Reading Time: 7 minutes 45 seconds
Calves are one of the most challenging muscle groups to build. They’re also one of the most neglected. But taking the time to build your calf muscle can help you create a more well-rounded physique. Calf training also helps provide the strength needed for many workout movements.
Don’t get discouraged if you have underdeveloped calves. Yes, genetics do play a major role in calf development. Although, if you are not genetically gifted, it’s not the end all be all. Committing to the right training program can help you build and grow strong calf muscles.
Before we get into the workout, it’s important to understand calf muscle anatomy. This helps you target the right muscle during exercise. It also underscores the importance of working your calf muscle.
The calf refers to muscles on the back of the lower leg. These muscles are part of the posterior chain. Two main muscles make up the calf. These are the gastrocnemius and soleus.
Gastrocnemius muscle. The gastrocnemius muscle is the larger of the two. It is the muscle you see the most when looking at developed calves. The gastrocnemius plays a role in plantar flexion of the foot. It also aids in knee joint flexion.
Soleus muscle. The soleus muscle is the smaller of the two. Like the gastrocnemius muscle, it also plays a role in plantar flexion of the foot. Your soleus also keeps you from falling forward.
A lesser-known muscle in the calf is the plantaris muscle. This muscle originates around the lateral head of the gastrocnemius, then goes down the lower limb, positioned between the gastrocnemius and soleus.
According to one review, the plantaris works with the gastrocnemius but has an insignificant effect on knee flexion and ankle plantarflexion. Instead, it plays a greater role in proprioception. This refers to the awareness of body position and movement.
Some calf exercises target the gastrocnemius. Others target the soleus. Ideally, your exercise program should address both. However, there might be times you want to work one muscle more than the other.
If you have a calf injury, for instance, this may preclude you from working one of the calf muscles. Or maybe you have a muscle imbalance. The right calf is stronger than the left, or vice versa. In this case, you may have to work one lower leg harder to achieve greater balance.
To target the soleus calf muscle, you must have your knees bent. For example, when performing a seated calf raise, you are targeting more of the soleus. Conversely, a standing calf raise will target the gastrocnemius. This is because the knee is flexed when seated and straight when standing. This determines which muscle is most active.
If you deal with calf tightness, you may be wondering whether you should be working the lower leg at all. Will exercise a tight calf muscle worse? Not necessarily. In fact, it may even help.
Many factors can contribute to a tight calf. One is underuse. If have a desk job or spend a lot of time stationary, you may experience tightness and calf pain. These muscles can also get tight from an injury, such as a calf muscle strain.
Regular exercise can make the calf stronger. This helps protect the muscle from injury because it is able to sustain more activity. It also helps strengthen the soft tissue surrounding the calf. This includes the Achilles tendon.
The Achilles tendon connects the muscle in the calf to the heel of the foot. The top of the tendon is around the middle of the calf. This is the area where an injury to the Achilles is likely to occur according to the Hospital for Special Surgery. It’s also an injury that tends to be slower to heal. The reason is because of a smaller blood supply.
Plus, certain types of exercise can help release muscle tightness. The calf stretch is one that is included in this workout. Another is the calf foam roll (also included).
Using a foam roller can help ease calf pain by releasing adhesions in the muscle fiber. If you tend to get leg cramps, it can help with that too. A 2021 study adds that foam rolling the gastrocnemius and Achilles tendon helps decrease muscle stiffness while increasing ankle dorsiflexion. In simple terms, this means that it improves the range of motion in the ankle joint.
This workout includes strength and muscle-building exercises for the calf muscles. The suggested variations may include different angles in which to target the calves. They will also offer varying levels of difficulty depending on your fitness level. You will need just 25 minutes to complete the entire workout.
Every workout should start with a warm-up to prepare your body for movement and help prevent injury.
In an upright position, stand on your toes and perform plantar flexion of the foot. Slowly lower your heels back down towards the ground. Once your heels reach the ground, lift your toes or pull the top of the foot up off the ground. Rotate between plantar flexion and dorsiflexion. Plantar flexion involves lifting the whole body. While dorsiflexion involves just lifting the foot. Repeat for 45 seconds.
Start by lifting one arm and your opposite leg. Then switch to the opposite arm and leg. Repeat as a continuous movement without traveling forward. Be sure to bring your knees to hip level. Repeat for 45 seconds.
Start swinging the jump rope overhead and lightly jump over the rope each time. Jump high enough to allow the rope to go under the feet. Perform jumps and continue to use your arms to propel the jump rope overhead. Jump rope for 60 seconds.
Find a set of stairs you can run up and down. If you don’t have access to stairs, try walking lunges. Perform for 45 seconds.
Stay focused and adjust each exercise to your or your client's fitness level.
In a standing position, slowly raise your heels off the ground. Push through the balls of your feet and squeeze your calves. Keep your legs straight without locking out your knees completely. For extra resistance, hold weights to the side of the body or place a barbell on your back. You can change the angle you target the calves by turning your heels in or out. Perform 3 sets of 20 reps. Rest for no more than 30 seconds.
In a standing position, lift one leg off the ground. Now, slowly raise your opposite heel off the ground. Standing on the ball of your foot, squeeze your calf. Keep your leg straight without locking out your knee. For extra resistance, hold a weight on the side of the body in which the foot is on the ground. Perform 3 sets of 12 reps on each leg. Rest for no more than 30 seconds.
Position your feet shoulder-width apart on a hack squat machine. Your heels should safely hang off the bottom of the platform. Once you are in a secured position, place the load on the body. Keep your legs straight and perform calf raises by pressing through the platform. Raise your heels up as high as possible. Allow them to come down, even past the platform to stretch the calves. Then repeat for 3 sets of 15 reps. Rest for no more than 30 seconds.
Secure your legs in a seated calf raise machine. Once the weight and pad are secure on top of your leg, unlatch the safety pin. Now, let your heels drop below the foot platform. Raise your heels back up as high as possible. Make sure to squeeze the back of the legs at the top of the motion. This seated position will target the soleus muscle in the calf because your knees are bent. Perform 3 sets of 20 reps. Rest for no more than 30 seconds.
Your calves should be burning after that workout! Now is the best time to stretch, especially following these calf exercises. The following stretches will help you cool down and keep your calves loose. This will lead to better recovery and prevent future injury.
This hamstring stretch can be performed on any object that you can place your foot on. Reach for your toes and lean into the leg you have elevated. Allow the stretch to take place in the back of the leg. If you are more flexible, bring your head towards your knee to stretch even more. The calves and hamstrings run alongside the back of the leg. This will target both muscle groups. Hold for 30 seconds on each leg.
Find a small platform or elevation. Place the ball of your foot on the stair and let your heel hang off. Allow the heel to stretch all the way to the ground if possible. Let your calf stretch for 30 seconds then switch to the other leg.
Lastly, soft tissue massage is an effective approach to alleviate muscle soreness. More importantly, it helps break up muscle adhesions. Foam rolling the calves is an effective way to recover and address tight muscles. Place both legs on the foam roller. Roll back and forth for 10 repetitions. If you need more pressure, cross one leg over the other and perform 10 reps on each leg.
Great work! You have completed the calf workout in just 25 minutes!
Are you looking to learn more about how to effectively build the calf muscle? Check out these blogs:
Ever wish you could get paid to work out? Then becoming a personal trainer may be right for you. But be sure you get the right certification. ISSA will get you certified in just weeks and set you up for success with our job guarantee. Check out our personal trainer certification programs.
Start your dream career completely online! Take the course, pass the certification final exam, and be guaranteed a job - or your money back!
Spina A. A. (2007). The plantaris muscle: anatomy, injury, imaging, and treatment. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 51(3), 158–165.
Injuries, A. (2022). Achilles Tendon Pain: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment | HSS. Hospital for Special Surgery. Retrieved 16 September 2022, from https://www.hss.edu/condition-list_achilles-tendon.asp.
Chang, T., Li, Z., Zhu, Y., Wang, X., & Zhang, Z. (2021). Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roller on the Stiffness of the Gastrocnemius-Achilles Tendon Complex and Ankle Dorsiflexion Range of Motion. Frontiers In Physiology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2021.718827
Receive $50 off your purchase today!