A Calf Workout to Build Explosive Strength in Your Lower Legs

When you think of the muscles in your lower body, it’s easy to forget about your calves—so a dedicated calf workout might not be in your regular strength training routine. But there is a whole host of benefits that can come from focusing on those muscles in the back of your lower leg.

Your calves—made up of your gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris muscles—help you with a type of movement called plantar flexion, when you point your toes or rise up on your tiptoes, ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, owner of Strong with Sivan in Baltimore, tells SELF. Strong calves are important in the development of explosive power, which you need for movements like running and jumping.

“You also want to make sure your calves are strong for injury prevention, especially if you’re a runner or do other high-impact activities,” she says. “You have to have strong calf muscles in order to stabilize your feet and your ankles.”

Your calf muscles work to some extent during lower-body exercises like squats and deadlifts, but really focusing on them with specific calf exercises can be a helpful way to give them some isolated attention. But because your calves are small muscles, you don’t need to devote a whole lot of time to working them. In fact, to get the biggest bang for your exercise buck, you may want to spend the majority of your time on workouts with compound moves, (like this lower-body workout), says Fagan.

She created this calf workout below to serve as a finisher, something you can do at the end of a leg-focused routine to add some specific calf exercises into the mix. If you really feel like your calf strength is lagging, you can move this calf workout to the beginning of your leg routine, Fagan says. By working them first, you’ll be hitting them when your muscles are still fresh. Of course, if you’re just looking to get some movement into your day, you can perform these calf exercises as a standalone workout, too.

Ready to get started? Here’s what you need to build strength in your lower leg muscles.

The Workout

What you need: A light and moderate-to-heavy set of dumbbells.

The Exercises

  • Plié squat with shoulder raise

  • Standing calf raise

  • Single-leg standing calf raise

  • Isometric plié squat with alternating heel raise


  • Perform 15-20 reps of each exercise (for the unilateral moves, perform 15-20 reps per side). Try not to rest between exercises. At the end of the circuit, rest for 1-2 minutes. Complete two rounds total.

Demoing the moves below are Courtney Celeste Spears (GIF 1), a former dancer with Ailey 2, junior company of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Erica Gibbons (GIF 2), a California-based personal trainer and graduate student becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist; model Helen Pries (GIF 3); and Nikki Pebbles (GIF 4), a New York City–based fitness instructor and an AFAA- and NCCPT-certified personal trainer and group fitness trainer.

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