16 Best Calf Exercises to Beef up Those Chicken Legs

Calf exercises are often looked upon as the vainest of workout routines, in that they spruce up a muscle for seemingly cosmetic purposes. Located on the back of the lower end of each leg, calves arguably serve as signals of sorts, letting other dudes know that you’re a next-level fitness freak. This might lead one to wonder: should I skip out on calf workouts altogether?

The answer is no, you shouldn’t. That’s because there’s more to quality calf muscle exercises than first meets the eye. According to one extensive study, healthy calves don’t just indicate strong legs but are directly correlated to lower amounts of plaque build-up in the arteries, along with better resting heart rates and more skeletal muscle.

Hence, whether you’re trying to impress the other meatheads, improve overall health, or simply add more definition to those sexy legs, you have plenty of reason to practice calf workouts on a regular basis. When you do, start with the following calf exercises, increasing the number of reps and sets as you improve (some experts say you should never do less than 20 reps per set, but we’ll provide beginner suggestions and let you handle the rest).

1. Standing Barbell Calf Raise

Easily ranking amongst the best calf exercises for men, this one brings a barbell into the mix. Here’s how to execute:

  • Stand tall and support a barbell on your upper back, with your toes facing forward
  • Raise both heels and contract your calves on each leg
  • Gradually return to the starting position and repeat

Reps: 10-15 reps per set
Sets: 3-5
Rest: 45 seconds between each set

2. Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise

You’ll need both a weight plate and a dumbbell for this one. Here we go:

  • Place the weight plate on the floor
  • Sit at the end of a bench and rest your toes on top of the weight plate
  • Put a dumbbell on your knee, holding the handle with your right hand while your left hand holds the top
  • Raise your toes as high as you can without lifting them off the plate
  • Hold for a moment, lower your toes, and repeat

Reps: 15-20 reps per set
Sets: 3-5
Rest: 45 seconds between each set

3. Seated Calf Raise (Leg Press Machine)

This popular calf exercise requires a leg press machine. Here’s how to execute:

  • Sit at the leg press machine in a manner where just the top part of each foot is touching the bottom of the platform in front of you
  • Push back as far as you can while keeping your toes connected to the platform
  • Return and repeat

Reps: 15-20 reps per set
Sets: 3-5
Rest: 45 seconds between each set

4. Farmer’s Walk (on Tiptoes)

More than one of the best calf workouts, this widely-practiced exercise will improve upon things like grip strength, balance, and overall muscle. Let’s get into it:

  • Pick up a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells and hold them at your sides
  • Get on your tippy-toes and walk forward as fast as you can for as far as you can go, taking short steps
  • Use a lighter weight to sustain balance and add more weight as you progress

Distance: as far as you can go
Number of sets: 2-3
Recovery: 2-3 minutes between each set

5. Box Jumps

This workout builds strength all over your legs, calves included. Do the following:

  • Find a secure box and stand a short distance away from it, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Drop into a quarter squat and swing your arms as you powerfully jump onto the box
  • Land softly and step backward, maintaining a tight sense of form and control

Distance: 3-5 reps per set
Number of sets: 2-3
Recovery: 45-60 seconds between each set

6. Jumping Jacks

As it turns out, this fitness classic is also one of the best calf exercises you can perform. Here’s a refresher:

  • Stand upright with your feet together and your arms at your sides
  • Simultaneously jump and spread your legs while clapping your hands above your head
  • Jump again as you return to the starting position
  • Repeat

Distance: 20-25 reps per set
Number of sets: 3-5
Recovery: 45-60 seconds between each set

7. Seal Jumps

This is basically an alternative to standard jumping jacks. Here’s how to do it:

  • Start in jumping jack formation
  • When you jump, move each arm out to either side instead of moving them overhead
  • Jump again and clap your hands in front of you
  • Repeat

Distance: 20-25 reps per set
Number of sets: 3-5
Recovery: 45-60 seconds between each set

8. Single-Leg Calf Raise

The beauty of even the best calf workouts is that they seem pretty basic compared to most modern exercises. Proving as much is the single-leg calf raise, which entails the following moves:

  • Stand atop an elevated surface like a block, rail, or step
  • Raise one leg and rest your weight on the ball of the other foot (which is still on the surface)
  • Wrap your raised leg around the fixed leg and lower your body toward the floor, stretching your calf in the process
  • Hold for a moment before thrusting upward on the ball of your foot, raising your heel
  • Hold at the top before returning to the starting position
  • Repeat

Reps: 15-20 reps per set
Sets: 3-5
Rest: 45 seconds between each set

9. Lateral Lunge to Curtsy

Okay, so maybe not every calf exercise is all that simple. For example, this one requires some nifty lower body movement and can be performed either with or without a weight (plate, dumbbell, etc). Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand upright holding a weight plate, dumbbell or kettlebell
  • Move your right foot to the side while hinging your hips as you form a lateral lunge
  • Push off the right foot and rise upward to the standing position, simultaneously bringing your right leg into a curtsy lunge
  • Switch legs for a full rep
  • Repeat

Reps: 10-12 reps per set
Sets: 2-3
Rest: 45-60 seconds between each set

10. Agility Ladder

If you can’t find an agility ladder, try to create one using tape or chalk. Then bring out your inner football player by doing the following:

  • Place the agility ladder on the floor and stand at one end
  • Run or hop from one end of the agility ladder to the other
  • Walk back to the starting position and repeat

Reps: 10-12 reps per set
Sets: 2-3
Rest: 45-60 seconds between each set

11. Bosu Ball Squat

In case it’s not yet obvious, you’ll need a Bosu ball for this one. Now do the following:

  • Place the Bosu ball on the ground, dome-side down
  • Stand on the ball and keep your balance
  • Lower into a squat position without losing control
  • Stand and repeat

Reps: 10-12 reps per set
Sets: 3-5
Rest: 45-60 seconds between each set

12. Seated Band Pushes

This excellent calf exercise will help you build explosive power through progressive resistance. Grab the resistance band and perform the following steps:

  • Sit on the ground with your feet straight out in front of you
  • Place one end of a looped resistance band around the balls of your feet and hold the other end in your hands, keeping the band tight
  • Bend your ankle so as to push against the resistance band, thereby flexing your calves
  • Return to the starting position and repeat

Reps: 15-25 reps per set
Sets: 3-5
Rest: 45-60 seconds between each set

13. Explosive Calf Step-Up

Work the legs, calves, and ankles with this exercise. You’ll need a box or bench or something to step onto. Here’s how to get it done:

  • Place one foot on the box or bench surface, leaving the other foot on the ground
  • Drive upward off the elevated foot, jumping into the air and ideally switching feet as you come down
  • Switch legs for a complete rep
  • Repeat

Reps: 15-25 reps per set
Sets: 3-5
Rest: 45-60 seconds between each set

14. Static Neutral Hold

This isometric exercise works the calf muscles and improves ankle flexibility. Feel free to use an elevated surface like a box or block. Do the following:

  • Holding onto something for support, place the balls of your feet on top of the block
  • Keep most of the weight on the balls of your feet
  • Straighten your ankles and flex your calves
  • Hold for 30-60 seconds

Reps: 30-60 seconds
Sets: 3-4
Rest: 45-60 seconds between each set

15. Jump Rope

Here’s another fitness classic that also happens to be a solid calf exercise. Grab a jump rope and do the following:

  • Hold each end of the jump rope in either hand
  • Swing the rope and jump as the rope passes under your feet

Reps: 30-40 seconds per set
Sets: as many sets as you can do in five minutes
Rest: 30 seconds between each set

16. Hill Runs

Take the action outdoors by finding a nearby hill. Then do the following:

  • Sprint uphill in a 20-second dash
  • Walk or jog back down
  • Repeat

Reps: 20-second sprint
Sets: 5-6
Rest: none between each set

What Weights do I Need?

Kettlebells

One of the most effective pieces of equipment to use during any explosive workout is a kettlebell. These versatile and compact weights come in a myriad of sizes and styles, and can easily be substituted as you grow in strength and stamina. We recommend buying a kettlebell package to begin with, that way you can ensure you have the right weight for each individual exercise. Once you have a decent selection to choose from, you can start specialising with custom designs like Onnit’s 70lb Darth Vader kettlebell.

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Dumbbells

Dumbbells have remained a staple of bodybuilding gyms for decades, and for good reason. The versatile piece of equipment can be used for for a vast number of calf exercises or utilised for a killer arm workout. For those looking to purchase their own dumbbells, we recommend considering an adjustable dumbbell set. This way you don’t have to buy new dumbbells each time you outgrow a weight class; you simply add more weight and push your limits.

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General FAQ

What is the best exercise for calves?

There are a number of calf exercises that will improve upon strength and definition. That includes the following: box jumps, seated calf raises, jump squats, single-leg calf raises, uphill sprints, and side lunges.

How can I increase my calf size?

To increase calf size and strength, you must approach calf exercises as you would any workout routine. That means starting with a specific number of reps and sets and increasing both as you improve. Be sure to perform some of the following exercises: box jumps, seated calf raises, jump squats, single-leg calf raises, uphill sprints, and side lunges.

Is it OK to train calves everyday?

While it's important to stretch your calves on a regular (i.e. daily) basis, you don't want to overwork this muscle group. Start with 3 calf workouts per week and see where it takes you.

Does walking make calves bigger?

Regular walking won't do much to increase calf size. For that, you'll need to implement an intensive calf workout routine.

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