15 Calf Exercises You Need to Try
Some of the funniest fitness memes come from pictures of guys with no calves. You don’t want to be that guy, do you?
Your genetics play a significant role in the muscle makeup and size due to Type 1 and Type 2 muscle fibers — more on that later.
Training your calves means pounding them into the ground with exercise, but there is also an aspect of stretching and mobility that needs to be addressed.
Your calf helps propel you forward or up in explosive movements. So it’s obvious the stronger, the better.
The bad part is, if you have really tight calf muscles, your ankle mobility will be limited and it will increase the likelihood of injuries.
- Shin Splints
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Achilles Tendonitis
So there are two main muscles that we are training when we are doing calf exercises. These are the soleus and the gastrocnemius. When we look at a calf, we are looking mostly at the gastrocnemius. The soleus isn’t outwardly visible — it’s actually deep under the gastrocnemius.
We want to train both muscles, even if we can’t see one of them. The soleus contributes to walking and running endurance, while the gastrocnemius contributes to explosive speed and power, acceleration, and jumping.
The soleus has a very high density of Type 1 slow twitch muscle fibers. These muscle fibers have a high resistance to fatigue and have slower contraction times. Less fatigue is handy since we have to walk around.
Do you know someone who has some decent calves and they don’t train them regularly? I’m one of those people.
Your genetics play a role in how your calves develop. This is due to the Type 1 and Type 2 muscle fiber allocation. Type 1 muscle fibers have a lower growth potential than Type 2. You can essentially have a genetic predisposition to Type 2 fibers, which means you can have more growth potential than someone who is more Type 1 dominant.
Note I said potential.
If you weren’t born with the naturally thick calves that cause the worst cramps in the middle of the night, don’t fret. Just because your genes haven’t graced you with “I can’t wear long socks because it cuts off my circulation” calves, it doesn’t mean you can’t grow them.
All you have to do is start executing a better workout routine, diet, and recovery plan that will help you grow more athletic and aesthetic calves.
So if you’re tired of those twigs or you are looking to develop a significant athletic advantage, here are 15 calf exercises you need to try.
15 Calf Exercises You Need to Try
Here are 15 different exercises you can add into your existing routine or pick 4 exercises from the list and go train calves now.
#1 - Standing Calf Raise
The standing calf raise is a tried and true exercise that gives a great stretch and trains the gastrocnemius in a full range of motion.
You can do these with or without weights — only use weights once bodyweight is too easy.
Try two to three sets of 15-20 reps.
#2 - Seated Calf Raise
Another solid exercise, the seated calf raise is great for isolating your soleus.
Try pointing your toes in and out to train a different angle.
Perform three to four sets of 20 reps.
#3 - Jump Squats
A fun plyometric exercise, jump squats use your calves to produce force and they will stabilize your body on landing.
The trick here is to forcefully jump as high as you can — ensuring to use your calves to launch off of the ground. This is supposed to be an explosive movement with all-out intensity every jump.
If you’re looking to get more explosive running strength or anything athletic, this is a solid exercise.
Perform two sets of 10 jump squats. You can hold a dumbbell in each hand to add more resistance.
#4 - Jump Rope
Who knew when we jumped rope as a kid that we were training our calves? This is great for endurance, improves overall coordination, and it’s actually a pretty great cardiovascular exercise.
Get a nice jump rope and get to spinnin’.
#5 - Farmer’s Walk on Toes
If walking around on the balls of our feet wasn’t hard enough, why not add dumbbells to the equation?
If you can make it through the exercise without falling over or feeling like an idiot, it’s actually a great exercise for your core, calves, traps and grip strength.
#6 - Standing Wall Calf Stretch
Your calves are worked every time we stand or walk. Even if you’re lazy like me, that’s still a lot of time.
Since your calves work all of the time, they get stronger. Since strong muscles are tight, they need some stretching.
This exercise will target the gastrocnemius and will also improve your ankle flexibility. This is also a great stretch for the plantar fascia and it can help relieve tension in your Achilles tendon.
Walk up to a wall and put one foot forward so that your heel is on the ground and the ball of your foot is against a wall. Gently straighten your leg and lean forward until you feel a good stretch in your calf.
Don’t feel bad if you do not have any mobility — over time it will improve.
#7 - Straight Leg Calf Stretch Against Wall
If your ankle flexibility is lacking, this stretch can improve your ankle flexibility along with getting a great stretch on the gastrocnemius.
Simply stand an arms-length from a wall, step one foot back and slightly bend your front knee. Press your heel into the ground as you press your hands into the wall to get a better stretch.
#8 - Hole Calf Raise
If you actually squat, you know what the “hole” is. This is the bottom of the squat position — it’d similar to pausing the bar on your chest in a bench press.
So get into a squat stance, get into the hole of the squat, and perform calf raises. You can add more range of motion by using a plate or piece of wood.
You aren’t trying to stand up — hold onto something for balance if needed.
Do three sets of 15 reps.
#9 - Jumping Jacks
Jumping jacks will train for explosiveness, stability, and will give your heart a workout. Do as many as you can all of the time.
Seriously, if you need a number, do three sets of 20 reps.
#10 - Seal Jumps
Another great cardio workout, seal jumps are jumping jacks, except you extend your arms out to your side and bring them in front of the body on the clap.
Again, try three sets of 20 reps.
#11 - Ankle Mobilization
This is similar to a standing wall calf stretch, this time you can use a plate or piece of wood to elevate your foot.
#12 - Single-Leg Calf Raise
Single-leg calf raises are a great variation due to more resistance being placed on the muscle.
Since you are using one leg to do the work that two normally do, you can train your calves harder without any weights.
Perform three sets of 15 reps.
#13 - Jumping Calf Raise
Stand tall and jump with just your calves — no posterior chain at all. Land softly and bend at the knees to absorb the impact.
Make these explosive and jump as high as possible while keeping your legs straight.
#14 - Tiptoe Walk
You’re going to walk around on the balls of your feet.
Don’t let your heels touch and doing these barefoot will provide greater muscle activation.
#15 - Agility Ladder
If you’re looking for something fun to train your calves, the agility ladder may be your answer.
If you don’t have an agility ladder, you can create lines with tape or chalk — kind of like hopscotch. One rep is one run down the ladder.
How many can you do?