Get Great Calves

Want great-looking calf muscles? Add these simple exercises to your routine.

Are your calves scrawny and undefined? Do they lack tone and strength? While your genes play a large role in the shape of your calf muscles, you can build them relatively easily. Strong calf muscles not only look cut, but they also help protect against injury.

Anatomy of a Muscle

Located on the back of your leg below the knee, the calf consists of two muscles: the gastrocnemius (often called the gastroc) and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the larger of the two and gives the calf its rounded shape. The soleus is a smaller muscle that lies flat beneath the gastrocnemius, working with the Achilles tendon and the gastrocnemius to perform movements such as walking and running.

To build calf muscle mass and strength, try the following exercises that target your gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.

People always ask me about my calves. That’s the first thing they notice. – Duece Black

Double-Leg Calf Raise

This exercise uses your own body weight to strengthen your calves. Stand near a wall or piece of furniture if you need help keeping your balance. Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. Slowly raise your body up by pressing down on the balls of your feet. Keep your core muscles tight so that you move straight up and down without wobbling back and forth. Hold for a second or two and then lower back down. Begin with three sets of 15.

Add intensity to this exercise by standing with the balls of your feet on the edge of a stair, block, or large book. Lower your heels down toward the floor and then raise them up. Hold for a second then lower.

As your calves strengthen, increase the intensity by holding dumbbells or resting a barbell across your shoulders. Hold only one weight if you need your other hand to maintain balance.

Single-Leg Calf Raise

Raising up on both calves at once is beneficial, but if you’re looking to immediately increase the stress on your calf muscles, try doing calf raises while standing on only one foot at a time. Stand up straight with one foot on the floor and the other bent behind you. Hold onto a wall or furniture for balance. Then raise up on the ball of your foot, keeping your abdominals tight. Hold for a second and then lower. Do a set of 15 and then switch feet. Do three sets on each foot.

Like the double-leg raise, you can add intensity by standing on one foot on a stair, block, or book; or by holding a dumbbell.

Seated Calf-Raise

The seated calf-raise can also be done at home or with a special calf machine at the gym. If you’re working your calf muscles at home, sit upright on a hard, sturdy chair and place your feet on the floor. Your knees should be bent at 90 degrees. Set something heavy on your thighs, such as a free weight or some books. Next, press onto the balls of your feet and raise your heels up as high as they’ll go. Hold for a second or two, and then slowly lower your heels to the floor. Start with three sets of 15.

If you’re at the gym and want to work your calves, find the calf-press machine. Choose a weight amount that fits your level. With the machine, you’ll be working against weight to lower and raise your heels.

Various Sports

The normal actions of walking, jogging, and running all work to tone and strengthen your calves. Therefore, participating in activities such as hiking, swimming, jump rope, step aerobics, basketball, tennis, and soccer are also great ways to build your calf muscles.

Stay Safe

When working your calves, customize your workout to match your fitness level. Gradually increase the intensity over time to avoid injury and soreness. Check with an exercise or medical professional if you’ve had an ankle, foot, or calf injury in the past.

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