The Top 5 Exercises For Increasing Calf Mass

Build thick and powerful calf muscles with these top 5 exercises: standing and seated calf raises, box jumps, leg press calf raises and dumbbell jump squats.

Overlooking your calves?Calves seem to be the most overlooked body part in the lower body. The muscle groups of your upper legs may very well support the core muscles of your body when you’re lifting but the lower leg muscles of the calves must work hard to stabilize the body through every movement while bearing the total weight of the body and any additional loads – twisting, raising you up onto your toes, lowering your onto your heels, twisting your feet.

It’s vital that your calves support you through every movement or you risk serious injury. Likewise, it does little good to train the rest of your body but leave your calves alone. You won’t be able to effectively stabilize the weights you’re moving and lifting outside of general workouts – meaning there’s no practical application for your muscle mass. Worst of all you will look like you’ve got chicken legs.

You cant even rely on the best upper leg exercises like squats and deadlifts to completely develop diamond calves. Start working through these top 5 exercises for increasing your calf muscles to ensure that you establish and maintain a well-rounded workout.

The Anatomy of the Calf Muscle

The calf muscle is a group of muscles that are balled into a large group in the upper portion of the lower leg just below the knee. This group is made up of 2 muscles that combine to make up the whole of the calf muscle.

  • Gastrocnemius – The calf muscle that is most visible from the exterior of the body. This muscle attaches at the Achilles tendon and originates just behind the knee on the femur where it crosses the knee joint
  • Soleus – This is a deep muscle that is not visible when looking at the leg externally. It lies beneath the gastrocnemius on the rear portion of the lower leg.

The function of the two muscles together is the elevate the heel both with the leg straight and when the knee is bent. The action of bending the heal is used in a variety of movements – walking, jumping, running, squats, etc.

The Top 5 Exercises for Increasing Calf Muscles – The Breakdown

The calf muscles can be worked in a variety of ways but they are a specialized muscle group that receive very little activity and attention unless they are specifically targeted. These top 5 exercises for the calf muscles will help you maintain a balanced workout in conjunction with other exercises so that your overall wellness and physical tone remains in balance.

Some of these exercises require the use of weights while others use little more than natural physical resistance. For additional resistance in any exercise you can add additional weight by using body straps or free weights (or by increasing the resistance of a machine if one is used.)

Top Calf Exercise #1 – Standing Calf Raises

This exercise can be done using either a dedicated machine or a calf block. The number of reps you do for this exercise will vary depending on your current calf mass and workout routine. Test different ranges to see which works for the density of your calf muscles.

Stand under the machine pads or bar with the balls of your feet on the calf block. Start with your heels low, approximately 2 to 4 inches below the block. This will offer the best stretch on your calves. Slowly raise yourself up on the balls of your feet as high as you’re able and contract your calf muscles as you reach the peak. Hold briefly and lower under control to repeat.

Top Calf Exercise #2 – Seated Calf Raise

This is a workout that is necessary to achieve complete development of the calf muscles. While this movement is similar to the standing calf raise, the seated calf raise will actually target the lower muscles of the calf (the soleus).

Sit with the machine pads resting on your thighs. Again, drop your heel to 2-4 inches depending on how flexible you are. Raise again and squeeze the calf muscles once you reach the top. The rep range for this workout, as well as the standing calf raise, should between 10 and 20 depending on the needs of your body and what you can tolerate.

Top Calf Exercise #3 – Leg Press Calf Raises

This is a tried and true exercise that has been in use for years known also as the donkey raise. Because of the nature of the exercise it has the most potential for getting a deeper pull in the calf muscles. The workout can be intensified with added weights, so you can avoid having to do calf presses with someone sitting on your back.

Sit on the leg press machine and hold the sled with only your toes and the balls of your feet. Do not move with your hips or knees and instead put all the movement into your ankles. This puts all the emphasis on your calf muscles and nowhere else in the leg.

Top Calf Exercise #4 – Box Jumps

In many lifting exercises you need to have explosive strength in your legs. The box jump offers that, as it’s a functional exercise made to give your calf muscles far more power and “spring”. This exercise can train your muscles to react and contract much more quickly, and will deliver some serious tone to your calf muscles.

Stand on the balls of your feet and you toes in front of a box, with the height appropriate to your limitations. Jump onto the box and land again on your toes and the balls of your feet. Jump back down to the floor and repeat for 8 to 10 reps. Do not use dumbbells or other held weights during this exercise as you may need your hands free in order to catch yourself if you trip.

Top Calf Exercise #5 – Dumbbell Jump Squat

While this movement does also work the upper leg muscles it focuses a great deal of attention on the calf muscles as well and is an integral part of any whole body workout. Like the box jump, the dumbbell jump squat can help add explosive power to your workout routine. This form of workout helps to develop muscle quickly – increased mass equals a higher metabolism and a better calorie burn through your other workouts.

To perform, simply place yourself in a position for a standard squat and lower your body into the squat, moving to the balls of your feet and toes as you do so. Once you’re at your lowest point, propel yourself up and explode upward into a jump. Land on the balls of your feet and immediately move into another squat. Use dumbbells for this exercise to increase the difficult, but avoid using a barbell. Dumbbells will provide a lower center of gravity and give you more central control of your balance.

Beginner Workout

Intermediate Workout

Advanced Workout

You’ll see the best results by adding the top exercises to build your calf muscles to your usual leg workout routine. When working on increasing muscle mass in the lower legs, remember that it’s important to take in the proper amount of nutrients and protein to sustain your exercises and never push yourself beyond your daily limit. Give your body the appropriate time to rest and recover between each workout session as a damaged muscle group is a useless muscle group.

Alex Stewart is the Sales Manager for Betancourt Nutrition Supplements. For more information on Betancourt Nutrition supplements, click here.

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About The Author
Once I saw how lifting could change my body, my passion turned to bodybuilding. I loved the feeling of pushing my body to its physical limits.

22 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Tue, 02/28/2017 - 01:48

Pls add photos of the workout too

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Tue, 02/28/2017 - 09:03

Hi Thomas,

All of the demonstration videos of the exercises are linked within the article. For a visual, simply click on the exercise you want to see performed.

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Posted Mon, 03/24/2014 - 14:53

I been body building for 10 years and with my experience I can say Don't pay attention to what Bubba said he clearly has no clue what he is saying... This article is prime, follow these steps for maximum growth in your calves...

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Posted Thu, 03/06/2014 - 11:07

Article is crap. Squats and Deadlifts are all you need for calves.

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Posted Wed, 06/03/2015 - 14:14

I agree

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Posted Tue, 02/21/2017 - 14:16

das bs bro . i squat and deadlift and have the quads , glutes, and hamstrings but not big ass calves

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Posted Fri, 12/13/2013 - 14:10

I would say an alternative could be sit on a bench and set some weigh on your knees/ legs and try that....not sure if it is as affective though

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Posted Tue, 09/03/2013 - 02:36

I dont have a seated calve machine at my gym, any alternatives?

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Posted Thu, 06/20/2013 - 08:33

Great Article.

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Posted Thu, 05/30/2013 - 16:30

Quit making excuses and lift! Damn, if your gym does not have the equipment referenced here then improvise with what they have, build it at home, or change gyms. Lift that's all. Great article.

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Posted Mon, 04/29/2013 - 17:58

I am very thick in the area just below the calf muscle down to my ankle. Is there any way to thin that area or do I just need to increase my calf size to make the lower leg Look smaller?

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Posted Thu, 11/15/2012 - 01:42

Does my gym have weights?

What sort of question is that? Does your mouth have a muzzle?

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Posted Mon, 11/05/2012 - 05:13

I broke my heelbone in March and lost a lot of muscle tone in my calf because of the amount of time i wasnt using the leg. I still have some mobility issues with my foot. I'm a keen cyclist and the problems i have with my foot doesnt really affect my cycling but there isnt an improvement on the size of my calf.Is there any other excercise i can do to strenghten and build my calf muscle?

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Posted Sat, 09/01/2012 - 14:05

I use an Olympic barbell with some weights on it to do seated calf raises. The bar can be a pain so I use he same pad I use for squats.

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Posted Thu, 08/30/2012 - 03:27

My gym also has not got a smith machine. Tried to do calf raises with the olympic bar in a power rack but it is hard to keep my balance.

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Posted Tue, 10/09/2012 - 13:53

Does your gym have weights by any chance?

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Posted Sun, 08/12/2012 - 04:31

Great article! I'm still working on doing 10 box jumps without knocking the box over lol, but these moves definitely give me that burn.

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Posted Sun, 07/29/2012 - 16:14

My gym does not have any calf machines. I do calf raises on the leg press. What else would you suggest?

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Posted Wed, 08/08/2012 - 06:20

If your gym has a smith machine you could perform standing calf raises by placing a plastic step on the floor and having the weight rested on your traps as you would a squat. you could also just perform standing calf raises on a plastic step without weight. try them out bro!

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Posted Thu, 02/07/2013 - 12:22

Ok for beginners, but once you start putting any real weight on the bar you can do send your traps into spasm, as I did last year. Wear 2 decent weighted backpacks much better IMO

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Posted Sat, 08/25/2012 - 13:02

Yes, I concur with iD09. The Smith Machine is a great alternative if your gym doesn't have a standing calf machine (most seem not to!). You can use some type of block - a step platform works best - for the stretch. I recommend doing a little bit of a warmup for your lower back as doing heavy weights on this exercise can be a bit of a strain. All the best!

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Posted Tue, 08/02/2016 - 09:54
Rodolfo Valdds

No calf machine in your gym or no squat rack in your gym. Quit that gym, its probably planet fitness