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Shapely Calf Muscles

Updated on January 31, 2012

Takeoff, acceleration, speed and jumping ability all begin in your lower legs.

Essential to physical activities that require running and jumping movements, your lower legs also have a major influence on throwing movements.

Surprisingly, the ankle's movement is more important than the knee's in running and jumping, because your ankle creates more force.

The bulk of all the lower leg muscles is located fairly close to your knee.

Kinesiology & Physiology

It's been said that you can work calf and ab muscles every day because they recover quickly. True, these smaller muscles bounce back faster than the major muscle groups, but there's no escaping the fact that muscle growth results from alternating hard stimulation with passive recovery. If you train calves a little bit every day you won't stimulate the muscles or allow them to recuperate fully. The perfect plan for designing muscular calves is to focus on them twice a week, along with the thighs, hamstrings and glutes, which require 72 hours to recover.


Photo by Elizabeth Parker. Calves by Marty Jensen.
Photo by Elizabeth Parker. Calves by Marty Jensen.

Standing Calf Raises

Rise up on the balls of your feet as high as possible, then lower back down. For greater range of motion, place a block under the balls of your feet. This lowers your heels when you drop back down, stretching your Achilles tendon and putting tension on the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. A weighted barbell across your shoulders will make this exercise more difficult - and more effective.

Standing Calf Raises Demonstration

Seated Calf Raises

The procedure is the same as for standing calf raises, but you're seated. Seated calf raises aren't effective in strengthening the gastrocnemius, which is best worked while standing. But they do wonders for the soleus muscle.

Seated Calf Raises Demonstration

Donkey Calf Raises

Bend over, with the balls of your feet balanced on the edge of a large, solid block, and have your partner sit on your back right above your pelvis, for resistance

It's cumbersome, but effective.

The donkey calf raise has traditionally been done with the training partner sitting astride your hips. You had to have fairly strong arms and legs to handle the additional weight and to hold yourself in good balance. Today, however, you can use the donkey calf raise machine. It makes execution much easier and also allows you to do variations on the basic exercise.

Donkey Calf Raise Demonstration

Hack Squat Calf Extension

This exercise is very similar to a standing calf raise. In this variation, however, you use the hack squat machine as the resistance. Stand facing the hack squat machine - your knees and hips are locked; your body is perfectly straight. Place the balls of your feet on a block positioned at the base of the machine the arches and heels of your feet should be extended off the block. Flex the feet, pivoting at the ankles, to stretch the calves. And back down again to contract the calves.


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    • profile image

      mexxxxxxx 5 years ago


    • Aisla profile image

      Carolyn Mikkelsen 6 years ago from Norway

      Thorough and good post, look forward to reading more.

    • profile image

      Kendall 6 years ago

      Very good leg exercises.

    • Eugene Sung profile image

      Eugene Sung 7 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      @joshuanoerr I think the old school version is really fun! lol

    • joshuanoerr profile image

      joshuanoerr 7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      The good news is most gyms are starting to have donkey calf raise machines so you can avoid the awkward looks the old school version always brings.

    • joecseko profile image

      Joe Cseko jr 8 years ago from New York, USA, Earth

      I have a great deal of respect for your thorough approach to exercise. Unfortunately, many people will miss the fine points of what you're saying.

      I've been a fan for quite some time, but I still check back.

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 8 years ago from Sydney

      Actually it's pretty easay to get bulging calf muscles. Just do a lot of jumping and don't put your heels down when you land!

      Highland dancers are famous for their huge calf muscles for that reason, as they never put their heels on the ground during a dance. Of course, that means there's a risk of injury because you're not using the heels to cushion your landing.

      I hate my big calf muscles - I can't wear winter boots because the zips won't do up.

    • darkside profile image

      Glen 8 years ago from Australia

      Each muscle group has different recuperation times. Calves is actually quicker, but the suggestion is to work them out with the other leg muscles, so twice a week will suffice.

      I've got a formula here (devised by Joe Weider) which I'll be putting in the Muscle & Fitness Capstone hub once I've completed the series.

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      I am definitely a leg woman, haha. I think strong hiking legs are about the sexiest thing around... that's how my husband captured my attention, haha. Yes, I am old. But what the heck!

    • HealthCare Basics profile image

      HealthCare Basics 8 years ago from San Diego, California

      I didn't know about the 72 hour resting time. Thanks.