July 12, 2021 10 min read

You’ve perfectly balanced your chest and back. Your biceps and triceps have been carefully molded into the deepest valleys and the most solid peaks in the gym.

Your neck is yolked, and your thighs can crush a watermelon. Hopefully your calves have kept up. If you’ve put all of that effort into building the perfect body and then it tapers off into weak calf muscles, then what are you doing?

Calf exercises are great because they don’t require a lot of equipment, and the payoff is beyond compare. 

Medical illustration of the calf muscle

Calf Corral

Your calves aren’t a very complicated muscle group. When you think about it, they’re a lot like your biceps. The key difference here is mostly the size and location.

If you’re smart about keeping your legs limber and your knees in line during your workouts, you’re probably never going to run into some of the more common problems our calves are, unfortunately, designed to run into.

The human body is incredible, but sometimes it’s too complex for its own good. It takes a lot of knowledge to avoid injury when you’re working out regularly, especially if your goal is to break down your muscles to build them back stronger than ever.

As a broad overview, your calves are made up of two muscles. Again, this is a lot like your biceps. That’s convenient because the tibia and fibula are just as similar to your forearms in structure as the calves and biceps are, so it’s easy to remember what’s similar and different about the two.

The placement, for one, should stick out to you as a major difference. Beyond the obvious, like how your calves are situated on your legs instead of your arms, your calves can be seen as a kind of opposite to your biceps.

Your biceps split one thicker body into a pair of heads that allow your lower arm to twist every which way, giving your arms a great range of motion. Your calves on the other hand (or foot in this case) are more like bodies that convene at a single point. That may not sound like much of a difference, but you can see how their placement and shape affect something like the rotational ability of your legs.

If you stick your arm out in front of your body, you can see how easy it is to flip your arm over 180-degrees. This is because of your biceps and their two-headed structure. Your legs, however, take much more effort to rotate, and they don’t rotate as far as your arms will without significant training.

The Two Halves

Your calves are made up of two muscles as we mentioned earlier. The larger of these two muscles is the gastrocnemius. If you have a little definition to your calves, you can look down hile flexing them and see a bulge. That bulge is your gastrocnemius.

Your  gastrocnemius continues the trend of twos by being made up of two heads as well. These two heads split off and make a nice diamond shape, that shape helps with a lot of the power and stability that your calves need to be able to generate in order to keep your body walking all day.

The smaller of these two muscles is your soleus. This muscle is flatter than your gastrocnemius as well as lying a little bit more shallow. Together these muscles sweep down into a point on your heel, and they’re responsible for all of your walking, balancing, and tip-toeing.

These muscles are a pretty clever use of physics and evolution when you think about it. They use leverage with the ground to pull your heel up, allowing you all sorts of movement.  

This connection point is your Achilles tendon. It’s a particularly thick tendon that’s under a great deal of tension at all times.

Your calves are pretty strong, and they need to be in order to allow us as humans to walk and run for extended periods of time. This high-tension choke point becomes an area that’s prone to devastating injury. 

1. Tiptoe Farmer’s Walk

Farmer’s walks are an amazing way to build muscle in your forearms and trapezius muscles, but when you add in a simple change like walking on your tiptoes, you push them even further and you can blast your calves out of the water. This variant on the farmer’s walk is an excellent way to increase the strength of your calves while working on the rest of your body.

  • Start with a weight in each hand, we like to default to kettlebells for this, get a firm and neutral grip on them
  • Keep your back upright and engage your core and shoulders
  • Take even steps and walk in a controlled manner around the gym
  • Walk around for about a minute at a time taking short breaks in between sets

2. Jumping Jacks

Jumping Jacks don’t come up very often around these parts. We tend to focus on weightlifting, but in this case, this calisthenic exercise is a great way to build up your calves while getting some cardio into your routine.

We know you’re not getting enough cardio into your routine, and jumping jacks are a simple and effective way to do that. They’re also a plyometric exercise that will train your calves to put out a lot of energy and they’ll beef up the muscles pretty quickly. 

  • Start by standing with your feet together and keep your arms by your side
  • Jump up into the air a little bit while spreading your legs a little farther than shoulder-width apart
  • Spread your arms out to your side and arc all the way up above your head until they’re clapping against each other
  • While you descend, bring your arms and legs back into your starting position
  • Repeat 15-20 times per set

3. Agility Ladder

Not everybody is going to have access to an agility ladder, you usually find them on the football field, but you can rig up something similar with a little masking tape or your imagination. As long as you’re capable of marking set distances for your feet to land in, you’ll be able to take on the agility ladder.

  • Place an agility ladder (or your markings) on the floor and stand at the far end
  • Run or jump from one end of your agility ladder, landing in each square and fully lifting your feet off of the ground
  • Turn around as soon as you’ve reached the opposite end and return to your starting position
  • Reset in your starting position and repeat 3-5 times 

4. Squat to Heel Raises

  • Start by standing with your feet way past your shoulders and pointed outwards slightly
  • Set your core, bend your knees slightly, and push your hips back a little bit
  • Lower yourself into a squat while letting your arms dangle down between your legs
  • Press down through your heels and stand back up into your starting position while making a large arc out towards your side and reaching up over
  • Repeat 10-15 times per set
Bodybuilder Doing Heavy Weight Exercise For Legs Calves

5. Calf Raise

Calf raises are so deceptively simple, but they’re an excellent exercise for isolating exactly your calves and nothing else. You’re getting a lot of utility out of this simple set of movements, and you can get a lot out of them while you’re on the clock at work or out on the road making a quick pit stop. The beauty here lies in using your full body weight to resist your calves.

  • Stand up straight, keeping an eye on your posture
  • Bring your feet close together and allow your arms to rest beside your body or out to the sides to maintain balance
  • Use your calves to press against the floor, raising your heels off of the floor
  • Return slowly back to the starting position under your own control
  • Repeat 15-20 times per set

6. Single-Leg Calf Raise

This is a simple variant on the calve raise. If you’re worried that the single-leg variant is going to be as hard as something like a pistol, then let your mind be at ease for a little bit. Single-leg calf raises are challenging, for sure, but they’re a testament to how powerful these little muscles are.

  • Either stand on flat ground or find a small block to balance the ball of your foot on
  • Wrap your other leg around the active leg
  • If you’re balancing on the ball of your foot, then let your body weight sink towards the floor, stretching your calf
  • Press through the ball of your foot to push your heel away from the floor
  • Hold the apex of your calf raise for a second or two
  • Lower yourself back into your starting position 
  • Repeat 10-15 times per set 


7. Seated Calf Raise (Leg Press Machine)

You’re going to need a leg press machine of this variant of the calf raise, but it’s well worth the effort. If you’re serious about developing rock-hard, beautifully sculpted legs, then you’re going to need to challenge your calves with something way more difficult to lift than the bodyweight you’re already constantly carrying around on them.

  • Sit down on the leg press machine with each of your feet flat against the platform
  • Press the balls of your feet into the platform raising the heels of your feet as far off of the platform as possible without your toes leaving the platform
  • Return to your starting position and repeat 8-10 times per set

8. Isometric Calf Raise

Isometric exercise is one of the best ways to build endurance as well as muscle. You’re going to be pushing your calves to the limit with what, on the surface, looks like very little work. If you can push through the pain, and progressively get better and better at this exercise, you’re going to be setting your body and your calves up for some major success.

  • Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Get a dumbbell set up in each of your hands with a neutral grip, letting them rest by your side
  • Engage your abs and keep your back straight
  • Press the balls of your feet into the floor and raise your heels 
  • At the height of your calf raise, hold your position for 5-10 seconds
  • Slowly lower yourself back to your starting position
  • Repeat this for 10 reps per set

9. Inward Calf Raises

Because your calves are split into a pair of very distinct heads, it’s good to branch out a little bit in order to fully cover your muscle’s range of motion.

  • Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and then angle your toes inwards about 20-30 degrees
  • Engage your abs and keep your back straight
  • Press the balls of your feet into the floor and lift your heels off of the ground
  • At the height pause for a moment
  • Lower yourself back to the ground
  • Repeat 10-15 times per set 

10. Standing Barbell Calf Raise

This is the final variant on the calf raise. Weighing your body down with a significant amount of weight is the only way to get truly bulging calves. You’re going to need a squat rack for this, but it’s well for the added equipment.

  • Find a squat rack and set the weights up across your back
  • Stand up straight with the barbell across your upper back
  • Push the balls of your feet against the ground to raise your heels off of the ground
  • Hold your fully extended position for a second or two
  • Stand tall and support a barbell on your upper back, with your toes facing forward
  • Slowly return to your starting position
  • Repeat 6-8 times per set

Calf Creation

Building muscle isn’t just about how many reps you can do. It’s a delicate balancing act between how often you work out, how far you push yourself, and how effectively you can rest in between bouts at the gym. You should be treating your body to plenty of protein and lots of regular stretching if you want to pack on a lot of muscle.

Stretching

Keeping your calf muscles limber is going to be extremely important. When you build a lot of muscle, you run the risk of pulling tendons and joints out of alignment. If you’re going to pack on muscle in an area as specialized and delicate as your Achilles, then you’re absolutely going to need to stretch regularly.

If you can make time during your rest days to stretch your calves out, you can limber up all of the rigid muscle you’ve built. This is going to save your body from a lot of grief down the line, and you’ll have the added benefit of more enjoyable workouts once you’ve achieved a degree of flexibility.

Resting

Rest days are the bread and butter of an effective workout routine. You need rest just as much as you need exercise. The importance of rest after a particularly intense workout and the reason you don’t just train the same muscle every day lies in how your body builds muscle.

If just working out was enough, you could pump the same weights all day long, but instead, we have to take a step back and give our bodies the chance to do their work. When you’re working out you’re creating micro-tears in your muscles. These micro-tears set off a signal in your body that something needs fixing.

When your body sets out to fix something, it’s not like a lazy landlord, your body understands that fixing something broken means you’re going to want it built back better than ever. This natural inclination of your body is the entire reason you can build muscle at all in the first place.

This process of building thicker, stronger muscle in place of muscles that have been torn up by your rigorous exercise is called hypertrophy. You can help this process along by resting and stocking up on protein. Rest days don’t have to be totally passive, but they do have to be low-impact.

Take this time to take a walk around your neighborhood or this would be the perfect time to work out your stretches, to keep your muscles light and ready to go. 

Yoga also works well for this. Isometric exercise, flexibility, and the opportunity to slow down and appreciate the hard work you’ve done is the perfect rest day activity.

Be sure to pack in protein as well. A diet that’s high in protein is going to be capable of responding quickly to the demands of your muscles. Your muscle fibers, and most structures in your body, are made up of protein. Keep your body well-stocked in protein, and the gains will follow. 

Craving Calves

You know now what makes your calves so powerful to begin with, and what all you can do to change them for the better in the long run. If you’re trying to create an overall sculpted look, you can’t skip out on calf gains.

Take some time every week to at least work in some calf raises, and you’re going to put yourself strides ahead of the competition.


x