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

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

1) Foot Pumps

Purpose: 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 pumps are a great warm up for a calf workout

Starting Position: Lie on the bed with your legs out straight

Action: 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

Repetition: 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.

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

2) Seated Calf Raises

Seated heel raises are a good exercise for those just starting a calf workout. Approved use

Purpose: Improve calf strength and flexibility

Starting Position: Sitting in a chair, feet flat on the floor, knees bent at right angles (90 degrees)

Action: Gently press your toes into the floor as you lift your heel up as high as you can.  Hold for 3-5 seconds and slowly lower back down to the floor

Repetition: Repeat 10-20 times daily

Variations: 1) You can do one foot at a time, or do both feet together
2) 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

Purpose: Standing calf raises work the calf muscles against gravity to strengthen them

Starting Position: Stand with your feet flat on the floor, holding onto a chair or the wall for balance

Action: Rise up onto your tiptoes, as high as you can.  Hold for 3-5 seconds and slowly lower down

Repetition: Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions

Top Tips: 1) Keep your knees straight and your body upright throughout

2) 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.

3) 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

1) Single Standing Calf Raises

Single calf raises are great calf exercises.  Approved use

Purpose: Calf strengthening in isolation

Starting Position: Standing holding onto a chair or the wall for balance and lift one foot off the floor.

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

Repetition: Aim for 3 sets of 10 repetitions

Notes: 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

Standing calf raises on a step.  Approved use

Purpose: Works the calf muscle through a great range to further increase strength.  One of my favourite calf workout exercises

Starting Position: Stand with your heels hanging off a step, holding onto something for balance e.g. wall or banister

Action: 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

Repetition: Repeat 10-25 times

Notes: 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) Toe Pointing Against Resistance

Resistance bands are a great tool with calf exercises.  Approved use

Purpose: Strengthen the calf using resistance but without having to stand and bear weight on the leg

Starting Position: Either lying on the bed or sitting in a chair with your legs out straight. Wrap a resistance band such as theraband around the ball of your foot and hold onto the end.  Take up the slack in the band

Action: Push your foot downwards against the band so you are pointing your toes as far down as you can.  Hold for 3 seconds and slowly let your foot come back up

Repetition: Repeat 10-20 times

Variations: You can vary the resistance in 2 ways
1) The more tightly you pull the band to increase the tension, the harder the calf muscles will have to work
2) You can choose from a range of bands at different resistances.  The higher the resistance, the harder the calf workout will be

4) Jumping

Jumping calf exercises.  Approved use www.

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

Starting Position: Stand with both feet flat on the floor

Action: 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.

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

Variations: 1) If you want to make things more interesting, rather than just jumping up and down, jump in different directions (as shown in the picture), or jump up onto a step or box and then jump back down.
2) To work harder, hold weights as you do this exercise e.g. dumb bells or bottles of water
3) To work even harder, start in a squat position and then jump up and down

Advanced Calf Exercises

1) Single Step Calf Raises

Calf exercises on a step - great for strengthening.  Approved use

Purpose: Advanced strengthening calf muscle exercise

Starting Position: Stand with your heels hanging off the back of a step, holding the wall for balance.  Lift up one foot so you are standing on one leg

Action: Push up onto your toes as high as you can and hold for 3-5 seconds.  Then, slowly lower down as far as you can, dropping your heel lower than the level of the step. Repeat

Repetition: Repeat 10-30 times on each leg

Progression: Wear a backpack containing heavy books while doing this exercise to make this even harder

2) Hopping

Purpose: 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

Starting Position: Stand on 1 leg

Action: Hop up and down

Repetition: 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

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Page Last Updated: 24/09/20
Next Review Due: 24/09/22