As the weather starts warming up, it’s time to pull out those dresses, shorts and sandals… all of which are guaranteed to show off your calves. Give everyone something fantastic to look at by incorporating calf exercises into your workout routine. Start with a seated exercise that targets your deeper soleus muscle, then move to standing and jumping exercises that focus more on the larger, more visible gastrocnemius.
If you don’t have access to a seated calf raise machine, mimic the machine’s function by sitting on a bench or a stability ball and stacking weights across your thighs. Simply press through the ball of your foot to raise your heels from the ground as high as you can. Don’t be afraid to use a fair amount of weight! Your calves are used to carrying your body around, so they can actually lift quite a bit. Aim to perform three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions using enough weight so that the last one to two repetitions are difficult to perform.
2. Standing Calf Raise
The standing calf raise is just what it sounds like. Simply stand up straight and tall, your feet close to one another; place your hand lightly on a wall or chair for support if you need it. Press through the balls of your feet and lift your heels from the ground, pressing them up as high as you can. Lower them back toward the ground, stopping just before the touch down. Perform two to three sets of 20 to 30 repetitions. Add weight if you’d like by holding dumbbells in each hand.
3. Single Leg Calf Raise
This is an extension of the standing calf raise, but you’re isolating each calf independently. Stand on one leg, placing your hands lightly on a wall or sturdy chair for support, if you need it. Press through the ball of your foot, lifting your heel from the ground as high as it will go. Lower it back toward the ground, stopping just before it touches down. Perform 15 to 20 repetitions on each leg, aiming for two sets. Add weight by holding dumbbells if you need it.
4. Alternating Leg Bounding
Plyometric jumping exercises are an excellent way to strengthen and tone your calves because your calves are forced to powerfully lift your entire body weight up off the ground. When performing an alternate leg bounding exercise, the goal is to propel yourself as high up in the air as you can, alternating between which leg leads the motion.
Essentially, it’s like a skip, but with more emphasis on both the height and width of the jump – you want to lift yourself as high into the air as you can, while still gaining a reasonable amount of forward distance. While unnecessary, you can use a plyometric ladder, like the one shown, to aim to travel across a certain amount of space. For instance, aiming for every third square as you bound forward.
5. Single Leg Bounding
Single leg bounding is just like alternate leg bounding, but you perform the exercise on a single leg, never letting the other leg touch down. This is different from a hop in that you’re not simply hopping forward as fast as you can; rather, after landing, you’re pausing long enough to recruit your calf muscles to really propel yourself up as high as you can as you bound forward. While unnecessary, if using a plyometric ladder, try to only touch down in every other square.
6. Single Leg Lateral Hops
Single leg lateral hops are all about quickness, and not about how high or far you can jump. Leading with one leg, hop laterally 10 to 12 hops in one direction, then switch legs and hop back 10 to 12 hops leading with the other leg. If you don’t have the strength or balance to perform the exercise on one leg, perform it with both legs instead.