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The 10 Best Calf Exercises

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The Best Calf Exercises

What are the best calf exercises?

It can be tricky to determine the best calf exercises in a sea of recommendations and workout routines.

If you’re looking to sculpt and train your calf muscles in the gym or at home, you’re in the right place! 

In this post, we’ll be focusing on calf exercises that are tried and true muscle builders.

With sculpted calves, you’ll be able to run faster, jump higher, and train harder. 

The best calf muscle exercises will help you feel confident, ripped, and improve your endurance.

Let’s get into it. Jacked calf muscles, here you come!

 

The Best Calf Exercises

Our exercise lists are created by determining the best exercises for muscle growth, core strength, and overall health and well-being. 

Here’s our list of the 10 best calf exercises:

 

10. Jumping Jacks

Best Calf Exercises - Jumping Jacks

Great for:

An effective cardio exercise and full-body workout.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand with your feet together and your arms at your sides
  2. Jump, and move your legs wider than your shoulders as you clap your hands over your head
  3. Jump again and move your hands and feet back to where you started 
  4. Repeat quickly and for as many reps as you can 

Why:

While jumping jacks aren’t quite as effective for the leg muscles as weights are, they still offer a great toning and strength workout. 

Every muscle in the leg is worked during jumping jacks, along with your arms, glutes, and core muscles.

Exercises for calves don’t have to be complicated — jumping jacks help to prove that.  

When:

Jumping jacks are easy enough on the joints and muscles that they can be completed nearly every day.

Whether they are an exercise in your strength training routine or part of your warm-up, jumping jacks are an essential calf workout.

 

 9. Box Jumps

Best Calf Exercises - Box Jumps

Great for:

Endurance, strength training, and coordination.

How to do it: 

  1. Set up the box a comfortable distance away (that you can jump onto) 
  2. Settle your feet shoulder-width distance apart
  3. Shift into a quarter squat, swing your arms and jump onto the box
  4. Step off the box 
  5. Repeat as desired

Why:

Box jumps improve your body’s stability and coordination through muscle memory. The more box jumps you do, the better your balance and stability will be. 

The magic of box jumps lies in the use of your own body weight to train. You can do them anywhere, as long as you have something steady to jump on. 

Over time, you’ll notice your balance and speed improving. Box jumps aren’t just a great calf workout; they also burn calories through rapid movement and can help prevent leg injuries. 

When:

Perform box jumps as part of your strength training workouts or as a warm-up move.

It’s a good idea to add plyometric exercise in between sets or reps to keep your heart rate up, and box jumps are the perfect addition.

 

8. Bent Knee Calf Raises

Best Calf Exercises - Bent Knee Calf Raises

Great for:

A calf exercise that targets the soleus muscle. 

How to do it: 

  1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your knees bent in a half-squat position
  2. Point your toes forward, flex your calves, and slowly rise onto your toes
  3. Pause and hold for two seconds
  4. Slowly lower yourself back down 
  5. Repeat as desired

Why:

Bending the knee during a calf raise alternates the heavy lifting from the gastrocnemius to the soleus, a smaller muscle in the calf but just as important to strengthen. 

When:

Incorporating the bent knee raise into your calf exercises is a great way to isolate the soleus, which often gets overlooked because it’s the smaller of the two that make up the calf muscle.

Strengthening your calf muscles can be done with consistency, two to three times a week and 8 to 10 reps at a time.

It’s normal to feel soreness after completing calf raises; that means the exercises are working how they should.

 

7. Farmer’s Walk (On Toes)

Best Calf Exercises - Farmer's Walk (On Toes)

Great for:

Grip strength, improved balance, and calf muscle development.

How to do it: 

  1. Use weights anywhere from 15-50% of your body weight
  2. Rise onto your toes and take small steps forward, remaining on the highest point of your toes for every step
  3. As you walk, squeeze your calf muscles 
  4. Add heavier weights and walk slower for a resistance-heavy workout

Why:

The time under tension your calf muscles will experience during the farmer’s walk helps to boost hypertrophy or the increase in muscle mass. 

The farmer’s walk builds strength and improves balance while giving you a serious burner in your legs, core, back, and arms! 

When:

For calf training and conditioning, complete this exercise 1-2 times a week.

After a few weeks of conditioning, add weight or distance to your farmer’s walk for optimal results.

 

6. Single-Leg Calf Raises

Best Calf Exercises - Single-Leg Calf Raises

Great for:

Isolating calf exercise to strengthen both legs evenly.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand on a step with one leg, putting all your weight on the ball of that foot
  2. Wrap your opposite foot around the stationary leg
  3. Slowly move your body downwards, letting your calf muscles stretch
  4. Hold the stretch for 2 seconds, and slowly raise your heel as high as you can
  5. Hold at the top for another two seconds
  6. Repeat as desired

Why:

To add strength to your calves, single-leg calf raises are an ideal choice to add to your leg day routine. 

Because they isolate each calf muscle, single-leg raises require more work and offer a better burn.

The focus with calf raises is on tempo; it’s important to move slowly to properly let the muscles stretch and work on each leg. 

When:

Performing single-leg calf raises can be incorporated into any leg day workout, and we recommend carving out time to sculpt your calves two to three times a week. 

If you’re new to calf exercises, start with two sets of 10 to 12 reps, and add more as you gain strength.

 

5. Elevated Calf Raises

Best Calf Exercises - Elevated Calf Raises

Great for:

Improving ankle strength and stability, aiding with balance.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand on a block or step, with something nearby to hold for balance 
  2. Hold a heavy dumbbell (25 to 30 pounds) in your free hand
  3. Slowly lower your heels down to the floor until you feel your calves stretch
  4. Raise your heels as high as you can, contracting your calves as you go 
  5. Repeat as desired

Why:

Calf workouts with dumbbells turn up the heat on an already intense exercise — you will definitely feel the burn when you add weight! 

Completing this move while standing on something allows your toes to go below your heels, which provides your calves and leg muscles a great stretch. 

When:

To effectively build strength, do standing calf raises two to three times a week with reps from 10 to 15 per set.

 

4. Seated Calf Raises (Leg Press Machine)

Best Calf Exercises - Seated Calf Raises (Leg Press Machine)

Great for:

Isolating the calves one at a time and evening out any muscular imbalance.

How to do it: 

  1. Take a seat at the leg press machine
  2. Rest your toes at the end of the platform 
  3. Slowly push as far back as you can while pressing your feet against the platform
  4. Return to the starting position and press again 
  5. Repeat reps as desired 

Why:

Seated exercises are excellent for isolating the calf muscles and building strength through heavy lifting. 

Calf raises obviously strengthen these muscles, but they can help your legs also achieve a more sculpted look.

They can also improve your running, jumping, and everyday tasks like climbing the stairs.

When:

To build strength more efficiently, you can add heavier weight to the machine itself. Calf raises can be completed during your leg day workouts or during any strength training workout. 

Working the calf muscles on the leg press machine can be done anywhere from three to five days a week. 

Start with a weight that feels comfortable so you can work on your form, and add five to ten pounds as you get stronger. 

 

3. Donkey Calf Raises

Best Calf Exercises - Donkey Calf Raises

Great for:

Improving calf muscle flexibility and strengthening ankle mobility. 

How to do it: 

  1. Secure your hands on the machine or platform you’re using
  2. Bend the hips and place the balls of your feet on the edge of the step 
  3. Lower your heels down as far as you can and pause for three seconds
  4. Slowly lift your heels as far you can (onto your tiptoes), squeezing your calves as you go
  5. Slowly lower back down, and repeat as desired 

Why:

Exercises for calves that offer stretching are essential to building strength in the calf muscles. Because this move also activates the hamstrings, the entire lower body gets a good stretch. 

Sculpted calves can offer protection to your ankles as they prevent stress and strain. Donkey calf raises can be done almost anywhere, so don’t skip them! 

When:

Add donkey calf raises to your leg day routine, anywhere from 2-3 days a week. Try completing three sets of 15 to 20 reps, and gradually increase from there.

 

2. Seated Calf Raises

Best Calf Exercises - Seated Calf Raises

Great for:

Convenient calf workouts with dumbbells. 

How to do it:

  1. Sit on a workout bench and rest your toes on a block (or anything that elevates the feet)
  2. Bend your knees at 90 degrees 
  3. Let your heels move to the floor until you feel a stretch in your calves 
  4. Press the balls of your feet into the block
  5. Raise your heels as high as possible 
  6. For extra resistance, rest a dumbbell on each thigh
  7. Repeat as desired 

Why:

Calf raises not only strengthen your muscles, but they help improve their functionality as well.

Stronger calves help you run faster, climb stairs, jump, and any other physical movement you do during a normal day. 

When:

Beginners should start with dumbbells around 10 to 15 pounds and try to complete two sets of 10.

As your strength builds, you can add heavier weights or try to complete more reps per set. 

Dumbbell calf exercises require little equipment or space and can provide a total lower body workout. That’s what we’re talking about!

 

1. Standing Calf Raises

Best Calf Exercises - Standing Calf Raises

Great for:

Isolating calf muscles and to be completed anywhere.

How to do it:

  1. Stand on the floor with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward
  2. Engage your core, pull your shoulders down, and keep your back straight 
  3. Slowly raise your heels as high as you can 
  4. Pause for 1-2 seconds when you’re up on the tips of your toes
  5. Slowly lower your heels back to the floor, and repeat 

Why:

Easily one of the most convenient exercises on this list, standing calf raises can be completed virtually anywhere.

In the gym, your home gym, in between classes, in your office, at work… Literally anywhere! 

Standing calf raises require the use of the two major muscles on the back of the lower leg; the gastrocnemius and soleus.

These two muscles are essential for running, jumping and help support the ankles.

When:

For a low-impact workout that will leave your legs feeling stretched and challenged, complete standing calf raises during any lower body workout. 

Because speed is more important than rep count, focus primarily on completing these slowly.

That will maximize the effort you put in, along with any weights you add. Reps per set can be anywhere from 10 to 25.

 

FAQs About Calf Exercises

Calf exercises are a dime a dozen, so here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about the best calf exercises you can do at home or in the gym.

 

Q: What do calf exercises do?

The calf muscles pull the heel upwards during physical activity like walking, running, and jumping.

Consistent calf exercises will strengthen your calf muscles, allowing you to run faster, jump higher, and train with more endurance.

 

Q: Why is it important to train calves?

Calf muscle training can prevent a myriad of injuries and strain on tendons and joints, like the Achilles. 

By strengthening your calf muscles, you’re improving the joint stability of the ankles as well.

Athletes looking to run faster, jump higher, and have overall stronger leg muscles for training and competing should incorporate calf training exercises into their fitness routines.

 

Q: What are the benefits of working out your calves?

Working out the calves is essential to maintaining strong leg function, flexibility, and mobility.

Training your calves will improve mobility in your ankles, which helps you walk, run, and jump daily. 

Strong calf muscles can also help prevent injuries in the ankles, leg muscles, and knee joints.

 

Q: Can I train my calves everyday?

We recommend calf training exercises be completed two to three times a week, particularly if you’re a beginner or getting back into shape. 

This frequency helps to prevent injuries or straining to the calves and other leg muscles while building a consistent exercise routine you can commit to.

 

Q: What is the best exercise for calf muscles?

Standing calf raises are the best all-around exercise for calf muscles for a few reasons. 

They provide a great stretch for the lower body, they’re convenient and can be done anywhere, and they focus on building strength and definition in the calves. 

Standing calf raises can also be modified by adding weights — this is one of our favorite calf workouts with dumbbells that help sculpt your calf muscles and build strength.

 

Summary

If you’re on the hunt for the best calf exercises in the game, this list has them all!

Your calves can be worked out during any typical leg day routine, and commitment is essential to achieving the results you’re looking for.

While leg day may get a bad rap from heavy lifters and athletes in and out of the gym, it’s the best way to build strength, prevent injuries, improve mobility and the functionality of your tendons and joints.

Skipping leg day is never recommended — thanks to the list, your calves will carry you through any brutal workout. 

Here’s a quick recap of the 10 best calf exercises:

  1. Standing Calf Raises
  2. Seated Calf Raises
  3. Donkey Calf Raises
  4. Seated Calf Raises (Leg Press Machine)
  5. Elevated Calf Raises
  6. Single-Leg Calf Raises
  7. Farmer’s Walk (On Toes)
  8. Bent Knee Calf Raises
  9. Box Jumps
  10. Jumping Jacks 

What’s your favorite calf exercise? Leave a comment below. 

With almost two decades of lifting experience under his belt, Matt shares his knowledge and expertise with us around bodybuilding and supplementation. Deadlifts and barbell curls are his go-to exercises, and, when he's not writing about health and fitness, you'll find him in the gym busting out some arms! Follow Jacked Gorilla on Instagram: @jackedgorillanews

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