BEST CALF WORKOUT
If you’re one of those guys–like me–without naturally jacked calves, this is for you!
The calf can be a stubborn muscle to grow, especially if you’re not genetically gifted with muscular calves. Even though I’m one of the ‘calf-nots’ I do know how to train calf muscles.
You’ve got to focus on the two muscles that compose the calf: the soleus, and the “gastrocs” (i.e, the gastrocnemius) muscle.
The gastrocs are the most visible calf muscle that form the upside-down heart shape on the back of the lower leg. The soleus is behind the gastroc and is the visible calf muscle between the gastrocs and the ankle.
To train the gastrocnemius muscle you need to have your knees almost perfectly straight, and working the soleus requires that you have your knees bent.
Mechanically, calves can only perform foot plantarflexion, meaning the calves point the toes downward.
You can replicate that foot plantarflexion motion by training the calves in two different ways.
This workout is composed of just two calf exercises and it alternates back and forth between the two.
It will help you build the calf size you want, as well as functionally stronger calf muscles just by doing these two simple calf muscle exercises.
CALF EXERCISE #1: THE CALF LAUNCHER
The first calf exercise is the best calf exercise you can do, in my professional opinion.
It loads the soleus. This muscle doesn’t cross the knee and resides solely on the back of the shin. We can effectively target it by performing our calf exercises with a bent knee. The soleus lies under the gastrocnemius muscle and contributes to overall calf thickness. It is composed predominantly of Type I slow-twitch muscle fibers.
This exercise spontaneously loads your calf muscles with your entire body weight in a very demanding position: toes hooked under a bench (or other immobile object).
You will need a bench that has a straight bar near the floor like the one shown here. Not all benches are like this.
Some benches have an angled support beam underneath. That design won’t work.
If you don’t have a bench like the one pictured above, you can use anything that allows you to anchor your feet under it and pins your feet and knees to the floor when you launch your body away from the bench.
What makes this an excellent exercise is that your calves must hold on for dear life and support your entire body weight, demanding firm foot plantarflexion.
Sit back, and then launch your body out.
That is where we’re holding the entire weight of our body here with that contraction. Body weight is all you need.
Launch from this starting position, pulling your body out.
You can spot and guide yourself using a physioball (aka Swiss ball) if you need to. Maintain tension on your calf muscles through the entire movement.
You’ll do Calf Launchers for a full minute then immediately proceed to the second exercise of this calf workout. In total, you’ll cycle through and do Calf Launchers three times.
CALF EXERCISE #2: 1-½ CALF RAISES
The second exercise targets our gastrocnemius muscle. The gastrocnemius muscle crosses the knee and ankle joint and is much more effectively targeted when the knee is kept straight. The gastroc muscle fiber composition is roughly half fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers.
I’m suggesting a standing calf raise variation to help you nail this muscle sufficiently.
You’ll need a dumbbell and a step platform or low box of some sort, something of about 4″ (8cm) height. That height allows you to get a full range of motion.
You could use a weighted vest as an alternative to dumbbells. Just remember that it will add weight to your Calf Launchers if you keep it on.
Grab a dumbbell and place your toes facing forward on the edge of the step platform, feet shoulder width apart or a little closer. That will allow you to lean a little bit forward to fully extend the knee to train the gastrocs. Overall body alignment is important.
This starting position resembles the position you’d take on a donkey calf raise machine because you’re leaning forward and have full knee extension. It’s OK to have a tiny “sweet spot” of knee flexion where your legs are almost completely straight from your ankles to your hips.
It’s not a bent-knee calf raise but the knees aren’t completely locked either where there’s risk of hyperextension. Generally speaking, you’re looking for more-or-less straight knees.
Starting position is heels down to pre-stretch the calf muscles, and your ankles should be directly under your knees.
You’ll do three sets of 1-½ Calf Raises starting with toes pointed straight ahead.
Lean forward to support yourself against something stable – squat rack, cable machine, whatever – holding the dumbbell down and in front of you, not to one side or the other. Keep it near the midline of your body.
Flex your calves and press up with your toes to rise to the halfway point. Lower back down until your heels get as close as possible to the floor to achieve a deep stretch.
Then press all the way up through a full range of motion, contracting the calf muscles hard at the top, and then descend back down all the way.
This 1-½ rep scheme gives you two eccentric contractions for every single rep.
You’ll do Calf Raises for a full minute with toes pointed straight ahead.
Point your feet outward for your second set. Toes-out calf raises are intended to target the inner gastrocnemius muscle more.
You could progress this exercise by performing it as a single-leg calf raise, especially if all you have are lighter weights available.
You’ll do the third round with toes pointed in together. These are intended to work the outer gastrocnemius muscle more.
It’s important to maintain ankle stability to avoid ankle joint or calf muscle injury. If you work out at home and don’t have a step platform, select a stable elevated surface. An old phone book, for instance, might provide the right height but not enough stability.
6 MINUTE CALF WORKOUT
Let’s put it all together and take you through the torture. You’ll begin with Calf Launchers and alternate back and forth with your 1-½ Calf Raises.
You will keep alternating the two exercises until all 6 minutes are up or you give into the pain (whichever comes first!). You’ll do each exercise three times.
Each time you do the calf raise, change the position of your toes and heels. Keep toes straight on the first round. Point your toes out on the second round and then inward for the third time. Proper form is feet shoulder width or less apart, and a hips-knees-ankles leg alignment with almost no knee flexion.
Remember that you can use a physioball to support some of your body weight and spot yourself during the Calf Launchers.
Do Calf Launchers for a full minute and then immediately move to 1-½ Calf Raises with toes pointed straight ahead.
Do Calf Launchers a second time for a full minute and then immediately move to 1-½ Calf Raises with toes pointed outward.
Do Calf Launchers for a third time, again for a full minute and then immediately move to 1-½ Calf Raises with toes pointed inward and almost touching together.
Three times through adds up to six continuous minutes of calf work. This calf workout is simple. Just two exercises, but not easy. If you’re one of those guys that say “Oh, I could never get my calves to respond”, try this for a few weeks and prove it to yourself.
I don’t think you’re expecting the positive impact you’ll get.
That’s it, guys. Just two excellent exercises. Not much equipment and no jumping rope or boring step programs. If you do this workout, your calf muscles will be responding and the next day they’re going to be yelling at you, and you’re going to be yelling at me.
You can always get calves to respond if you train them hard enough and correctly.
If you’re looking for a step by step program that lays out the science behind exercise selections and the reason why we do what we do, check out all of our complete ATHLEAN-X programs. Start training like an athlete and start looking like one fast!
Program Selector ==> See which program best fits your fitness goals
AX1 ==> Burn Fat and Build Muscle With Dumbbells and Minimal Equipment
Monster Maker ==> Full body training with the ability to add additional targeted split muscle group training
- Even if you’re one of the “calf-nots” and want calf growth, you can develop athletic calves if you train them correctly. Using this calf workout, you can sculpt calf thickness that balances your physique head to toe.
- This quick calf workout consists of just two moves for calf development. One targets the soleus and the other is a calf raise variation that targets the gastrocnemius muscle.
- For the Calf Launcher, you’ll need a heavy bench or similar sturdy object that you can hook your feet under while in a kneeling position. Secure your feet under the crossbar and extend your knees and upper body forward, supporting your body weight completely with your calf muscles. Press up on the support with your feet the entire time.
- The second exercise is a variation of the traditional calf raise from a standing position similar to what you’d do on a standing calf raise machine or donkey calf raise machine with a half-rep added to intensely load the muscle fibers. The 1-½ Calf Raise combines a full range of motion calf raise with a bonus half-rep to hit both the fast-twitch fibers and slow-twitch fibers.
- You’ll do the Calf Launcher for a full minute, followed by the standing 1-½ Calf Raise. Do the Calf Raise with toes pointed straight, outward, and inward for three separate positions.
- Do each exercise for a full minute then rotate three times for a total of six minutes.
- In addition to developing more athletic calves, another benefit of calf training is the knee stability strong calf muscles provide.
- Be sure to warm up beforehand. Tight calf muscles before a strenuous workout like this can lead to calf strains.