Stop wasting your time with calf building exercises that WON’T grow your little calves! It’s unbelievable what nutty things men will do to grow their puny calves.

When I worked as a personal trainer for a large gym, I one day saw a skinny young man, maybe around 20, walking around in the weights area—and something was odd about the way he bobbed up and down when he walked.

My eyes traveled down to his legs, and I couldn’t help but stare: He had on these really weird shoes that had a huge rubber platform, maybe like five inches.

It was obvious that he thought that walking around in these would build up his skinny calves.


So that’s the first exercise that won’t work for building up your calves: walking.

Even if you wear funky platform shoes that bob you up and down with each step, you’re still only just walking around, which is a “steady state” or “slow cardio” type of activity.

Slow, long-duration aerobic activity recruits slow-twitch muscle fiber. This type of fiber, which is designed for ongoing aerobic activity (like walking) does not grow in size.

So any sustained activity that recruits mainly slow-twitch fiber will not grow your calves. These activities include:

• Hiking

• Distance running

• Cycling

• Elliptical and other pedaling machines

• Stepping exercises

Another exercise that won’t work for building skinny calves into the size you want is that of incline walking on a treadmill.

Again, this is steady state, long duration or “slow” cardio. Do not think for a moment that just because you feel a burn in your calves that this means this activity will increase their size and that they’ll no longer be puny.

Even if you train correctly on the treadmill (i.e., NO holding on), this is still a slow-twitch form of exercise and will not give you prominent calf muscles. Won’t happen.

Though some men and women want more tone, shape and definition to their calves, there are those trainees who hate their skinny calves and want a more built-up appearance.

Treat this muscle group (gastrocnemius and soleus) as you would any other muscle group that you want to build.

The same rules apply. So for instance, if you wanted to build up your biceps and shoulders, would you be doing long-duration, steady-state movements with your arms?

I don’t think so. I can’t imagine a skinny guy, wanting to build up his biceps and shoulders, standing there for 30 minutes doing arm circles!

The secret to building up the calves is to recruit fast-twitch muscle fiber, which, when stimulated sufficiently, will grow in size.

If your entire body is skinny, like that young man I mentioned who was wearing those silly shoes, you need to take in more calories to support a comprehensive weight training regimen.

At the same time, other factors determine the extent of gastroc and soleus development, such as ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch fiber (which you’re born with and can’t change) and the length of the Achilles tendon (which, again, you’re born with and can’t alter).

Putting in a lot of running miles won’t work for building calves, either. How many people, who run 10 miles a day, have the muscular calves you want?

Even the calves of some sprinters are small when compared to the rest of their body’s muscle development.

A lot of it boils down to genetics.

What DOES work for the calves?

Tried and true exercises for the calves that DO work — involve targeting these muscles with brief explosive movements against resistance. Many people incorrectly use calf raise equipment.

Shutterstock/Denis Val

I recommend the seated machine, as it’s hard to cheat on this. But it’s easy to cheat on the standing machine.

I always saw men loading tons of plates on the standing machine, then positioning their shoulders beneath and going up and down, up and down—powering the movement with their quads, not their calves, kind of like quarter squats!

Just remember this: Calf exercises that just won’t work at building size are anything that you can do for longer than a typical weightlifting set.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.