Best Calf Exercises for Women: Good Routines, Great Results
Most women focus on their upper legs and skip working their lower legs. But, don’t! Toned calf muscles will strengthen your legs, give them the definition you want, and give them more shape to make your legs look even longer. It’s time to carve out a set of sexy calves at the gym.
How to Get Toned, Lean Calves
Your calves are comprised of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the large fleshy muscle at the back of your lower leg that functions to lift your heel. The soleus is a smaller muscle that lives under your gastrocnemius. When your legs are straight, your soleus is inactive but when you flex your knee, bingo! The soleus is activated when you need the extra strength and support like when you’re running — or when you’re sitting on the couch with a bowl of ice cream on your lap and you need to get it a little closer to your face.
Many people, especially women, have tight calves. Blame it on the high heels and desk jobs — that continuous shortening of the muscle and time spent being sedentary can play a huge role in shortening and tightening your calves. Running and other forms of exercise can also create tight calves. As you start to work your calves harder, it’s important to stretch them at least once a day but, ideally, you should stretch your calves several times throughout the day.
Expert Tip: To stretch your calves, place your toes on the edge of a stair and gently drop your heel towards the floor. Don’t force it. You should feel a stretch in your calf muscle and the bottom of your foot. Hold for about 20-30 seconds and switch legs. Bend you knee and repeat the stretch to target your soleus muscle.
Exercises to Get Beautiful, Toned Calves
Calf raises are the single best exercise to strengthen and tone your calves. But, the good news is, cardio, like stair climbing and jump rope, provide a calves workout and can also help tone your calves!
Jump roping requires you to stand on your toes, which gives your calf muscles one heck of a workout. Not to mention, 30 minutes of jump rope burns about 350 calories. That’s equivalent to about an hour of running!
Calf exercises for women are easy to add to any strength training program. Just do the following calf-shaping exercises 2-3 times a week for about four weeks and you’ll see slimmer and firmer calves in no time.
One of the best ways to target those calves? Jumping rope. Yes, you probably did it in grade school but it’s time to bring it back — get in your cardio while toning your calves and warming up. Focus on using your calf muscles to propel you upward. You can vary between short, quick jumps and high, powerful jumps that get you up there. If you find jumping rope to be tedious, bring back some of those sweet tricks you did on the playground or throw in some double unders — they’re always a good time.
Fun fact: Kate Hudson jumps rope like a boss. No jump rope? No problem, just jump up and down in place. If you really want to feel the burn, try squat jumps to strengthen not only your calves but your thighs and glutes too — oh, and they’ll also do a number on your heart and lungs, which means they’ll also torch some of that extra fat you can’t seem to get rid of.
Weighted Calf Raises
Calf raises on a step or stair primarily work your gastrocnemius muscle. Start by standing on the balls of your feet. Hold onto the wall or railing for balance. Slowly lower your heels towards the floor until you can’t go any further. Slowly raise up onto the balls of your feet. Pause and lower back down.
To ensure you target all aspects of your legs and get a solid calves workout, use different angles while lifting your heels. For example, perform 10 calf raises with your feet pointing straight ahead then rotate them outward/inward 45 degrees. Working through every range of motion will guarantee a set of nicely sculpted calves.
Expert Tip: Perform calf raises on the edge of a stair or low box to move your heel through a greater range of motion and further challenge your calves.
Seated Calf Raises
Seated calf raises primarily work your soleus muscle. You can either use a machine or dumbbells for this exercise (or the bowl of ice cream we talked about earlier). If you use weights, sit in a chair with your legs bent at a 90-degree angle with your feet flat on the floor. Place a dumbbell in each hand and hold one on top of each knee. Slowly squeeze your calf muscle as you raise up onto the balls of your feet. Pause and slowly return back to the start position. Repeat.
Do 3-4 sets of 12 reps of each exercises at least 2-3 times a week with your other strength training exercises. Remember to add some calf-shaping cardio, like jump roping or hill running, afterward to really blast those calves into shape.
Expert Tip: For seated calf raises use, at minimum, 10 lb. dumbbells. Your calves are strong so don’t be afraid to push yourself with more weight.
Stretching Your Calves
After you finish all your calf exercises for women make sure you stretch! All calf workouts should end with a nice deep stretch. Stretching is extremely important for keeping your muscles long, lean, and healthy and can also prevent other nasty side-effects like knee, hip and back pain. Because the two muscles in your calves work differently, they also need to be stretched differently. The leg needs to be straight to stretch the gastrocnemius, but to isolate the soleus you need to stretch the calf with your knee bent. So, for best results, perform a 30 second calf stretch on each calf with your leg straight and again with it bent.
One of our favorite ways to stretch our calves is with downward dog. It not only gives you a solid calf stretch, it also hits your hamstrings, which also have a tendency to be chronically tight. Moving your feet in a pedaling action while holding the pose (alternately lifting one heel off the floor at a time) will give you a more intense calf stretch. Just remember to keep breathing and don’t force the stretch — you don’t want a pulled calf muscle!
Remember to stretch your calves several times throughout the day. If you’re looking for an inexpensive stretching tool, buy a water noodle, cut it into several one-foot pieces and place them around your house — take one to work too. Throughout the day whenever you think about it, place the ball of your foot on the noodle, press down and lean into your heel to stretch your calves. You and your calves will feel amazing.
Perfect Calves Workout
Calves are often overlooked, but don’t neglect those babies. Check out or gallery for some really great reasons and inspiration to do those calf workouts often.
Perfect Female Calves: Exercise Motivation and Inspiration
Need some inspiration? Scroll through the slideshow to get more expert tips for getting killer calves, just like your favorite celebs!
(Slideshow by: Alexa Erickson)
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