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Incorporating the best calf exercises in your lower leg workout and ensuring you give them enough attention during your training can help you build strong and healthy calves.
Your calf muscles ensure the proper functioning of your ankle joints and your feet, including your toes. Walking, jumping, and running are daily activities that rely on well-functioning calves.
Including some of the best calf exercises in your workout regimen can help strengthen the muscles, help improve mobility, and help reduce injury to your lower body.
Athletes and sports personnel with well-built calves can help them develop power and explosiveness and help them excel.
Best Calf Exercises for Well-Formed Legs
Below are some of the best calf exercises that help build strong legs.
The best calf exercises may not help you grow your calves unless you give them serious attention in your lower leg workouts. And many exercisers don’t do that.
Incorporate these into your lower leg exercises and give them serious attention to help grow your calf muscles.
Standing Barbell Calf Raise
The standing barbell calf raise is one of the best calf exercises that targets and strengthens the two main calf muscles, the gastrocnemius (the large posterior calf muscle) and soleus (a calf muscle that attaches the Achilles tendon at the heel).
Calf raises can boost your balance and stability, reduce the risk of injury to the ankle and foot, and boost agility when jumping and running.
Using a barbell or any other weight when doing calf raises forces the calves to work harder to give you better results.
Steps to follow
- Place a barbell across the muscles of your shoulders, ensuring your grips on the barbell are greater than shoulder width. Ensure the bar is not across the back of your neck.
- Lean forward slightly, ensuring your body stays straight, and look ahead.
- Raise your heels as high as possible off the floor in a slow and controlled manner.
- Pause and slowly lower your heels to your starting position
- Repeat 8-12 reps for a set and 3-4 sets per session
Box jumps are some of the best calf exercises for boosting and building explosive power.
Box jumps work your calves and other lower-body muscles, such as the hamstrings, glutes, and quads.
They are some of the best calf exercises that build lower body strength and boost athletism and vertical jump height.
You will need a plyo box or any elevated platform like a sturdy bench or chair for the exercise.
The exercise involves jumping and landing on a box or an elevated platform.
Start with a box at a low height and build on from there if you are a novice.
Aim for 8-12 jumps for a set and 3-4 sets in a session
Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise
The seated dumbbell calf raise is an excellent alternative for those without access to a seated calf raise machine.
Placing weights on your knees increases the resistance and forces your calves to work harder to speed up the results.
They are some of the best calf exercises for isolating and building muscular calves.
Steps to follow
- Place a weight plate or a block at one end of a flat weight bench.
- Grab a dumbbell of appropriate weight and sit at the end of the weight bench.
- Place the end of each dumbbell on your thigh, and
- Place the balls of each foot on the edge of the weight plate.
- Allow your heels to drop as far as possible, but not to the floor.
- Raise your heels slowly as far as possible
- Pause, squeeze your calves, and lower your heels slower to their starting position
- Repeat 8-12 reps per set and 3-5 set in a session.
Standing One-Leg Calf Raise With Dumbbell
The Standing One-Leg Calf Raise is one of the best calf exercises at home without machines for strengthening the legs.
It doesn’t require you to use any equipment, but holding a dumbbell while doing the movement increases the resistance and speeds up the results.
Using one leg at a time allows you to emphasize any weak muscles to help build a balanced body.
Steps to follow
- Grab a dumbbell in your left hand, and
- Put the balls of your feet at the edge of a raised platform or step.
- Next, hook your left foot behind the right leg and let your right heel drop as low as possible without touching the floor.
- Look straight ahead and keep your body straight.
- Slowly raise your right heel as high as possible, pause, and squeeze the calf muscle.
- Lower the right heel slowly to its starting position
- Repeat 8-12 reps. Change legs and go through the process with the left leg.
- Aim for 8-12 regs per leg for a set and 3-4 sets to complete a session
Smith Machine Calf Raise
The Smith Machine Calf Raises are excellent for those who don’t have access to a standing calf machine.
They are some of the best calf exercises for targeting the upper calf or gastrocnemius muscle.
A Smith machine for the exercises makes it possible to load more weight than with a barbell.
You will need a Smith Machine for the exercise.
Steps to follow
- Set the bar to about shoulder height and the weight to a comfortable level.
- Place a calf block, step, or weight plate under the Smith machine.
- Step up and position the balls of your feet on the edge of the weight plate.
- With a wide grip, place the smith bar on top of your back muscles. Ensure the bar is not on your neck
- Lift your heels as far as you can in a slow and controlled manner
- Squeeze your calf muscles and slowly return your heels to your starting position.
- Repeat 8-12 reps per set and 3-4 set in a session.
Jumping ropes are some of the best calf exercises for conditioning your entire body. The repetitive movements effectively work the slow-twitch muscle fibers to help build and strengthen the calve muscles.
Aside from being one of the best calf muscle exercises at home, jumping ropes can help burn calories, help boost your fitness levels, and help build speed and stamina.
You can do 30-90 seconds of jumping ropes between other sets of exercises to help strengthen your lower and upper body muscles and for a whole-body workout.
Steps to follow
- Hold the ends of the jump rope in each hand.
- Position the rope behind your heels and the handles by your sides.
- Swing the rope up and around your body by rotating your wrist
- Jump with both feet before the jump rope gets to your feet, and allow it to pass under your feet. Ensure you land softly.
- Continue the swinging and jumping motions for 60-90 seconds.
Farmer’s Walk On Toes
The exercise combines the farmer’s walk with calf raises while holding a dumbbell in each hand.
The farmer’s walk on toes is one of the best calf exercises for mass. The exercise can help increase endurance and strength in the legs, especially the calves and the forearms.
The exercise can also boost cardiovascular fitness and core strength.
Steps to follow
- Stand upright, holding a pair of dumbbells by your sides with arms fully extended.
- Raise your heels and stand on the balls of your feet. Keep your body straight.
- Walk forward, without your heel touching the floor, for about 30 seconds. Ensure you walk in a controlled manner.
- Turn round, and walk back to your starting position on your toes.
- Aim to walk on your toes for a minimum of 30 feet each time.
Jumping lunges, like other plyometrics, can help build strength and explosive power.
The exercise combines a jump with a lunge to help target and work your calves and other muscles, including the hamstrings, quads, glutes, and hip flexors.
Jump lunges are some of the best calf exercises that help burn calories and boost cardiovascular health.
Steps to follow
Squat Jumps are some of the best calf exercises for building power and agility. They can also help improve your vertical jump height, balance, and agility.
Athletes and sports personnel looking for ways to improve their sprinting capabilities and develop explosive power often includes jump squats in their training regimen.
Aside from your calves, squat jumps can target and work your core, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
Final words from LiveLIfe
Exercise can help you to build your calves, but many exercisers struggle to achieve that goal, even with some of the best calf exercises. That is because, compared to other muscles, calf muscles contain a high percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers.
Thus calf exercises should form an integral part of any workout regimen. Training your calves for at least three days a week by doing some of the best calf exercises and ensuring you feel the burn in your muscles as you exercise can help you achieve your goals.
- Ryoichi Ema, Shunsuke Ohki, Hirokazu Takayama, Yuji Kobayashi, and Ryota Akagi. 2017. Effect of calf-raise training on rapid force production and balance ability in elderly men. Journal of Applied Physiology. Volume 123.2. p.424-433
- T. J. Barstow, S. D. Buchthal, S. Zanconato, and D. M. Cooper. 1985. Changes in potential controllers of human skeletal muscle respiration during incremental calf exercise. PMID: 7868430 DOI: 10.1152/jappl.19188.8.131.529
- Andre HI, Carnide F, Moco A, et al. Can the calf-raise senior test predict functional fitness in elderly people? A validation study using electromyography, kinematics and strength tests. Physical Therapy in Sport. 2018;32:252-9. doi:10.1016/j.ptsp.2018.05.012