The Top 3 Exercises for Muscular Calves

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Apr 9,2024|12 min| 1724

Don’t succumb to having chicken legs

When it comes to your time training legs in the gym, the fun lifts consist of the heavy compounds, like maxing out your squat or your deadlift. Even hitting some intense sessions on the hack squat and the leg press can be fun, but one muscle group on the legs that people tend to neglect are the calves. Everyone obliterates their quads and their hamstrings, but when it comes time to hitting calves, the workout routines seem to be bare. Sometimes people complete lackluster exercises that are completed at the end of the workout, if anything. 

So, what is the importance of hitting calves? And what exercises should you even do? Let’s break down the top three exercises for your calves, so you are not left with chicken legs.

The Importance of Hitting Calves

When you look at someone’s physique, proportion and symmetry are largely important. It is not aesthetically pleasing to see someone with a massive upper body, and then an underdeveloped lower body, especially in bodybuilding. The calves are the forearms of the legs; when you see someone with tiny forearms but massive biceps and triceps, it does not look right and is not pleasing to the eye. When you see someone with miniscule calf muscles, but large quadriceps and hamstrings, it is the same thing. 

That being said, calves are largely important for aesthetics. But, strong calves also help with everyday functionality. In case you did not know, the calf muscles are actually responsible for plantar flexion of the foot and ankle. This means that the calf muscles are largely engaged in activities such as running and jumping.

How to Train Calves

Now, being that you utilize your calf muscles for everyday activities such as walking, running, and going up flights of stairs, you can tend to train them a little bit more than other muscle groups such as the chest or back. Calves are actually on the list of muscles that you can hit several times a week. In order to actually see some serious growth in your calves, you need to go heavy, with good amounts of volume. You need to truly overload the calf muscles to get anything out of them.

The Best Exercises for Calves

Now, with all of that being said, let’s take a look at the top exercises that you can do to put some muscle on your frame in the calf department. 

Seated Calf Raises

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Due to the position of your knees in this movement (they are bent), the seated calf raise exercise will end up targeting the soleus muscle, which is that smaller part of your calf on the outer side. You can also change up your footing on this exercise to really hit the different parts of the calf muscle.

As an example of what to do when you are on the seated calf machine is that you can start the exercise with a neutral foot placement and perform 10-12 reps, or go until you reach the point of muscular failure. From there, you can rack the weights and and change up your foot placement so your toes point inwards, and you hit another 10-12 reps or go until muscular failure. After you complete that, re-rack the weight and then point your toes outwards and complete another 10-12 reps, or go until muscular failure. You can do this for 3 or 4 sets to really feel the burn and break down the muscle fibers in your calves.

Standing Calf Raises

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After you hit your seated calf raises, move over to the standing calf raise machine. If you do not have a specific machine in the gym for this, you can take over a Smith machine and stand on a plate with your heels hanging off. What you want is a deep stretch and a complete range of motion, as these are some of the most important aspects of training calves. Too many times do people make the mistake of overloading the machine or the barbell and can only move the weights a few inches. That being said, if you are on the Smith Machine, you do not want to be flat footed, you absolutely want your heels hanging off so you can get a deep stretch, and you should try to go as deep as you can so your heels are almost touching the floor.

When you are at the top of the movement you should get a nice squeeze, meaning don’t just go right back down. For a moment or two, you should look like a Ballerina standing on her tippy toes. You want to get a great mind-muscle connection and really contract your calves at full extension with every rep that you complete. By the end of this exercise, you should really be feeling the burn in your calf muscles. If you want to challenge yourself, you can do the same routine as the one stated above, meaning alternate your footing positions and do a couple sets with higher volume.

Leg Press Calf Raises

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For the last exercise, take a look at doing some leg press calf raises. Yes, they may sound simple as they are just calf raises on the leg press machine, but leg press calf raises are actually a great exercise as they isolate your calves. Your range of motion should also be far better during this exercise, as this is one of the few calf exercises where your feet will be placed higher than your upper body. The placement of your feet during this movement allow for a greater extension of the calf muscles, as the heels will hang off of the machine so there is nothing to stop them.

Just like the other two exercises, you are able to switch up your footing positions and hitting some higher reps, and you should try going heavier without compromising your form too much. Another trick that you can do is to lower the weights, and do some different tempos on the reps. You can hold the weight at the bottom for a second, take three seconds to extend your feet and hold for another three seconds at the top of the movement.

Workout Programs to Use

One way of ensuring progress is finding a workout program that incorporates methods of progressive overload and other training styles that don’t have you just going all out, hitting one rep maxes, and blowing out your knees. 

If you are looking to stay on track and continue with linear progression and painless squats, then finding a good workout program is the key. Where do you look for a good bodybuilding workout program? Check out the Boostcamp App for some great programs. 

Boostcamp is home to over 50 FREE workout programs that consist of strength, hypertrophy, or functional fitness, or both, from the push pull legs program all the way to upper lower. However, with Boostcamp, you don’t have to just follow a pre-written program, you also can create your own program as well, and track your progress to make sure you are on the right track. That being said, when you are looking to incorporate some arm training to further your powerlifting progress, then check out Boostcamp.

The Best Calf Exercises Wrap Up

Overall, calves are not something that you want to neglect, otherwise your legs will look like toothpicks. Keep in mind that the calves are what show when you are in shorts, and having massive quads and well developed hamstrings won’t look right if what is below them is left untouched. That being said, give these calf workouts a try!

Let us know what you think! And be sure to follow Boostcamp on Instagram and subscribe on YouTube!