Most bodybuilders and gym fanatics spend hours on their arms, shoulders, pecks, and abs. Focusing on the big, noticeable muscles of the upper body will pay off when you look great in a tight t-shirt, but unless you give your legs some loving you’ll end up looking top-heavy with the dreaded bird legs. The calves are one of the most underdeveloped muscles on bodybuilders and muscle fanatics, and unless you’re one of the fortunate few who has a tendency for white, fast-twitch muscle fibers that give you defined calves just from walking, you’re going to have to put some work in to get stronger calves.
There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to building calves: Some trainers opt for high reps at low weight while others stand by a low rep count with heavy weight. These exercises include options that match both theories so you can create the ultimate calf workout for your body.
1. Standing calf raise
For a body weight workout that requires more reps, stand on a block, step, or similar platform with the arch of your foot and heel hanging off the side. Bend your knees slightly and lower your heels until you feel a stretch in your calves, then extend your knees and raise your heel so you’re on your tippy toes, says Men’s Fitness. Repeat as many times as you are able.
For added weight, hold a dumbbell in one or both hands (depending on your balance) or utilize your gym’s calf-raise machine. Focus on doing as many reps as possible with the weight.
2. Seated calf raise
Since the seated version of the calf raise doesn’t involve your body weight, use a machine or weights for this exercise. Use the seated calf-raising machine to sit with your knees at a 90-degree angle and lift your heels up and down. If you’re performing this exercise at home or at a gym without the proper machine, sit on a bench and put a barbell on your knees, Bodybuilding.com suggests. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and raise your heels off the floor, pausing at the top before returning your heels down until they skim the floor before you bring them back up again.
3. Donkey calf raise
This more intermediate calf workout puts the focus on the upper portion of the calf muscle. There are several ways to do this, the first being to use your own body weight to build strength, says Muscle & Fitness. Stand on a block, step, or similar platform with your heels hanging off the edge. Bend over and hold onto something stable to give support and balance. Your torso should be parallel with the ground while your legs remain straight up and down and perpendicular to the floor. Flex your calves and raise yourself up as high as possible before bringing your heels towards the floor for the stretch.
Perform this as many times as you are able, or increase intensity by using a donkey calf raise machine, having your gym partner sit on your back, putting on a dip belt, or using a barbell for added weight as explained on Critical Bench.