Calves seem to be the most overlooked body part in the lower body.
The muscle groups of your upper legs may very well support the core muscles of your body when you’re lifting but the lower leg muscles of the calves must work hard to stabilize the body through every movement while bearing the total weight of the body and any additional loads – twisting, raising you up onto your toes, lowering your onto your heels, twisting your feet.
It’s vital that your calves support you through every movement or you risk serious injury. Likewise, it does little good to train the rest of your body but leave your calves alone.
You won’t be able to effectively stabilize the weights you’re moving and lifting outside of general workouts – meaning there’s no practical application for your muscle mass. Worst of all you will look like you’ve got chicken legs.
The Anatomy of the Calf Muscle
The calf muscle is a group of muscles that are balled into a large group in the upper portion of the lower leg just below the knee. This group is made up of 2 muscles that combine to make up the whole of the calf muscle.
- Gastrocnemius – The calf muscle that is most visible from the exterior of the body. This muscle attaches at the Achilles tendon and originates just behind the knee on the femur where it crosses the knee joint
- Soleus – This is a deep muscle that is not visible when looking at the leg externally. It lies beneath the gastrocnemius on the rear portion of the lower leg.
The function of the two muscles together is the elevate the heel both with the leg straight and when the knee is bent.
The action of bending the heal is used in a variety of movements – walking, jumping, running, squats, etc.
The Top 5 Exercises for Increasing Calf Muscles – The Breakdown
The calf muscles can be worked in a variety of ways but they are a specialized muscle group that receive very little activity and attention unless they are specifically targeted. These top 5 exercises for the calf muscles will help you maintain a balanced workout in conjunction with other exercises so that your overall wellness and physical tone remains in balance.
Some of these exercises require the use of weights while others use little more than natural physical resistance. For additional resistance in any exercise you can add additional weight by using body straps or free weights (or by increasing the resistance of a machine if one is used.)
Calf Exercises #1 – Standing Calf Raises
This exercise can be done using either a dedicated machine or a calf block. The number of reps you do for this exercise will vary depending on your current calf mass and workout routine. Test different ranges to see which works for the density of your calf muscles.
Performing the standing calf raise
Follow these steps to perform this exercise:
- Stand on the edge of a step. Or, if you have a step-aerobics platform, place two sets of risers underneath the platform.
- Stand tall with your abdominals pulled in, the balls of your feet firmly planted on the step, and your heels hanging over the edge.
- Rest your hands against a wall or a sturdy object for balance.
- Raise your heels a few inches above the edge of the step so that you’re on your tiptoes.
- Hold the position for a moment, and then lower your heels below the platform, feeling a stretch in your calf muscles.
Calf Exercises #2 – Seated Calf Raise
This is a workout that is necessary to achieve complete development of the calf muscles. While this movement is similar to the standing calf raise. The seated calf raise will actually target the lower muscles of the calf (the soleus).
Performing the seated calf raise
Follow these steps to perform this exercise:
- Sit on the machine and place your toes on the lower portion of the platform provided with the heels extending off. Choose the toe positioning of your choice (forward, in, or out) as per the beginning of this chapter.
- Place your lower thighs under the lever pad, which will need to be adjusted according to the height of your thighs. Now place your hands on top of the lever pad in order to prevent it from slipping forward.
- Lift the lever slightly by pushing your heels up and release the safety bar. This will be your starting position.
- Slowly lower your heels by bending at the ankles until the calves are fully stretched. Inhale as you perform this movement.
- Raise the heels by extending the ankles as high as possible as you contract the calves and breathe out. Hold the top contraction for a second.
- Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions.
Top Calf Exercises #3 – Dumbbell Jump Squat
While this movement does also work the upper leg muscles it focuses a great deal of attention on the calf muscles as well and is an integral part of any whole body workout.
Like the box jump, the dumbbell jump squat can help add explosive power to your workout routine.
This form of workout helps to develop muscle quickly – increased mass equals a higher metabolism and a better calorie burn through your other workouts.
To perform, simply place yourself in a position for a standard squat and lower your body into the squat. Moving to the balls of your feet and toes as you do so. Once you’re at your lowest point, propel yourself up and explode upward into a jump.
Land on the balls of your feet and immediately move into another squat. Use dumbbells for this exercise to increase the difficult, but avoid using a barbell. Dumbbells will provide a lower center of gravity and give you more central control of your balance.
Top Calf Exercises #4 – Box Jumps
In many lifting exercises you need to have explosive strength in your legs. The box jump offers that, as it’s a functional exercise made to give your calf muscles far more power and “spring”.
This exercise can train your muscles to react and contract much more quickly. And will deliver some serious tone to your calf muscles.
Stand on the balls of your feet and you toes in front of a box, with the height appropriate to your limitations.
Jump onto the box and land again on your toes and the balls of your feet. Jump back down to the floor and repeat for 8 to 10 reps.
Do not use dumbbells or other held weights during this exercise as you may need your hands free in order to catch yourself if you trip.
Top Calf Exercises #5 – Leg Press Calf Raises
This is a tried and true exercise that has been in use for years known also as the donkey raise. Because of the nature of the exercise it has the most potential for getting a deeper pull in the calf muscles.
The workout can be intensified with added weights, so you can avoid having to do calf presses with someone sitting on your back.
Sit on the leg press machine and hold the sled with only your toes and the balls of your feet. Do not move with your hips or knees and instead put all the movement into your ankles.
This puts all the emphasis on your calf muscles and nowhere else in the leg.
- Standing Calf Raises – 3 Sets of 12 Reps
- Seated Calf Raises – 3 Sets of 15 Reps
- Standing Calf Raise – 3 Sets of 12/10/8 Reps
- Leg Press Calf Raises – 4 Sets of 10 Reps
- Seated Calf Raises – 3 Set of 20 Lower weight and do 10 more reps
- Box Jumps – 3 Set of 15 Reps
- Seated Calf Raises – 3 Sets of 15 reps
- Leg Press Calf Raises – 5 Sets of 12 Reps
- Standing Calf Raises – 2 Sets of 10/8 Reps
- Dumbbell Jump Squats – 3 Set of 15 Reps
You’ll see the best results by adding the top exercises to build your calf muscles to your usual leg workout routine.
When working on increasing muscle mass in the lower legs. Remember that it’s important to take in the proper amount of nutrients and protein to sustain your exercises and never push yourself beyond your daily limit.
Give your body the appropriate time to rest and recover between each workout session as a damaged muscle group is a useless muscle group.