Calf Workout

Written By: Chloe Wilson BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed By: FPE Medical Review Board

Calf Workout: Exercises to improve the strength and flexibility of the calf muscles

An effective calf workout looks to both strengthen and stretch the calf muscles. 

Whether you are recovering from an injury or surgery, are a sportsman wanting to improve your strength, or you are looking for more definition in your calves, these exercises can help you.  

There are two calf muscles, gastrocnemius and soleus, which are found at the back of the lower leg between the knee and the heel.

Gastrocnemius attaches just above the knee, Soleus attaches just below the knee.  They are responsible for plantarflexion, pointing the foot and toes down. Functionally, they also work to pull the heel up in actions such as walking, running and jumping. 

Here, you will find a progressive calf workout concentrating on strengthening exercises taking you from beginners to advanced calf strengthening exercises. These exercises can help reduce foot, ankle and knee problems. You don’t need any special gym equipment, these can all be done in your own home. 

Beginners Calf Workout

The beginners calf workout is a great place to start, especially if you are recovering from an injury or surgery. 

1. Foot Pumps

Foot pumps are a very simple calf muscle exercise to get the muscle working and to help improve circulation - perfect in the early stages following an injury or surgery.

foot pump 330 opt sept 22
  • Lie on the bed with your legs out straight

  • Point your toes down away from you and then pull your foot up towards you, both as far as you can

  • Repeat up and down with a rhythmical pumping action

  • Spend about one minute doing this. If you are doing this exercise after an injury or surgery, aim to do it every couple of hours.

You can also do this exercise when sitting, keeping your foot raised slightly off the floor.

2. Seated Calf Raises

Seated calf raises are a great place to start with for improving calf strength and flexibility without putting any weight through the foot.

heel raises 300 opt sept 22
  • Sit in a chair, feet flat on the floor, knees bent at right angles (90 degrees)

  • Gently press your toes into the floor as you lift your heel(s) up as high as you can

  • Hold for 3-5 seconds and slowly lower back down to the floor

  • Repeat 10-20 times daily

To progress this exercise place a weight on your knees/thighs, such as a barbell or backpack containing heavy books, so you are lifting up against resistance.

3. Standing Calf Raises

Standing calf raises work the calf muscles against gravity to strengthen them and work the muscle with weight going through it.

Calf Workout: Standing Heel Raises
  • Stand with your feet flat on the floor, holding onto a chair or the wall for balance

  • Rise up onto your tiptoes, as high as you can, Keeping your knees straight and your body upright throughout

  • Hold for 3-5 seconds and slowly lower down

  • Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions

You are aiming to take your weight equally on both feet. If that is too difficult to start with, let your good foot do more of the work and gradually progress to equal work as able.

You can progress this exercise either by holding weights or wearing a backpack containing heavy objects so you have to lift up against more resistance

Intermediate Calf Workout Exercises

Once you can confidently do the exercises in the beginners calf workout, you can progress onto these more challenging exercises.

1. Single Standing Calf Raises

Single leg calf raises are a really great way to increase calf strength - they look simple but are super effective.

single calf raise 280 opt sept 22
  • Stand holding onto a chair or the wall for balance and lift one foot off the floor

  • Push up onto your tiptoes lifting your as high as you can
      
  • Hold for 3-5 seconds and then slowly lower back down to the floor

  • Aim for 3 sets of 10 repetitions, gradually building up to 30 reps

You get maximum benefit from calf workout exercises by not taking any weight through your hands – let your legs do the work. Your hands are just there for balance if needed

2. Step Standing Calf Raises

Doing calf raises on a step works the calf muscles right through their full range which really helps to increase strength - one of my favourite calf workout exercises

step calf raise 320 opt sept 22
  • Stand with your heels hanging off a step, holding onto something for balance e.g. wall or banister

  • Let your heels drop down as far as feels comfortable and then push up onto your tip toes

  • Hold for 3 seconds and then drop back down as low as you can

  • Repeat 10-25 times

Make sure you are taking your weight evenly through both feet.  You may feel a stretch in your calf as you let your heels drop down – that is fine.  You are just having a bit of a stretch as well as strengthening the muscles

3. Resistance Band Calf Work

Resistance bands area a great tool for muscle strengthening and are a good way to add variety to your calf workout without having to take any weight through your leg.

theraband plantarfl 300 opt sept 20
  • Sitting or lying down, wrap a resistance band around the ball of your foot, hold onto the end and take up the slack 
  • Push your foot downwards against the band, pointing your toes as far down as you can

  • Hold for 3 seconds and slowly let your foot come back up

  • Repeat 10-20 times

The more tightly you pull the band to increase the tension, the harder the calf muscles will have to work. Different coloured bands provide different levels of resistance so make sure you choose the right one for your calf workout. 

4. Jumping Calf Workout

It sounds simple but this is a great calf workout.  Jumps are very functional strengthening calf exercises and are a good cardiovascular exercise too.

  • Stand with both feet flat on the floor

  • Jump up and down on the spot. You should be pushing up through your toes on the way up, and landing on your toes first as you land.

  • Repeat 10-50 times either in one go or in 3 sets of 15

If you want to make things more challenging, rather than just jumping up and down, jump in different directions, or jump up onto a step or box and then jump back down.

To work harder, hold weights as you do this exercise e.g. dumb bells or bottles of water. Or if you want even more of a challenge, start in a squat position and then jump up and down.

Advanced Calf Exercises

Once you can confidently do the intermediate calf workout exercises, you can progress on to these more challenging exercises.

1. Single Step Calf Raises

This works the muscle through the full range and is good for balance and stability too. 

single heel raise step 340 opt sept 22
  • Stand with your heels hanging off the back of a step, holding the wall for balance and lift on foot.

  • Push up onto your toes as high as you can and hold for 3-5 seconds

  • Slowly lower down as far as you can

  • Repeat 10-30 times on each leg

For more of a challenge, wear a backpack containing heavy books while doing this exercise to make this an even harder calf workout

2. Hopping

 It sounds simple but hopping is a great calf workout. Not only does it work the calf muscles, it also helps to strengthen your core, improves balance and is a good cardiovascular workout

  • Stand on 1 leg

  • Hop up and down

  • Repeat 10-50 times on each leg either in 1 go or in 3 sets of 15

What Else Can Help?

If you are looking to strengthen the rest of the foot and improve strength, stability and flexibility in the foot, make sure you also visit the ankle strengthening section.

Tightness in the calf muscles makes them less efficient and can affect the position of the foot which may lead to a whole range of foot problems e.g. calf tightness is also a common cause of Achilles tendonitis.  Find out how to stretch the calf muscles as part of your calf workout programme in the calf stretches section.

You can also find top tips to help you get the best results from your calf workout in the ankle exercises guide.

If you are suffering from foot pain and want help working out what is wrong, visit the foot pain diagnosis section.  Alternatively, if your problem is more knee related, visit our sister site on Knee Pain

Page Last Updated: 10/05/22
Next Review Due: 10/05/24


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