The calf muscle, or gastrocnemius, is located on the back of your lower leg. It runs across both your knee and ankle joint and has two heads. The medial head originates on the medial, or inner, condyle of your femur. The lateral head originates on the lateral condyle of the femur. The two heads come together into the Achilles tendon and insert onto the heel of your foot. Performed correctly with a challenging weight, calf raises can increase the size of your calves.
Calf Raise Description
A calf raise is performed in a standing position on the floor, a step or a weighted machine. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and toes pointed straight ahead. You can hold a barbell across your shoulders or dumbbells in your hands if you are using free-weights, or you can use a calf raise machine. Keeping your knees straight, raise up on your toes as high as you can. You will feel the tightness in the back of your lower leg. Slowly lower yourself down to the start position to complete one repetition.
Hypertrophy is the muscular enlargement that is a result of training, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The size of the muscle fibers in your calves or the number of fibers increases for you to get bigger calves. However, you need to perform the correct amount of sets and repetitions with a heavy load to stimulate muscle growth. NSCA advises three to six sets of six to 12 repetitions. The weight needs to be heavy enough to perform within the recommended repetitions with proper form. Rest about 30 to 90 seconds between each set.
Your calves can be difficult to train. You can add in other exercises besides standing calf raises to continually challenge the muscles. You can perform them one leg at a time or a seated calf raise. You can also change the angle by performing calf raises on a leg press machine. Also vary the sets and reps that you perform as well as the weight. For example, do not always do six sets of 12 with 100 lbs. Your body will get used to the same workout very quickly.
Genetics and age can play a role in whether you get big calves from calf raises. If you have a small build and have trouble putting on muscle, your calves will be no different than the rest of your body. You will need to train consistently and eat a diet that is conducive to muscle growth to add lean muscle to your calves. Also, as you age you naturally lose muscle tissue. You will find that muscular adaptation takes longer as you get older.