When it comes to leg workouts, your calves may not always be on the top of your list for muscles that you need to hit. They are relatively small and tend to work on themselves, but you may be missing out on a lot of lower body strength without them. To help you hit them hard and make some serious progress on your lower legs, we’ve put together these five exercises that will get your calves going.

close-up of calves during exercise

Standing Barbell Calf Raise

The standing barbell calf raise is likely one of the only exercises you see done for calf raises. It’s simple and effective, and that’s why it’s most people's go-to calf exercise. It has a pretty exclusive activation, and you can add the weight of your choice which gives you all the control you need. No wonder it's out headliner here, too.

To do it, you need to find a barbell with a suitable weight that you’re going to be able to keep up for however many sets you have in mind. Fatigue is easy with calves, so take it easy. It can even be wise to use a smith machine to really nail it. Simply push yourself onto the balls of your feet, hold, and slowly return. That is the only movement they can really help you with.

Seated Calf Raise

Although it shares similar motion ranges, the seated calf raise, with use of a machine or a dumbbell, offers you more variety. The change in position means that you can really isolate your calves singularly as well as individually, which will help you put on huge levels of strength.

Actually, performing them is relatively straightforward. You simply need to be sat under the bar of the calf raise machine or have a dumbbell on your leg in a secure position. Once you’re ready, push your heel up, hold, and return to initial position.

Calf Raises on Leg Press

Flipping the exercise is also an excellent way to go about it. The leg press machine is a great way for you to do this providing you do it correctly and safely. Instead of lifting your body and your weighted addition off the floor, you are pushing yourself down and the weight up. Variation is the root of all progress in weight training!

All that you need to do for this one is to get yourself comfortably positioned in the seat of the leg press machine so that you can support yourself and the weight that you’re going to be moving for the full set. You only really need to have half of each foot on the machine with a close stance rather than the usual distance apart. Once you’re ready, again push down with your feet as you contract your calves to move the plate the furthest you can. Do not engage your legs! Otherwise, your calves will not see the benefit.

Donkey Raises

Donkey raises are one of the more obscure exercises on the list, and you’ve probably not seen them done before. They aren’t for everyone, but their effectiveness at building up your calves can’t be questioned. You will need a partner though, and if you have serious calf strength, maybe even weighted clothing.

Once you do have someone to help you out, and you’re familiar with the technique, you’re good to go. Keep your back straight to make sure that you are keeping yourself safe and in the best position to work your calves. Lean over and support yourself by placing your hands on a bench or even a wall depending on where you’re going to be doing it. With your partner perched on your back safely, this is where you need to be contracting your calves to lift their weight upwards. The forward lean of your own body will hit your calves in a different way to most of the other exercises on the list.

Standing Deficit Raise

Finally, the standing deficit calf raise. This is almost the same as the first exercise on the list, but it does have variation, which is going to change the angle and the contraction that you’re going to get from it.

close-up of calf raises

You need to stand on something sturdy, that will not tip once you distribute your weight off the edge of it. Boxes are useful if they are weighted enough, as well as steps and stairs. With your heels hanging off the edge, lower yourself as far as you reasonably can, and then lift as high as you can just using your calves.

These exercises may be challenging to do all in the same workout, so it’s a good idea to do them at the end of your overall leg workout. The choice is of course entirely yours, and even just one of these exercises should be enough to give you a serious leg boost.


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