Written By: Chloe Wilson BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed By: FPE Medical Review Board
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.
The beginners calf workout is a great place to start, especially if you are recovering from an injury or surgery.
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.
You can also do this exercise when sitting, keeping your foot raised slightly off the floor.
Seated calf raises are a great place to start with for improving calf strength and flexibility without putting any weight through the foot.
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.
Standing calf raises work the calf muscles against gravity to strengthen them and work the muscle with weight going through it.
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
Once you can confidently do the exercises in the beginners calf workout, you can progress onto these more challenging exercises.
Single leg calf raises are a really great way to increase calf strength - they look simple but are super effective.
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
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
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
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.
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.
It sounds simple but this is a great calf workout. Jumps are very functional strengthening calf exercises and are a good cardiovascular exercise too.
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.
Once you can confidently do the intermediate calf workout exercises, you can progress on to these more challenging exercises.
This works the muscle through the full range and is good for balance and stability too.
For more of a challenge, wear a backpack containing heavy books while doing this exercise to make this an even harder calf workout
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
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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