., Gaspari, V., & Donti, O. (2021). Muscle Architectural and Functional Adaptations Following 12-Weeks of Stretching in Adolescent Female Athletes [Original Research]. Frontiers in Physiology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2021.701338
  4. Simpson, C. L., Kim, B. D. H., Bourcet, M. R., Jones, G. R., & Jakobi, J. M. (2017). Stretch training induces unequal adaptation in muscle fascicles and thickness in medial and lateral gastrocnemii. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 27(12), 1597-1604. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12822
  5. Nunes, J. P., Schoenfeld, B. J., Nakamura, M., Ribeiro, A. S., Cunha, P. M., & Cyrino, E. S. (2020). Does stretch training induce muscle hypertrophy in humans? A review of the literature. Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging, 40(3), 148-156. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/cpf.12622
  6. Schoenfeld, B. J., Vigotsky, A. D., Grgic, J., Haun, C., Contreras, B., Delcastillo, K., Francis, A., Cote, G., & Alto, A. (2020). Do the anatomical and physiological properties of a muscle determine its adaptive response to different loading protocols? Physiol Rep, 8(9), e14427. https://doi.org/10.14814/phy2.14427
  7. Gentil, P., Fisher, J., & Steele, J. (2017). A Review of the Acute Effects and Long-Term Adaptations of Single- and Multi-Joint Exercises during Resistance Training. Sports Med, 47(5), 843-855. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0627-5
  8.  Brandão L, de Salles Painelli V, Lasevicius T, et al. Varying the Order of Combinations of Single- and Multi-Joint Exercises Differentially Affects Resistance Training Adaptations. J Strength Cond Res. May 2020;34(5):1254-1263. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000003550
  9. Nunes, J. P., Costa, B. D. V., Kassiano, W., Kunevaliki, G., Castro, E. S. P., Rodacki, A. L. F., Fortes, L. S., & Cyrino, E. S. (2020). Different Foot Positioning During Calf Training to Induce Portion-Specific Gastrocnemius Muscle Hypertrophy. J Strength Cond Res, 34(8), 2347-2351. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000003674

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