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The 5 Best Calf Exercises

Published March 19, 2019
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

the-5-best-calf-exercises
<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context":"http://schema.org", "@type":"BlogPosting", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Ben Kissam, BS" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Warrior Made", "logo": { "@type": "ImageObject", "url": "https://www.warriormade.com", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/03/strong-calf-exercises-5-best.jpg" } }, "headline":"The 5 Best Calf Exercises", "datePublished":"2019-03-19", "dateModified": "2019-10-03", "description":"Strong, toned calves require two things: a good diet and muscle-building exercises. Here are the five best calf exercises for toning your lower legs.", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/03/strong-calf-exercises-5-best.jpg" } </script> <script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "https://schema.org", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": [{ "@type": "Question", "name": "Where Is Your Calf Muscle?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Just like other big muscle groups in your legs (the glutes and hamstrings, for example), what we call our ‘calf muscle’ is actually two muscles that work together: the gastrocnemius and the soleus.<br />The gastrocnemius (just call it the ‘gastroc’) is the large one you’re probably calling your calf. The soleus is underneath the gastroc.<br />When you walk, run, or jump, the calf muscles pull your feet up which allows forward motion." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "Why Do I Need Strong Calf Muscles?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Strong calf muscles make it easier to climb stairs, go for walks, and do other leg exercises like squats. When your calf muscles are strong, you’ll find it easier to walk up hills or travel long distances by foot.<br />Exercises that strengthen your calf muscles also protect the smaller tendons and ligaments in your feet and ankles. Weak calf muscles lead to muscle strains, pulled muscles, injuries to your feet, and even muscle tears, all of which make walking incredibly difficult." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "How to Get Lean Calves", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Strong, lean calf muscles look great. You’re not alone if your goal is to tone your lower leg muscles. But let’s remember something important about toning: it mostly comes down to diet.<br />Just like how abs are made in the kitchen, so too are your calves. Your whole body, really. You might have super-strong calf muscles, but without a relatively low body-fat percentage, they won’t have that toned, lean appearance.<br />But as we’ve talked about before, adding lean muscle anywhere on your body is a long-term investment for fat loss. When you have more lean muscle on your calves (or anywhere else), you burn more calories at rest (doing nothing), which makes it much easier to shed unwanted pounds.<br />It’s kind of like a snowball effect. If you want toned calves, the easiest way is to eat healthy and incorporate exercises (and food) that add lean muscle to your frame." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "Can You Train Calves Every Day?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "You probably can, but we don’t recommend training calves every day. Here’s something you should understand about exercise: you don’t get stronger from doing workouts.<br />Wait, what? It’s true. Your body doesn’t get stronger from the workout-it gets strong recovering from workouts. Whether it’s your calf muscles, glutes, abs, or upper body muscles, recovery is the key. Your goal is to do challenging workouts that force your body to get stronger. Then, give your body time to recover so it actually can adapt and get stronger. <br />Plus, most people want to exercise every day because they think that’s what’s needed for weight loss. But that’s also not true. Plenty of people have transformed their body with three to four simple at-home workouts and a good diet." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "How Do I Increase My Calf Size?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Your calf muscles are stubborn. They’ve adapted over thousands of years to climb hills, hike long distances, and distribute weight between the knee and ankle. Your calf is your base of support. You’ll need to work hard to get strong, calf muscles.<br />There’s an old saying in strength training-time under tension. This simply means that you get stronger by spending a lot of time working the muscle group you wish to strengthen. Longer sets of calf muscle exercises will help tone your calves more than short, heavy sets. You might also consider using high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routines like Tabata to do a lot of repetitions in a short period of time.<br />Short answer: defined calves require lots of strength training. Start wherever your fitness level is and progress slowly. You’ll see results if you are consistent." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "What are the Best Calves Exercises?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Here are the 5 best calf workouts you can do right at home with no weights. 1. Walking <br />2. Step Jacks <br />3. Mountain Climbers <br />4. Stair Climbs <br />5. Seated Calf Raises" } }] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">Where Is Your Calf Muscle?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">Why Do I Need Strong Calf Muscles?</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">How to Get Lean Calves</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">Can You Train Calves Every Day?</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">How Do I Increase My Calf Size?</a></li> <li><a href="#section6">What are the Best Calves Exercises?</a></li> <li><a href="#section7">Wrapping Up</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>Connecting the knee to the foot and ankle, our calves have adapted over thousands of years to be awesome at walking, climbing, and lifting. The calves are stubborn muscles and it can be difficult to make them look the way we want them to.</p> <p>Still, we see people every day with nice-looking lower legs. The key is two-fold: the right calf exercises plus a good diet. Adding lean muscle and lowering body fat are the key to nice-looking calves, no matter how stubborn they are.</p> <p>This article will teach you why strong calves are important, then give you the five best exercises to tone and strengthen your lower legs. </p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calf-muscles-diagram-5-best.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calf-muscles-diagram-5-best.jpf" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calf-muscles-diagram-5-best.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calf-muscles-diagram-5-best-LR.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="calf-muscles-diagram"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <h2>Where Is Your Calf Muscle?</h2> <p>Just like other big muscle groups in your legs (the <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/glutes-101-best-exercises-for-your-gluteus-maximus/" rel="noreferrer">glutes</a> and <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/the-3-best-hamstring-workouts/" rel="noreferrer">hamstrings</a>, for example), what we call our ‘calf muscle’ is actually two muscles that work together: the <i>gastrocnemius</i> and the <i>soleus</i>.</p> <p>The gastrocnemius (just call it the ‘gastroc’) is the large one you’re probably calling your calf. The soleus is underneath the gastroc<sup>1</sup>. </p> <p>When you walk, run, or jump, the calf muscles pull your feet up which allows forward motion.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <h2>Why Do I Need Strong Calf Muscles?</h2> <p>Strong calf muscles make it easier to climb stairs, go for walks, and do other leg exercises like squats. When your calf muscles are strong, you’ll find it easier to walk up hills or travel long distances by foot. </p> <p>Exercises that strengthen your calf muscles also protect the smaller tendons and ligaments in your feet and ankles. Weak calf muscles lead to muscle strains, pulled muscles, injuries to your feet, and even muscle tears, all of which make walking incredibly difficult.<sup>2</sup></p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section3"> <h2>How to Get Lean Calves</h2> <p>Strong, lean calf muscles look great. You’re not alone if your goal is to tone your lower leg muscles. But let’s remember something important about toning: it mostly comes down to diet<sup>3</sup>. </p> <p>Just like how abs are made in the kitchen, so too are your calves. Your whole body, really. You might have super-strong calf muscles, but without a relatively low body-fat percentage, they won’t have that toned, lean appearance.</p> <p>But as we’ve talked about before, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/top-7-post-workout-foods-for-lean-muscle/" rel="noreferrer">adding lean muscle</a> anywhere on your body is a long-term <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/the-best-full-body-workout-for-weight-loss/" rel="noreferrer">investment for fat loss</a>. When you have more lean muscle on your calves (or anywhere else), you burn more calories at rest (doing nothing), which makes it much easier to shed unwanted pounds.</p> <p>It’s kind of like a snowball effect. If you want toned calves, the easiest way is to eat healthy and incorporate exercises (and food) that add lean muscle to your frame.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section4"> <h2>Can You Train Calves Every Day?</h2> <p>You probably can, but we don’t recommend training calves every day. Here’s something you should understand about exercise: you don’t get stronger from doing workouts. </p> <p><i>Wait, what?</i> It’s true. Your body doesn’t get stronger from the workout-it gets strong <i>recovering</i> from workouts.<sup>4</sup> Whether it’s your calf muscles, glutes, abs, or upper body muscles, recovery is the key. Your goal is to do challenging workouts that force your body to get stronger. Then, give your body time to recover so it actually <i>can</i> adapt and get stronger.</p> <p>Plus, most people want to exercise every day because they think that’s what’s needed for weight loss. But that’s also not true. Plenty of people have <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/" rel="noreferrer">transformed their body</a> with three to four simple at-home workouts and a good <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-101-a-beginners-guide/" rel="noreferrer">diet</a>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section5"> <h2>How Do I Increase My Calf Size?</h2> <p>Your calf muscles are stubborn. They’ve adapted over thousands of years to climb hills, hike long distances, and distribute weight between the knee and ankle. Your calf is your base of support. You’ll need to work hard to get strong, calf muscles.</p> <p>There’s an old saying in strength training-<i>time under tension</i>. This simply means that you get stronger by spending a lot of time working the muscle group you wish to strengthen. Longer sets of calf muscle exercises will help tone your calves more than short, heavy sets. You might also consider using <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/what-is-functional-training-and-can-it-benefit-you/" rel="noreferrer">high-intensity interval training</a> (HIIT) routines like Tabata to do a lot of repetitions in a short period of time.</p> <p>Short answer: defined calves require lots of strength training. Start wherever your fitness level is and progress slowly. You’ll see results if you are consistent.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section6"> <h2>What are the Best Calves Exercises?</h2> <p>Here are the 5 best calf workouts you can do right at home with no weights.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/walking-calf-exercise-5-best.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/walking-calf-exercise-5-best.jpf" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/walking-calf-exercise-5-best.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/walking-calf-exercise-5-best-LR.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="walking-calf-exercise"> </picture> <h3>1. Walking</h3> <p>If you’ve been around Warrior Made, you know how much we love walking. In fact, we have an article covering ten reasons why <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/10-reasons-why-walking-is-the-best-exercise/" rel="noreferrer">walking is the best exercise</a> you can do. </p> <p>As far as exercises go, walking is by far the most underrated. You can burn fat, recover from workouts, prevent disease, not tax yourself as you adjust to lifestyle changes with a few walks per week―and, you know, tone those calves.</p> <p>And we always throw this ‘pro tip’ out when we talk about walking. Give <i>earthing</i> a shot, too. This means walking with no shoes or barrier between your feet and the earth. The idea behind earthing is that electrons in the soil offer your body physiological benefits<sup>5</sup>.</p> <p>Plus, barefoot walking is sure to give your calves an even better workout.</p> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5"> <video class="d-block mx-auto" autoplay loop muted> <source src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/Assets/media/exercises/beginner/STEP-JACKS.webm" type="video/webm"> <source src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/Assets/media/exercises/beginner/STEP-JACKS.mp4" type="video/mp4"> </video> </div> </div> <h3>2. Step Jacks</h3> <p>Step jacks are a great exercise because they are versatile. They improve your fitness and also strengthen lower body muscles. Plus, they are a low-impact beginner exercise that can be progressed later.</p> <p>To do a step jack, start with your feet together. Step laterally, pushing off your toes as you move sideways. Try and <a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERTKmxgXz-4&t=1s" rel="noreferrer">feel your glutes</a>. At the same time, your hands move laterally and above your head like a jumping jack. Step to the other side. Find a cadence with your step jacks and do either a set or as many as you can in an allotted amount of time.</p> <p>For an added calf workout, find something like a small book to step up to on each side (pick something sturdy please-no injuries!). A small step up will force your calves to work a little bit harder each step.</p> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5"> <video class="d-block mx-auto" autoplay loop muted> <source src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/Assets/media/exercises/beginner/MOUNTAIN-CLIMBERS.webm" type="video/webm"> <source src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/Assets/media/exercises/beginner/MOUNTAIN-CLIMBERS.mp4" type="video/mp4"> </video> </div> </div> <h3>3. Mountain Climbers</h3> <p>Earlier we talked about how time under tension can help you tone and strengthen your calf muscles. Mountain climbers are a great way to force both muscles in your calves to work hard.</p> <p>Start in a push-up position. Activate your shoulders by placing your hands firmly into the ground underneath your shoulders. Try and drag your hands to your feet (they shouldn’t move but try anyway). This will activate your back and shoulder muscles.</p> <p>In this position, bring your right knee to your right elbow (or a target as close as possible). Return that foot to where you started, then bring the left side forward. Remember to keep the push-up position and avoid sagging your hips or moving into downward dog (where your body looks like an upside down ‘V’).</p> <p>To make these more of a strengthening exercise, we’ll tweak them slightly. Instead of going for maximum repetitions, do each step on a three count, really pushing off the floor hard. This will target your calves and also give your abs and shoulders a workout, too.</p> <p>For the cardio version of mountain climbers, check out <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/7-low-impact-cardio-exercises/" rel="noreferrer">this article</a>.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/stairs-calves-exercise-5-best.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/stairs-calves-exercise-5-best.jpf" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/stairs-calves-exercise-5-best.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/stairs-calves-exercise-5-best-LR.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="stairs-calves-exercise"> </picture> <h3>4. Stair Climbs</h3> <p>One set of stairs makes for a good calf workout. Walking up stairs is not only good for your lower body muscles, but great a cardio exercise and calorie burner.</p> <p>To emphasize your calves, follow the same idea as described with mountain climbers. Slow down a bit and drive hard as you step. Let your calf temporarily lengthen, then step through your toes to feel the weight distribute through your gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calf-raise-exercise-0111.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calf-raise-exercise-0111.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calf-raise-exercise-0111.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calf-raise-exercise-LR-0111.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="calf-raise-exercise"> </picture> <h3>5. Seated Calf Raises</h3> <p>Maybe you’re in your living room and want to workout <a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlKeb8NzZBk" rel="noreferrer">in between commercials</a>. Here’s a calf exercise you can do from the couch: seated calf raises.</p> <p>Start sitting upright with good posture and your feet on the ground in front of you. Place your hands on your knees. To do a calf raise, simply push through your toes and elevate your heels off the ground, raising your knees about two or three inches. Hold at the top for one second, then go back down. </p> <p>Holding at the top will activate your calf muscle and make them work harder. If your goal is toned muscles, be diligent about the pause at the top.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section7"> <h2>Wrapping Up</h2> <p>Strong calf muscles help you walk, go up stairs, and prepare your lower body for full-body exercises like squats. The key is to target your calves with effective exercises and eat a clean diet so your results show. Whether your goal is to add lean muscle or tone your lower legs, the exercises in this article will help you get there. </p> <p>Also, remember that toning also requires the right <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/" rel="noreferrer">diet</a>. If you have muscle but a lot of extra body fat, no one will see the muscles you’ve worked hard for. <p>For more at-home workouts, check out the <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/" rel="noreferrer">exercise section</a> of our blog and our <a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZjFDJI4B4l16uujibduMFA/videos" rel="noreferrer">YouTube page</a>.</p> <h3>Resources</h3> <ol> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/picture-of-the-calf-muscle#1" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Picture of the Calf Muscle</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://onsmd.com/treatment/gastrocnemius-lengthening-recession/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Gastrocnemius Lengthening (Recession)</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/diet-vs-exercise-the-truth-about-weight-loss" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Diet vs. Exercise: The Truth About Weight Loss</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/recoveryUNM.html" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Recovery in Training: The Essential Ingredient</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/10-reasons-why-walking-is-the-best-exercise/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">10 Reasons Why Walking Is The Best Exercise</a></li> </ol> </section> </article>

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