Calf Workout

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 beginners calf workout concentrating on strengthening exercises. Once you are feeling confident with these, you can progress onto intermediate and advanced calf exercises.

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

Purpose: Improve calf strength and flexibility

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

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

Once you have mastered these exercises, you can progress onto the intermediate and advanced level calf 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.  Choose the ones that best suit you, and progress through them as you feel able.  And don’t forget to do some calf stretches too!  

What Else Can Help?

Stretches are also a real important part of any calf workout. 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.

What Next?

Once you have mastered these basic calf exercises, you can move on to more challenging exercises in the intermediate/advanced calf workout section.

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.

Go to Exercise Guide or Foot Pain Guide

Page Last Updated: 14/01/19
Next Review Due: 14/01/21

Your Comments

Share your foot pain experiences with others, whether it be ideas, top tips, things that worked well for you, problems you've had, questions etc.......

This comments section is moderated occasionally and posteriorly by our editorial team. Internet users posting comments here should not be considered as health professionals. Comments posted here should be designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her existing physician. See our full terms of use in the commenting policy section.