Have you ever had runner envy? You know, an appreciation tinged with annoyance at those ridiculously fit guys with lean, mean, perfectly sculpted calves? It takes days over weeks over years to look like that, you tell yourself. Calf workouts are grueling, and trying to perform calf workouts at home is almost impossible.
You’re not entirely wrong. Calf muscles spend most of their lives deferring to the quad muscles—the bigger, stronger movement propellers at the top of your legs. When you run or otherwise exercise your legs, the quads get all the credit, and your legs take on an awkward lollipop shape (yes, your calves are the sticks in this metaphor).
The good news is that you don’t have to run a marathon to get great calves. All you need to do is hit those few exercises that work the calf muscles specifically—the larger and rounder gastrocnemius and the longer, flatter soleus the two muscles that collectively make up your calf. Here’s an easy calf workout you can try at home:
Before you put your calves to work, you need to get them ready. Stand with your feet parallel, shoulder-width apart. Slowly bend your legs so knees are just over your toes. Straighten. Repeat 10 times. Next, step into a gentle lunge, with your front leg bent and back leg straight. Hold this position for 10 counts; switch legs. Repeat 3 times. Finally, complete a set of walking lunges. Bend deep into your knees as you take these oversized steps in each direction.
One of the best ways to tone your calves is also one of the simplest: Take the stairs. At home, at work, when you’re traveling. Your calves get a workout going up and down steps. To make sure you are activating your lower legs and not letting your quads do all the work, do the stairs on your tippy-toes. Aim for 3-5 minutes of stair-climbing daily.
Just like it sounds, this exercise basically involves rising up onto your toes and back down, putting the workload on your calves to support your body weight. There are several variations you can try, depending on your fitness level:
Basic: On a flat surface, rise up onto your toes; come back down. Do 10 times.
Intermediate: Stand on an incline; Rise up, come back down. Do 10 times.
Advanced: Stand on the edge of a step, heels dangling over the edge. Rise up; come back down. Do 10 times.
Expert: Perform any and all of the above variations while hold 10-15 pound weights in both hands. Do 10 times.
Pro: Do any and all of the above one foot at a time (use a wall for support, if necessary). Do 10 times.
Sitting Calf Raises
Start in a seated position, knees bent. Either rest a heavy object across your legs, or simply lean forward and apply downward pressure to your thighs with your hands. Resisting this pressure, rise up onto the balls of your feet and then return to a sitting position. Repeat this exercise 10 times.
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet resting on the flat smooth seat of a sturdy wooden chair. Flex your toes toward the ceiling. Pushing through your heels, raising your hips slightly off the ground. Slide your heels in opposite directions—one foot toward you, one foot toward the back of the chair. Using your calf muscles, reverse directions. (These are small movements; a few inches max.) Continue sliding your feet back and forth for one minute.
There is no substitute for explosive movement to stimulate your calf muscles. Find a sturdy stool or step, about a 1.5 to 2 feet high. (You can also use the first step or two of a staircase.) Keeping your back straight, bend your knees, swing your arms, and jump onto the step with both feet, landing with soft knees. Beginners can step back down and jump up again. Once you get the hang of it, jump up, jump down. Repeat 10 times.