For Calves That Are Strong, Defined, and Hard as a Rock, Do These 6 Muscle-Building Moves

The secret to strong calves is in the science. To tone and build this important muscle group, you need to target both the gastrocnemius — the big ball of a muscle on your calf — and the soleus, which runs beneath it from your heel up to the back of your knee. "Both of these muscles make up the calves," explained Ashley Kelly, NASM, a personal trainer with Bach in New York City and a 2016 Olympian in track and field.

Strong calf muscles, Ashley told POPSUGAR, help to stabilize your knees, feet, and ankles. That stability, in turn, can help prevent injuries from overpronation, when your ankle rolls too far inward during a stride, and excessive supination, when your ankle bows outwards. And if you're a runner, Ashley added, strong calves can help you dominate. These muscles are important in short sprints, and building them will increase the power in your legs overall.

You can build calf muscles through both running and strength training, Ashley said. "Runners normally have tighter calves because of the constant impact and contractions," she explained. Strength training can help isolate those muscles without the pounding impact that can make running hard on your joints and other muscles.

If you're looking for calf strength exercises in particular, you're in the right place. Ashley recommended adding a few calf moves as a superset in your regular lower-body workout if you're especially focused on strengthening and building those muscles. You can also mix in a few throughout a full-body workout. Start with simple bodyweight exercises (here are our favorites for strengthening calves), then try out a few of these weighted moves that Ashley recommended.

Calf Exercises With Weights

To make these calf exercises a superset, do 10 reps of each and repeat the full circuit three times, taking a 30 second to one minute rest after each circuit.

  • Double leg calf raise with a barbell
  • Elevated double leg calf raise
  • Seated calf raise
  • Calf raise with leg press machine
  • Jump rope
  • Box jump

Keep reading to see how to do each move, and when you're done, don't forget to stretch out with these eight effective calf stretches.

click to play video

Double Leg Calf Raise With Barbell

Use a barbell with light weights or without any weights. (Here's a guide to choosing the right weight.)

  • Place a barbell across the back of your shoulders, holding it in an overhand grip with your hands just wider than your shoulders.
  • Lift onto your tiptoes and hold for a second.
  • Lower back down slowly to complete one rep.
click to play video

Elevated Double Leg Calf Raise

  • Stand on a stable, elevated surface, like a box or a curb, with your heels hanging off the edge.
  • Raise your heels until you are on your tiptoes and hold for a second.
  • Slowly lower your heels back down to complete one rep.
click to play video

Seated Calf Raises

  • Sit on a bench with both feet on the ground.
  • Rest light to medium dumbbells upright on both knees, holding them with your hands.
  • Raise onto your toes, then lower back down to complete one rep.
click to play video

Calf Raise With Leg Press Machine

If you're a beginner, read our tips on using the leg press machine before you try this move.

  • Load the leg press machine with weights you can handle (25-35-pound plates on either side is a good place to start).
  • Sit and place your feet on the footplate, hips-distance apart, with your heels hanging off the edge.
  • Press the footplate as you release the safety catches with your hands.
  • Once your legs are extended, let the plate push back on your feet so your ankles are flexed putting your calves in a lengthen positions (it should feel like a stretch).
  • Using your toes, push the weight back up a few inches. This completes one rep.
Jump Rope
Getty/ Anchiy

Jump Rope

  • Jump rope steadily for 2 minutes, followed by a 30-second rest.
  • If that's too easy, lift one leg in the air, bending at the knee, and do single-leg jump rope. If you don't have a jump rope, just fake it and keep on hopping.
Box Jumps
POPSUGAR Photography | Diggy Lloyd

Box Jumps

If you're a beginner, start with step-ups instead.

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips in front of a sturdy, short box (about 12 inches high or lower).
  • Bend your knees, swing your arms back, and jump to the top of the box with both feet, swinging your arms forward to give you momentum.
  • Stand, then jump lightly back to the floor or step back down.
Stretch: Downward Dog
POPSUGAR Photography | Rima Brindamour

Stretch: Downward Dog

Your calves can tighten up fast, so loosen them up right after the workout with a focused stretch like Downward Dog.

  • Begin in a plank pose with your hands under your shoulders, then lift your pelvis up, making a "V" with your body. Walk your feet toward your hands if you need to.
  • Work on bringing your heels toward the ground to stretch your calves.
  • To deepen the stretch, try pedaling lightly by pressing down on one heel while bending the other leg (as shown). Hold a few seconds per leg and then switch.
  • Hold or pedal your feet for 30 seconds.