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Are Calves REALLY Up to Genetics?

Comparison between average man's calf muscles and bodybuilder's calf muscles to highlight differences in genetics

If there’s one muscle that people seem to make the most excuses around, it’s the calves.

The small muscle group that sits on the back of our lower legs.

The people that do have big calves argue that it comes down to hard work and proper training, whilst the people who lack mass in those areas complain that it’s entirely dependent on your genetics.

These isn't a single other muscle group that gets debated on as much as the calves do.

Given that, which side of the argument is right?

Are the calves really genetic? Or does it simply come down to hard work and smart training?

Here's a brief breakdown of it.

First Things First: Genetics Do Have a Role

I need to get it out of the way first.

Genetics do play a massive role when it comes to your calf muscles.

In fact, they play a massive role in just about any muscle group. They play a massive role in all of bodybuilding.

Whether your genetics are affecting the size of your muscle bellies, the length of your limbs, the muscle-to-tendon ratio or whatnot, genetics are a large determining factor in your success when it comes to the gym.

If you've ever seen some unfortunate people with poor ab genetics, you'll know what I mean.

For example, take a look at the picture down below.

Comparison between the abs of two men to show differences in genetics for bodybuilding

One of the men clearly has more aesthetically pleasing abs. Yes, he is a little bit leaner than the other man. However you can just tell by the shape of the abs themselves that there is a big difference in their ab genetics.

You can't change the shape of your abs, that's determined by genetics. (This idea is supported by lots of sources, such as Healthline).

No matter how lean the man on the right of the image gets, his abs wouldn't look as good as the abs of the guy on the left. That's just the reality of bodybuilding.

That's also why some people will never be able to step on a bodybuilding stage and place well, no matter how hard they train and how well they do everything else.

Somebody who's been training consistently for 3 years could very well look better than someone who's been training consistently for 5 or more years, if the genetics are on their side.

It's harsh, but it's the truth.

Now in terms of the calves, your genetics still are going to play a large part in the way they look.

The way your calves look is heavily dependent on your genetics.

For example, if you're a taller person or naturally have longer legs, this generally means you're going to have to fill up more space on your legs with muscle mass.

Essentially, there's more space to fill up, therefore the muscle mass gets spread out more and is inherently going to look a little bit smaller than someone with shorter legs.

And believe it or not, the rate at which you're able to pack on muscle is actually also determined by your genetics.

Some people will naturally find it easier to put on muscle than others.

And while this would affect your entire body and all your muscle groups, the calves would be impacted as well.

Even if you trained your calves intensely and properly twice a week, there's a possibility that someone else's calves (and all their other muscle groups) would look better than yours, even if they started training later than you.

For example, I know guys that have trained consistently for two years, but don't look as good (and aren't as strong) as people that have trained for half that time.

I know they all train hard, and also take their recovery seriously.

It's simply due to poor genetics.

Your genetics would also have impacts on the size of your calves in many other ways, but you get the idea.

Your genetics do play a HUGE role in determining your success when it comes to bodybuilding, including the calves.

So yes, those that argue the calves are determined by your genetics are somewhat right. Genetics are a key factor in calf size.

So Does This Mean We Shouldn't Train Our Calves?


Not at all.

Just because your genetics play a large part when it comes to the look of your calves, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't train them.

They are still a muscle group, and they can still grow with proper training and intensity.

If you're a guy and you noticed that you had bad biceps, I bet you'd still train them.

I'd bet that if you had poor chest genetics, you'd still train them.

Just because your calves happen to be affected by poor genetics doesn't mean you shouldn't train them.

With proper training and enough patience, your calves can still look alright. Maybe not great like the calves of a professional bodybuilder (who always have elite genetics), but good enough to a point where you don't have to look at them and be disappointed.

Treat them like you treat your favorite muscles.

Train them 2-3 times a week for the most optimal results, and make sure you're getting at least 10 hard working sets for them throughout the week.

That is, sets taken within 3 reps of muscular failure.

And make sure this comes from a combination of both compound and isolation exercises.

Just add one exercise with 3-4 sets to isolate the calves at the end of each of your leg days and you should be fine.

You're definitely not going to see any incredible results over time, but you've just got to stay patient.

All your other amazing muscle groups took months and months, or even years to build them up to where they are now.

The point is, don't treat them any differently!

They're still a muscle group, and they can (and will still) grow if you train for it appropriately.

Fit man doing running workout and building muscle in his calves

Oh, and One More Thing...

Don't ego lift.

When you do your calf isolation exercises, you need to use an appropriate weight that you can actually handle.

And you need to lift with both control and proper technique.

When you do your calf raises (regardless of the kind), you need to use a light weight, and make sure you're lifting through a full range of motion.

You need to ensure that you're going all the way down and feeling a heavy stretch on your calves, but also all the way up until you feel an intense contraction in the muscle.

And DO NOT just bounce up and down.

Purposely go slow on the way down, then press back up forcefully, but still with control.

Lifting like this is going to elicit much more gains and help you see progress far quicker than you would if you trained how most guys do it.

You know when they look like they're hopping up and down?

Don't do that.

To Conclude...

Sadly, yes.

The way your calves look is largely determined by your genetics.

However that doesn't mean that you can't build them up, and that doesn't mean you should use your genetics as an excuse for having calves that you're ashamed of!

Plus, it's the same way with every other muscle group.

Just treat them like any other muscle group you normally would, and make sure that you're taking the time to do your calf training properly.

How do you feel about your calf genetics?

Do you treat calves like every other muscle group?

Let us know down in the comments section below!


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