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4 Calf Exercises For Mass in 8 Weeks (At Home)

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In my almost 20 years as a personal trainer, I’ve never heard a client say…

“My main goal is to get bigger calves”.

For many people, calf muscles are either forgotten about or ignored… certainly until they start to cause embarrassment because they’re so small! 

Even Arnold Schwarzenegger had trouble with his calves. In fact, he forced himself to train in shorts because he was ashamed of them and exposing them made him take his calf exercises seriously.

In this article, I’ll cut through the confusion and show you exactly how to build big, strong calves. They not only look great, but they’ll also prevent you from picking up calf injuries.

We’ll look at how different foot angles, tempo and muscle contraction types affect the way the calves respond to training. Using methods backed by research, this program will show you how to grow your calf muscles quickly and effectively in the gym with minimum fuss.

These exercises and this approach are the same that I use with my personal training clients, helping them achieve excellent results and reducing their injury risk dramatically. 

All exercises here are possible in a home gym with minimum equipment.

The only calf exercises you need

From calf to cow program (infographic)

This is a super simple calf workout – the focus is on effectiveness, not entertainment. It’s an accessory program, so you fit it in and around your other workouts. You wouldn’t spend your entire training week working on just your calf muscles!

On all but the jump rope warm-up, train in a 30 seconds work, 30 seconds rest pattern. Repeat for the 6 sets.

Jump Rope15 Minutes
Eccentric Calf Raises630 seconds
Seated Calf Raise630 seconds
Tiptoes farmers walk630 seconds

1. Jump rope

This is the perfect warm up for a calf workout. Despite involving a lot of jumping, it’s low impact because the range of movement is so small – you’re jumping just enough to allow the rope to pass under you, no more.

It allows the muscles and the connective tissues to warm up and get plenty of blood flowing into the area. 

Equipment needed for jump rope: 

  • A basic jump rope – length depends on your height (see video for more info)

How to do jump rope:

  • Stand upright and keep your wrists at hip/waist height on either side
  • Rotate the rope overhead at a constant speed
  • When the rope reaches your feet, jump a couple of inches off the floor – just enough to let the rope pass under you
  • Keep a steady rhythm and don’t rush – this is a warm up, not a full cardio workout!

2. Eccentric calf raises

This is the simplest of the calf exercises, but one of the very best. It can be done weighted or with bodyweight, so there’s a lot of room for progression.

Start simply and build up over the duration of the program. In this program, work for the full 30 seconds before resting.

There are 6 sets to complete – 2 of them with the toes pointing out, 2 with the toes pointing directly ahead, and 2 with the toes inwards.

Equipment needed for eccentric calf raises:

  • A step of at least 5 inches height (you can use stacked weight plates)
  • Weights (can be any form i.e. barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, weighted vest, small child etc.)

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

How to do eccentric calf raises:

  • Stand on the box with the balls of your feet, then secure your balance (hand on a wall will be sufficient)
  • Go up onto your tiptoes and pause
  • Slowly lower yourself down, keep descending until you reach full extension of the ankle joint
  • When your calf is at full stretch, pause and stand back up on your tiptoes quickly
  • The tempo should be 1 second up, 4-5 seconds down
  • Repeat for 30 seconds

3. Seated calf raise

Although the movement pattern for all calf exercises is the same, the knee angle is important here. By performing this exercise with the bent leg, we activate the soleus more than the gastrocnemius.

This means that although the movement looks the same as the standing calf raise from the ankle joint perspective, it’s actually training the muscles differently.

There are 6 sets to complete – 2 of them with the toes pointing out, 2 with the toes pointing directly ahead, and 2 with the toes inwards.

Equipment needed for seated plate calf raises:

  • A step of at least 5 inches height
  • Seat or bench

A weight plate (or more, depending on how much weight you need)

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do seated plate calf raises:

  • Sit on the bench with the balls of your feet, put your weight plates on your lap
  • Go up onto your tiptoes and pause
  • Slowly lower yourself down, keep descending until you reach full extension of the ankle joint
  • When your calf is at full stretch, pause and stand back up on your tiptoes quickly
  • The tempo should be 1 second up, 4-5 seconds down
  • Repeat for 30 seconds

Note: be sure to also check out our seated calf raise alternatives if you want more variety working your calves.

4. Tiptoes farmers walk

A farmers walk is an excellent exercise generally, but with this little tweak you can make it super functional. Most calf exercises are done in a stationary position, but if you add the dynamic element of walking, it brings about an extra level of challenge.

Stick with the same 30/30 protocol across the 6 sets. You can use dumbbells, kettlebells or even a hex bar for the weight.

Equipment needed for tiptoes farmers walk:

  • Dumbbells, kettlebells or a hex bar
  • Space to walk in

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do tiptoes farmers walk:

  • Take the weight in both hands, stand up straight
  • When the weight is stable, stand up on your tiptoes
  • Walk for the required time, staying on your tiptoes throughout

The whole calf workout will take you 25 minutes from start to finish. We know this because everything is done on time, not reps. This allows for short drink breaks and recovery time, whilst still making you work hard.

Calf muscle physiology

When we talk about the ‘calf’ muscle, we’re actually talking about two different muscles…

  1. The Gastrocnemius (medial and lateral head)
  2. The Soleus
Muscles of the calf

They contract in the same way (extension and flexion of the foot) in a single plane of motion. 

However, the position of the knee has an effect on the level of contraction of both. This means we have to select exercises that will train them both, without risking causing an injury. 

The fact that there’s only really one way to activate these muscles can cause us somewhat of a problem from a programming point of view. We don’t want to repeat the same movement pattern over and over again, because all it does is risk overuse injury and offers zero additional benefit.

Instead, we have to work efficiently. This is about results, not adding calf exercises for the sake of variety.

Muscle contraction points

There are a couple of interesting points about the gastrocnemius and soleus contraction. 
The first is the importance of the knee angle.

The knee can flex or extend, and it appears that the position of the knee can have an effect on the activation of both muscles.

Calf Raise Knee Angle Positioning

What this means is that in order to train these muscles effectively, we have to consider the knee angle and train the gastrocnemius and soleus with both a flexed and extended knee, to ensure effective activation of both. 

Furthermore, research by Nunes et al in 2020 showed that varied foot positioning during flexion and extension of the ankle joint resulted in different muscle thicknesses at the different heads of the gastrocnemius.

This suggests that in order to maximize the effectiveness of the exercises, we need to adjust the foot position. This has been taken into account and will be programmed into the workouts.

Calf raise foot positioning

Thoughts on muscle loading

Perceived wisdom on muscle loading suggests that you need to lift heavy in order to maximize strength and size gains. Whilst there is plenty of evidence that suggests this is true for other body parts, the calf muscles appear to be a slightly different case on account of their fiber type. 

This makes sense. 

They’re predominantly slow twitch fibers (they wouldn’t be useful for walking if they tired quickly). These respond well to high volume, low load training.

When tested by Brad Schoenfeld and his colleagues in 2020, the results showed that the calf muscles responded equally well to high or low load training. And in some cases, the low load calf exercises were better for bringing about muscle strength and size increases.

Calf Muscles Responding To High And Low Loads

This is interesting from a programming point of view…

Injury risk is generally higher at heavier loads. 

This means we can reduce the risk whilst still benefiting from the rewards, which is a huge bonus. Risk and reward are a constant battle in a strength coach’s mind because you want to achieve maximum results with minimum risk. 

Range of movement

Calf training needs to be executed across a full range of movement to work as we need it to… Even more so than other types of resistance training in fact!

Therefore, the eccentric training element is super important for the calves.

Eccentric contraction is where the muscle lengthens as it contracts (so when the heels are being lowered in a calf raise).

Calf raise eccentric and concentric phase

We need to allow the heels to drop below the toes on these lifts, extending the range of movement. 

We know the importance of full range of movement in lower body training thanks to (more) 2020 research by Brad Shoenfeld concluding that…

Performing resistance training through a full range of movement confers beneficial effects on hypertrophy of the lower body musculature versus training with a partial range of movement.’

Calf exercises: The bottom line

This calf workout program seeks to address a common problem – training the calf muscles effectively. We made the case as to why they need to be trained, and using the available evidence we’ve shown you how to train them effectively.

This is a simple program, but it’s very effective. It’ll help you grow thicker, stronger calf muscles that are both helpful athletically and less injury prone.

All of the exercises can be done in a home gym, so you won’t need to invest heavily in fancy new equipment. The only thing you may need to consider is space to do your farmer’s walk in, but that doesn’t cost you anything, you just need to get outside! 

Read the workouts and instructions, watch the videos and get busy.

Good luck!

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Steve Hoyles is a certified personal trainer and gym owner. Since graduating with his Sports Science degree in 2004 he's worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. His writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries as he inspires to help as many people as possible live a healthy lifestyle.

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