The 3 Common Calf Training Mistakes

Written by Tihomir Stefanov, M.S.(C), PT

| Published on

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Are you tired of being the shorty in the group fitness class? Are your calf muscles so underdeveloped they make the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man look like a Greek god? 

Fear not, for we have uncovered the top three calf training blunders that could be holding you back from achieving calf glory.

So, grab a seat (or a calf-raise machine), and get ready to laugh and learn about the most common calf training mistakes people make when trying to beef up their lower legs.

It’s Not Just Genetics

Many people believe that having great calf muscles is all about genetics and that some people are just blessed with better calf insertions. 

While it’s true that some people have better insertions and may respond better to calf training, it doesn’t mean that you can’t develop your calves to the best extent possible for you. 

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With consistent training, proper form, and a progressive training plan, you can definitely see improvement in your calf muscles over time.  

With patience and persistence, you can develop your calves to the best extent possible for you and achieve your desired results.

Or… you can choose the “I have bad calf genetics” excuse and skip training them, only to completely diminish any chance of calf growth. (hint, this is one of the most common calf training mistakes)

Calf Anatomy

In order to understand how to effectively train your calf muscles, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the anatomy of the calf. 

The calf muscles are responsible for many movements such as walking, running, and jumping, specifically the movement of plantar flexion of the foot. 

Understanding the anatomy of the calf muscles and the movements they are responsible for can help you to target and train them effectively by choosing the appropriate exercises, loads, and reps that will lead to optimal muscle growth. 

By familiarizing yourself with the anatomy of the calf muscles, you can also identify any imbalances or weaknesses that may need to be addressed in your training, and you can also avoid the common calf training mistakes. 

Now let’s have a look at the 3 main muscles of the lower leg that account for its visual appearance, shall we?

The Soleus

The soleus muscle is one of the two muscles that make up the calf. It is located under the gastrocnemius muscle, and it also works to plantar flex the foot, which means pointing the toes towards the ground. 

The soleus muscle is responsible for most of the endurance of the calf muscles and is active in many daily activities, such as walking, climbing stairs, and running. 

Additionally, it also plays a role in maintaining posture and balance.

As a whole, the soleus is mostly activated when we plantar flex the foot from a position where the knee is bent, such as a seated calf raise.

It is also important to note that the soleus is primarily built out of slow-twitch muscle fibers.

These are the fibers that are made for endurance and respond better to higher repetitions.

The Gastrocnemius

The gastrocnemius muscle is one of the two muscles that make up the calf. It is located at the back of the knee and attaches to the heel bone through the Achilles tendon. 

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The gastrocnemius muscle is responsible for plantar flexing of the foot, which means pointing the toes toward the ground. 

This movement is crucial for activities such as walking, running, jumping, and climbing stairs. 

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Additionally, the gastrocnemius muscle also plays a role in knee flexion.

It is the larger of the two calf muscles, and it is considered to be the more powerful muscle, but it fatigues more easily than the soleus muscle. 

The gastrocnemius muscle is also more visible, and it is the muscle that gives the calf its shape. 

As opposed to the soleus, the gastrocnemius is mainly activated during plantar flexion of the foot, where the knees are in a straight position, such as a standing calf raise.

What’s more is that the gastrocnemius has fewer slow-twitch fibers, and more fast-twitch fibers, meaning that it responds better to heavy, short-burst, and low-rep movements.

The Tibialis Anterior

The tibialis anterior muscle is located in the front of the lower leg, and it’s responsible for dorsiflexion, which is the movement of lifting the toes towards the shin. 

This muscle also works to stabilize and balance the ankle and foot during movements, and it’s active during activities such as walking, running, and jumping. 

While the tibialis muscle is not typically considered a part of the calf muscle group, it is still important to target it in your lower leg training routine as it will help to balance out the strength in your lower leg and improve overall ankle stability and visual appearance of the lower leg.

Common Calf Training Mistakes

When it comes to training your calf muscles, there are a few common mistakes that many people make that can affect the effectiveness of your workout. 

By understanding these mistakes and how to avoid them, you can help ensure that your calf training is as effective as possible. 

With the right approach and by avoiding these common mistakes, you can achieve the strong and defined calf muscles you desire.

So let’s see the 4 most common calf mistakes, shall we?

Neglecting Calves

One of the most common calf training mistakes when it comes to calf training is neglecting the calf muscles altogether. 

Many people believe that they have poor genetics when it comes to calf development, and as a result, they don’t include calf exercises in their workout routine. 

However, this is a mistake. 

The truth is that everyone can improve the size and strength of their calf muscles with the right training, regardless of genetics. 

It’s important to understand that genetics do play a role in muscle development, but it’s not the only factor. 

Consistently training the calf muscles, along with proper nutrition, will help to improve the overall appearance and strength of the calf muscles over time. 

So, if you want to achieve great-looking calves, don’t neglect them and include them in your workout routine regularly.

Incomplete ROM

Another one on our list of common calf training mistakes is using an incomplete range of motion. This means not fully extending or flexing the ankle during calf exercises. 

The calf muscles, like all muscles, need to be worked through a full range of motion to be fully stimulated and to see optimal results. 

When the calf muscles are only partially worked, the total time under tension decreases.

And while this doesn’t matter in one single workout, it adds up over time.

Using an incomplete range of motion is the best way to make sure your calves will never reach their full potential.

To ensure that you are using the full range of motion, it’s important to make sure that you are fully extending your ankle at the top of the movement and fully flexing it at the bottom of the movement. 

No Variations

One more of the common calf training mistakes is the lack of variety in exercises. The calf muscles, like all muscles, need to be stimulated in different ways to see optimal results. 

The calf muscles are made up of two main muscles, the soleus, and the gastrocnemius. 

As you learned, these muscles are activated differently, so it’s important to target them both in your calf training. 

So let’s rehearse.

To target the gastrocnemius, which is located on the upper portion of the calf, you should perform exercises such as standing calf raises with a straight leg. 

To target the soleus, which is located on the lower portion of the calf, you should perform exercises such as seated calf raises with a bent leg. 

By including both straight-leg and bent-leg calf raises in your routine, you can ensure that both the soleus and gastrocnemius are being stimulated, leading to a well-rounded and balanced calf development.

Rep Range Variety

Last but not least on our list of common calf training mistakes, is having no rep range variety. 

Many people tend to stick to the same rep range for all their calf exercises, but this can limit the potential for muscle growth. 

The calf muscles, like all muscles, need to be challenged in different ways to see optimal results. 

And that doesn’t just mean doing different exercises, as we discussed above.


It also means engaging in different rep ranges because the soleus and gastrocnemius respond to higher and lower reps, respectively.

Additionally, you can also change the weight, intensity, and volume of your calf exercises to keep challenging your calf muscles. 

Progressive overload, remember?

An Honorable Mention

Alright, you avoid all the common calf training mistakes for gym-based exercises, but your calves still aren’t growing after months of relentless effort…

Well, what if we told you there is one simple activity that can take care of your calves… and any other lacking lower-body muscle groups?

That activity is namely sprinting!

The explosive nature of sprinting requires the calf muscles to work at maximum capacity, leading to increased muscle growth and strength. 

Additionally, sprinting is a functional movement that can improve overall athleticism and power. 

To add complexity to your calf training, you can try sprinting uphill, which will increase the resistance on your calf muscles and make the workout more challenging. 

You can also try sprinting on the sand, which will add an extra level of instability and challenge your calf muscles. 

Another option is to add weight to your sprints by wearing a weighted vest. 

This will increase the intensity of the workout and challenge the calf muscles even more. 

By incorporating different variations of sprinting into your calf training, you can target the calf muscles in different ways, leading to a well-rounded and balanced development.

To Sum It Up

To summarize the entire article and help you boost your calf-growth journey, here is a summary of the main points in this article:

  1. The calves are mainly made up of two muscle groups – the soleus and the gastrocnemius, but you also have the tibialis on the front portion of the lower leg.
  2. The soleus is primarily made up of slow-twitch fibers and responds better to calf raises done with your knee bent and with higher reps.
  3. The gastrocnemius is primarily made up of fast-twitch fibers and responds better to standing calf raises done with lower reps and heavier weights.
  4. Though important, genetics isn’t the only factor for calf growth – anyone can achieve the maximum potential of their calves (and any other muscle) as long as they are consistent
  5. Utilizing the full range of motion on any calf raise is crucial for providing sufficient stimulus and time under tension
  6. Last but not least, adding sprints to your workouts is perhaps one of the best ways to stimulate the calves and improve lower body explosiveness

So, what are you waiting for? Get raising!

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