5 Exercises for Maximum Calf Gains

Typical weight training involves a rotational system where one particular body part is targeted each day: arms, back, legs, and so on. Strengthening the lower body usually involves exercises that target the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. While the muscles in the upper leg generally respond well to their corresponding exercises, a lot of us struggle to see much, if any, improvement in our calf muscles.

A key component to strengthening the muscles in your lower legs is flexibility, which typically gets forgotten. After workouts, it’s a good idea to spend a little bit of time stretching out your calf muscles. AskMen explained this can help increase your range of motion, which will more effectively stimulate your muscle fibers, leading to better results. It’s a simple change that might make a huge difference.

Now for the exercises. Some of these are standards that require a little more explanation, and some are a bit more unexpected. Whether you’re a veteran or a beginner, you can definitely benefit from adding these five calf moves to your fitness regimen.

1. Calf press

calf press

Calf presses are great for the lower legs. | iStock.com

The largest muscle in your lower leg is the gastrocnemius, which runs from your knee all the way to your ankle. This muscle is activated every time you walk or run, but you need a concentrated effort to make it stronger and shapelier. Calf presses are one of the best ways to target your gastrocnemius, and they’re pretty simple to perform as long as you have access to a leg press machine.

Get into position by placing your feet about shoulder-width apart on the platform of the leg press machine with your heels hanging off the edge. Then, fully extend your legs, keeping a slight bend in your knee. Press the platform by raising your heels as high as possible, contracting your calf muscles. Pause briefly at the top of the move, then slowly lower your heels as far down as you can. You can check out a great video and guide on Bodybuilding.com. Keep in mind, you may have to play around with the weight a bit. You’ll be using significantly less load than with a standard leg press, so start a bit cautiously and add weight if you need to.

2. Standing calf raise

Standing calf raise

Standing calf raises are tough but effective. | iStock.com

One of the most well-known exercises to strengthen the lower legs, calf raises are also one of the moves guys get wrong. As we mentioned earlier, range of motion is a huge player here. Standing calf raise machines are designed to let your heel dip down, but most don’t take advantage of that added space. This makes each move less effective than it could be.

To do the basic move, step into position on the calf-raise machine with your heels hanging over the edge of the platform, balancing on the balls of your feet. The weight should rest comfortably across your shoulders. Lift your heels as high as you can by contracting your calf muscles, and pause for a moment at the top of the move. Then, lower your heels down as far as possible before going right into another raise. Sean Nalewanyj, a fitness author and bodybuilder, explained on his website the real key is moving slowly and deliberately.

3. Seated calf raise

seated calf raises

Seated calf raises are also great. | iStock.com

Like peanut butter goes with jelly, the seated calf raise goes with the standing calf raise. According to Men’s Fitness, the standing move targets the gastrocnemius while the seated one builds your soleus. This smaller muscle runs along the side of your calves and is just as important for the function and overall appearance of your lower legs. Runner’s World explains the soleus is responsible for keeping blood flowing to your lower legs during exercise, which is especially important for endurance athletes.

The idea is much the same as with standing calf raises, but you’ll be sitting instead. Once you’ve added weight to the bar, adjust the knee pads so they’re resting on your upper legs without pressing into them too tightly. Again, raise your heels by contracting your calves, then pause for a moment at the top of the move before lowering your heels as far as you can. As the move becomes easier, you’ll want to increase your number of repetitions or the amount of weight.

4. Box jumps

box jumps

Box jumps are great cardio, too. | iStock.com

In contrast with the slow and steady approach used for weighted moves, box jumps require speed to build explosiveness. Muscle & Strength particularly likes this move to boost power and help tone the calf muscles. It will also help you develop agility, improving your ability to perform in just about any athletic activity.

For this exercise, you need a sturdy, heavy box that will stay put as you jump on and off. Stand just in front of the box with your weight resting on the balls of your feet. Jump onto the box and land on the balls of your feet, then jump back to your starting position. While speed is important, only go as fast as you can with good form. A slip can lead to a nasty ding in one of your shins.

5. Side lunges

lunge stretch

Side lunges work the calves and inner thighs. | iStock.com

One version of this move involves keeping both of your feet facing forward as you lunge to the side, but this variation has you turn the toes of your lunging leg to the side. Livestrong.com explained this change in position helps activate your calves in order to keep you balanced during the move.

Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your feet facing forward. Turn your torso to the right and then point your right foot in the same direction. From here, lunge to the right, but only go down about halfway to avoid straining your calf muscles. Step back to the starting position and repeat the rest of your set, then switch legs.