The Only 2 Calf Exercises You Need

Build Bigger, Stronger Calves With Just Two Movements

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: March 14, 2024

If you’ve ever tried to grow your calves, you know they don’t respond as quickly to training as other muscles. I had stubborn calves, too, but I was finally able to build bigger calves once I discovered how to incorporate specific calf exercises into my workout routine.

Surprisingly, you can build strong calves with only two calf exercises: standing and seated calf raises. Each exercise has several variations you can do at home or at the gym. So strap in and get ready to turn your calves into cows!

Best Calf Exercises

Why Strong Calves Matter

Strong calves are crucial for maintaining balance and stability during various physical activities such as running, jumping, and even walking. They also play a significant role in enhancing athletic performance, providing the necessary explosive power for speed and agility.

Additionally, well-developed calves contribute to creating a proportionate and aesthetically pleasing physique. They complement your lower body and add to the overall look of a powerful athlete.

Building muscular calves is not only beneficial for your physical performance but also for your appearance, making it a worthwhile investment in your fitness routine.

Related: Average Calf Size for Men & Women

Best Calf Exercises

My calf pump after focused calf training. @jeremyfoxfitness

Best Calf Exercises for Strength & Size

If you want stronger and bigger calves, incorporating calf exercises into your workout routine is a must. Here are the best calf exercises that can help you achieve your goals:

  1. Standing Calf Raise: This exercise targets the gastrocnemius muscle, which is the upper calf muscle. Doing calf raises with your legs relatively straight is a great way to add size and thickness to the back of your lower leg.
  2. Seated Calf Raise: This is another effective exercise that targets the soleus muscle, which lies underneath the gastrocnemius and runs from your Achilles tendon to the back of your knee. Doing calf raises with your legs bent helps strengthen the soleus muscle.
Calf Exercises Muscles Worked

Performing Calf Exercises

Proper execution of the calf raise exercises is essential for building bigger, stronger calves. Here is a step-by-step guide and a short video on how to perform each variation.

How to do Standing Calf Raises

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointing forward.
  2. Place the balls of your feet firmly on the edge of a sturdy platform or a calf raise block. Your heels should hang off the edge, allowing for a full range of motion.
  3. You can do this exercise with your body weight alone, by holding weights, or by using a standing calf raise machine for added resistance.
  4. Slowly lift your heels as high as possible by pushing through the balls of your feet. Focus on contracting your calf muscles as you lift.
  5. Pause briefly at the top of the movement and squeeze your calf muscles to maximize the contraction.
  6. Slowly lower your heels to the starting position, allowing your calves to stretch. Maintain control throughout the movement, avoiding any sudden drops.
  7. Perform the desired number of repetitions. A typical set ranges from 10 to 15 reps, but you can adjust based on your fitness level and goals.

For safety, I recommend testing the stability of your calf raise platform before use. Also, use safety stops where possible on machines or power racks.

How to do Seated Calf Raises

  1. Sit on a bench with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward, and knees bent 90-degrees.
  2. Place the balls of your feet firmly on the edge of a sturdy platform or a calf raise block. Your heels should hang off the edge, allowing for a full range of motion.
  3. You can do this exercise with your body weight alone, with weights on your thighs, or using a seated calf raise machine for added resistance.
  4. Slowly lift your heels as high as possible by pushing through the balls of your feet. Focus on contracting your calf muscles as you lift.
  5. Pause briefly at the top of the movement and squeeze your calf muscles to maximize the contraction.
  6. Slowly lower your heels to the starting position, allowing your calves to stretch. Maintain control throughout the movement, avoiding any sudden drops.
  7. Perform the desired number of repetitions. A typical set ranges from 10 to 15 reps, but you can adjust based on your fitness level and goals.

For injury prevention, it’s essential to maintain proper form when performing calf raises. Keep your movements slow and controlled, and avoid bouncing or jerking your legs.

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Calf Exercises At Home or The Gym

There are plenty of variations of standing and seated calf exercises you can do both at home and at the gym. Here are a few variations of the calf raise exercise that can be done with minimal equipment or with machines.

Standing Calf Exercise Variations

  • Bodyweight calf raises: Performing calf raises with just your body weight is a great way for beginners to become familiar with the exercise. Even advanced trainers can use this as a burnout to exhaust those final calf muscle fibers.
  • Single-leg calf raises: When bodyweight calf raises get too easy, you can try the single-leg calf raise. Placing all your weight on one foot effectively doubles the resistance. This unilateral movement is also excellent for working on imbalances and improving balance.
  • Dumbbell standing calf raises: You can add resistance to the single or double-leg standing calf raise by holding a dumbbell in one or both hands. You could also add resistance by placing a weight plate on your lap. This is a great exercise and a natural progression from the body weight variation.
  • Barbell standing calf raises: When you’re ready to use heavy weights, placing a barbell across your shoulders is a good way to add lots of resistance. Remember that barbell calf raises require more balance as your center of gravity is shifted higher.
  • Smith machine calf raises: If your gym has a Smith machine, you can use it to replicate barbell standing calf raises. What I love about the Smith machine calf raise is that you don’t have to worry about balancing, so you can focus on squeezing your calves.
  • Machine standing calf raises: Many gyms also have a dedicated machine for standing calf raises. This equipment is an excellent choice for any skill level and works especially well for drop sets.
  • Leg press calf raises: You can also do calf raises on the leg press. Even though you’re in a seated position, this exercise is more like a standing calf raise because your legs are straight. I like the leg press machine because it gives you more options for foot placement to target the medial head or lateral head of the gastrocnemius.
  • Donkey calf raises: Donkey calf raises are like a bent-over standing calf raise. This position results in a greater stretch at the bottom of the calf raise. You can do donkey calf raises with a dip belt or on the Smith machine.

Seated Calf Exercise Variations

  • Resistance band seated calf raises: Placing a resistance band under your feet and wrapping it over your thighs is an excellent way to make seated calf raises more challenging.
  • Dumbbell seated calf raises: You can also add resistance to the seated calf raise by holding a dumbbell in each hand. Place one end of the dumbbell on your thigh, just above your knee, with your palms facing in. Holding a weight plate on your lap is another alternative.
  • Barbell seated calf raises: Holding a barbell across your thighs is a viable option for even more resistance. However, it would be best to use a barbell pad or towel to cushion your legs.
  • Machine seated calf raises: Many gyms have a cantilever-style seated calf raise machine that uses weight plates or a weight stack for resistance. The seated calf raise machine is an excellent option if you have access to one.
calf exercises for bigger calves

7 Calf Building Tips

If you want to build bigger and stronger calves, you need to find ways to make them work harder than they’re used to. Here are some tips to help you do just that:

  1. Add training volume/frequency: A lack of calf training is the most likely reason for weak or small calves. The solution is simple: train your calves more. You can accomplish this by adding more sets to your workouts or training calves more frequently. Either way, aim for at least 10 sets of calf exercises every week.
  2. Increase resistance: Your calf muscles are used to carrying your body weight around every day. And once you start adding resistance, they will get stronger pretty quickly. So make sure you’re using heavy enough weights to stimulate new calf size and strength gains.
  3. Implement progressive overload: Progressive overload is a way of continuously increasing the demands placed on a muscle. In calf training, this means adding more weight, reps or sets each week to ensure continuous progress.
  4. Lift slowly: One of the biggest mistakes I see in calf training is bouncing or using momentum on calf exercises. This takes much of the tension off the calves and won’t get the best results. It’s better to control the weight all the way up and all the way down.
  5. Use a full range of motion: Going all the way down is another key point for optimal calf training. You should feel a good stretch in your calf at the bottom. Likewise, lift your heels as high as you can at the top to get a deeper contraction.
  6. Incorporate drop sets: A drop set is where you complete your set, then immediately reduce the weight and perform additional reps. This technique is a great way to increase workout intensity and shock your calves into new gains.
  7. Try blood flow restriction: This is an advanced training concept that involves using bands to restrict blood flow to the working muscle. Studies suggest it could result in greater recruitment of the fast twitch muscle fibers responsible for growth.

By incorporating these tips into your calf workouts, you’ll be on your way to building bigger and stronger calves.

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By |March 14, 2024|Workouts|Comments Off on Only 2 Calf Exercises You Need to Grow Stubborn Calves
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