Calf muscles are either your number one concern or something that you never think about, depending on your genetics. They are one of the hardest muscles to grow for some guys, and always a great source of fun for their friends! If you are not one of the genetically blessed, then you really need this article.
In it we are going to go through five of the best calf exercises that you need gracing your training plan.
Exercise #1 Dumbbell Calf Raise
For this exercise you will need a (strong and stable) step or ledge and a single dumbbell. You will also require a wall or something similar to help keep yourself balanced throughout. Place your feet on the ledge so that your heels are hanging off it, grab hold of the wall with one arm and hold the dumbbell by your side using your other arm.
Slowly raise your heels up in the air so that you are on your tiptoes. Then lower your heels down as low as you can go while remaining on the ledge. Return to the starting position. That is one rep. You can use a heavy dumbbell for this, and as an added bonus you should see an increase in grip strength and forearm size after performing this exercise for long enough.
A kettlebell would also be a great choice rather than the dumbbell as the handle would make it slightly easier to hold onto. Alternatively, you could perform this exercise with no dumbbell as it works great as a bodyweight exercise.
Exercise #2 Calf Raise (Smith Machine)
Many people disparage the Smith Machine, but sometimes it is the only option. You could not perform this exercise safely in a squat rack, and even if you could the Smith Machine would be better. This is because the rails will keep the bar traveling in a straight line and you can devote 100% of your effort onto the lift itself.
For this exercise you’ll need a Smith Machine (obviously) and some form of step. In the video we used an aerobic step, but you could also use some heavy duty Olympic plates, or something similarly stable. This exercise is basically the same as the dumbbell calf raise but 1) you are able to train both calves equally 2) you can lift a much heavier weight, and 3) you don’t need a wall for balance.
Place the step slightly in front of the bar so that when you step onto it your body is directly under the bar. Make sure that your heels are hanging off the step and that your body is in a straight line underneath the bar (rather than at a slight angle if the step is incorrectly placed).
Unlock the bar and get it to rest on your trapezius muscle. Slowly raise your heels up in the air so that you are on your tiptoes. Lower your heels down towards the ground, pause at the bottom and then return to the starting position. Re-rack the bar when finished. This exercise really suits heavy weights and low reps, but it can also be used for high rep sets or drop sets.
Exercise #3 Calf Raise (Leg Press)
Almost every commercial gym in the world has some form of leg press, the exercise we are talking about here is performed on a 45-degree leg press, but the exercise can really be performed on any variation of leg press.
Set yourself up on a leg press like you would normally, now instead of placing your feet in the center of the foot plate shuffle them down until they are hanging off the bottom of it (just like you would when performing a dumbbell calf raise) so that your heels are in the air.
You are now going to push the plate off the stands and then readjust your feet if necessary. Once the weight plate is off the stands and you are in position you are going to push your heels forward. Pause at the top of the movement and then push the tips of your feet forward and bring your heels backwards. This should put your calves through their full range of motion.
Exercise #4 Farmer’s Walk on Toes
The thing about this exercise is that it is really effective yet also incredibly embarrassing to perform in a crowded gym where nobody understands the context. It just looks like you’re trying to fulfil your life’s ambition of becoming a ballerina. The exercise will work your calves better than any other exercise though, so suck it up buttercup!
Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand, make sure that they are super-heavy. Now rise up onto your tiptoes. Push your chest out, pull your shoulders back and grip the weights tightly. All you have to do now is walk in a straight line holding the weights while remaining on your tiptoes. Simple!
Exercise #5 Box Jumps
The final exercise on this list is the only exercise that is not specifically designed for building calf strength. But the box jump is a fantastic exercise for building calf strength as well as improving your power. Any jumping movement will target the calf muscles, so standing broad jumps, skipping, hopping etc. would all work, but we picked box jumps because they are very popular in the fitness world.
The first thing you should understand about box jumps is that they are almost always taught badly. Plyometrics (jumping and other explosive movements) is a very intense training style, and should only be used by people who have been training for a while. The box jump is a great example of that.
It really needs to be treated with respect. Stand in front of a box that is at a height that you feel you can manage, if you are starting out then make sure it is pretty low. Stand in front of the box, bend your knees, and bring your arms back behind you. Then jump onto the box, swinging your arms forward to create momentum.
You should land on the box silently, if your landing makes a large noise then you are not jumping properly. Check out the video we’ve linked, see how cat-like that jump is? This is the right height for that jumper, as they have time to decelerate and land comfortably. Also, CLIMB OFF the box. Don’t jump off. Each rep is a completely separate movement. If you try to jump on and then off and on again (like they do in CrossFit) then you aren’t box jumping properly and will most likely injure yourself.
Gaining mass on your calf muscles can be exceptionally difficult, but with the right exercises and proper diet, we hope that the information in this article can help you on your way!