Building calves not only provides a balanced look in our body but also helps us do regular and athletic lower body activities efficiently.
But most of the time, when we train legs, we mainly focus on quads and hamstrings where the calves are ignored or less trained, causing weaker and skinny calves.
So, here I’m going to give you the top five best calf exercises and the workout plan you can follow to build bigger and fuller calves fast.
Anatomy of the Calf Muscles
We can see that there’re two muscles in the calf — gastrocnemius and soleus.
The gastrocnemius is the larger one and has two parts, medial and lateral. This muscle is used to get a quick burst of energy for a short period of time, like during sprinting.
And the soleus gives the energy for a long time, and this muscle is mostly used in endurance sports like marathon.
The gastrocnemius is a combination of 50% fast-twitch and 50% slow twice muscle fiber. This means we can activate them by performing both 6-8 reps or 15-20 reps, but the lower rep range can be more beneficial.
And the soleus is a slow-twitch dominant (80% slow and 20% fast) muscle fiber, which means we have to perform 15-20 reps to activate them.
Top 5 Best Calf Exercises to Get it Bigger
Here’re the five best calf exercises to build fuller and attractive calves.
1. Standing Calf Raises
Let’s start with one of the most obvious and effective calf exercises; the standing machine calf raises, which work for the gastrocnemius, the largest muscle in the calf.
- First, adjust the shoulder pad according to your height.
- Step underneath the pad and place your feet on the platform with your toes pointing in the front and your heels naturally hanging off.
- Extend your hips and knees and raise the heels upward to squeeze your calves.
- Pause at the top, then lower your heels back down and get a nice stretch on your calf.
- Repeat that up and down movement as desired.
- Sets: 3-4
- Reps: 6-8 or 15-18
- With dumbbells/barbell: You can perform the same standing calf raises with dumbbells or a barbell. Just make sure you place a weight plate under your feet so that your heels can hang off to provide a nice stretch on your calves.
- At home/without weights: Again, the same movement, place your hands on your waist and simply up and down your heels. Make sure you’re contracting your calves while raising your heels. You can also place an object like a step to go for the full range of motion.
2. Seated Calf Raises
Okay, now it’s time to hit the smaller part of the calves, the soleus, and the best exercise to do that is seated calf raises. This exercise can be done with dumbbells and a barbell as well.
- Start by sitting on the calf raises machine and securing your thighs under the pads.
- Keep your feet hip-width apart and place the balls of your feet on the footplate while heels are hanging off the back of the plate.
- Lift your heels up and contract the outer part (soleus) of your calves.
- Then slowly lower your heels and stretch your calves at the bottom. Repeat.
- Sets: 2-3
- Reps: 15-20
- With dumbbells/barbell: Here, you’ll place two dumbbells or a barbell on your thighs close to your knees and perform the up and down movement as you do with a machine. Use a weight plate on the floor to get the full range of motion to increase its effectiveness.
3. Calf Press on Leg Press Machine
The next exercise we have is calf raises on a leg press machine, and here we target the gastrocnemius muscle.
- Sit down on a leg press machine and place the balls of your legs on the platform and heels hanging off at the edge.
- Then push the platform so that your knees get fully extended.
- Keep your lower back and hips pressed against the bench throughout this exercise.
- Pull your toes back until your calves are fully stretched, and then push your toes forward as much as you can to contract your calves. Repeat as recommended.
- Sets: 2-3
- Reps: 8-12
Variations: As the leg press machine calf raises is activate the gastrocnemius, so as an alternative, you can perform exercises like standing calf raises to train the same muscle.
4. Bent Knee Calf Raises
Now let’s move to the smaller part of the calves, the soleus, and the bent knee calf raises one of the effective ways to train it.
- Begin by holding a barbell behind your neck on your traps and keeping your knees bent slightly throughout this movement.
- Lift your heels until you get a nice contraction on your calves and then lower back down to the starting position. Repeat.
- Sets: 2-3
- Reps: 15-20
- With machine: You can do the same movement with the calf raises machine (like 1st one in the list). But keep in mind your knees should be in a bending position throughout the whole movement.
- Without weight: Perform the same movement without any weights and aim for 15-25 reps. You can use an object like plate-weight to increase its range of motion.
5. Single-Leg Dumbbell Calf Raises
It’s quite similar to the first one, but here we’ll perform one leg at a time so that we can create a better muscle mind connection to reap the most out of it.
- To begin, grab a dumbbell with your hand on the same side you’re targeting.
- Place the balls of your feet on an exercise step or weight plate with your heels hanging off and your knee fully extended.
- With your toes pointing forward, raise your heels upward and contract your calves.
- Then slowly lower your heels all the way down to stretch your calves.
- Perform your desired reps and then switch to another leg.
- Sets: 2-3
- Reps: 8-12
- With machine: You can perform the same movement with a machine. But here, instead of placing both legs on the machine, you’ll perform with one leg at a time.
- Without weights: Place your hands on your waist and keep one leg on the floor and the other one hanging off the ground. Perform the exercise by lifting your heel upward and squeezing your calf at the top. Use an object like a step to get the full stretch on your calves.
The Perfect Calf Workout Plan
Although there’re several ways to train calves, but most of the time, we tend to train our calves only once a week, and that’s most probably at the end of the leg day, which is not very helpful if we want to grow our calves rapidly.
So, our calf workout routine should be:
- Each week x Train at least 2 to 4 times
- Exercises x Do at least two that target both the heads
- Sets: 3-4
- Reps: 6-12 for gastrocnemius and 15-20 for soleus
When you perform this workout routine, as I recommend, you’ll be able to train the calf muscle according to their fiber type, which greatly influences their growth potential.
Calves Cooldown Routine
Whether you’re training your calves or any other muscle of the body, properly cooling down after the workout is crucial in order to enhance your recovery and growth.
And doing static stretching after a workout can be a great way to relax the muscle fibers. Static stretching is where you hold any particular muscle group in a stretching position for about 20-30 seconds.
The Harvard health publishing also mentioned that stretching improves your flexibility and mobility and can enhance your muscle-building rate as well.
Here’s your calves cooldown routine:
Stretch 1: Stand near a wall with one foot in the front of the other and keep your front knee slightly bent. Keep your back knee straight, the heel fully placed on the ground, and lean forward. Feel stretch on the calf of your back leg and hold that position for 20-30 seconds.
Stretch 2: Place the balls of your feet on the edge of a step or weight plate and keep your heels off the plate. Slowly lower your heels down to create a solid stretch on your calves. Hold the stretching position for 20-30 seconds.
Stretch 3: Lie down on the floor with place your legs and hands on the floor and hips high to create a “V” shape. Keeping your heels placed on the ground, move your arms towards your feet so that you can feel all the tension on your calves. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
By performing these stretching movements, you’ll be able to cool down your calves to reduce muscle soreness and promote recovery.
Okayyy, you’ve got some of the best calf exercises along with a perfect workout plan and cool-down routine.
Now all you need to do is perform these workouts consistently in order to build bigger and fuller calves.
Now I want to know, which one of these exercises did you feel is the most effective?
Mine is standing calf raises. What yours?