Exercises to Strengthen the Calf Muscle

Two muscles make up the “calf” muscles: the underlying soleus and the outer gastrocnemius. The soleus is only involved in plantar flexion (pointing of the toe). The gastrocnemius does both plantar flexion and knee flexion (bending the knee). This difference is due to the different origins for each muscle. The soleus originates from the upper posterior tibia and fibula, and the gastrocnemius originates from the back of the medial and lateral condyles. Both muscles insert at the Achilles tendon.

Seated Calf Raise

The soleus muscle can be isolated by performing the seated calf raise. The seated calf raise is done by sitting with the knees bent at 90 degrees, placing a weight (if necessary) on top of the knees and lifting the heels up as high as possible, pushing through the toes.

Standing Calf Raise

The standing calf raise works both muscles in the calf. This can be done any number of ways, depending on strength. The most basic way is to stand on level ground and slowly lift the heels as high as possible. A progression would be to stand on a stair with the heels over the edge and allow them to lower down, stretching the calf, then rising up as high as possible. Finally, weights can be added to make the exercise more challenging. Any one of these exercises can also be performed on one leg to increase the difficulty.

Lying Leg Curl

The lying leg curl can also work the gastrocnemius, even though the focus of the exercise is typically the hamstrings. The gastrocnemius does work during knee flexion. Because most people only train the calves in plantar flexion and not in knee flexion, this end of the gastrocnemius can often be weak. The lying leg curl can be done using an exercise ball. Lying on your back, place your heels on the ball. Elevate your hips and maintain a straight line from your shoulders through your hips and knees. Slowly bend your legs, rolling the ball toward your rear. To really challenge the calves, point your toes on the ball at the highest point before returning to the starting position.

About this Author

Chris Chinn has been a personal trainer for more than four years, earning his B.S. in health and exercise science from Colorado State University, as well as five national certifications. With more than 4,000 training and consulting hours, he has helped hundreds of people to achieve their fitness goals.