Top Calf Exercises for Women – Beginner or Experienced

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Last updated on February 12, 2023

When it comes to developing sexy, athletic legs, well defined calves are a must. The calves, though, are a hard muscle for most women to shape and define. Because you walk around all day long, they are used to supporting a heavy load. To get them to respond, you have to work them smartly and consistently. In this article, I’ll show you how.


Calf Structure & Function

There is debate about how many muscles make up your calves. The conventional view is that there are two separate muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus. However, some anatomists believe that these two are actually just separate heads of the same muscle – the same way that the triceps is one muscle made up of three heads.


This is more than a theoretical discussion. If the gastro and the soleus are two separate muscles, then they can be separately targeted for development. However, if they are both parts of the same muscle, then they cannot be. The reality is that the soleus, which is the lower part of the calf muscle, has very little growth potential. Calf growth is almost exclusively due to the stimulation of the gastro, which makes up the mass of the muscle group.


The gastro muscle is actually made up of two parts, called the inner and outer heads. When well toned and defined, they form a diamond shape to the lower leg muscle. The function of the calf muscle is to flex the foot, rotate the ankle and assist in the locking of the knee.


The soleus muscle has mainly slow twitch muscles, whereas the gastro muscle is made up of mostly fast twitch muscle fibers. As a result, the gastro tends to work slightly more when called upon for speed, or during high load work. Examples of this are running and heavy resistance training.


The soleus works more when called on for low speed or low load training. Examples of this would be walking or simply standing.


Home Workout – Calves


Bodyweight Calf Raise

  • You can do this standing on the floor or you stand on a block with the balls of your feet resting on the edge of the block. Support your body by resting your hands against a wall.
  • Rise up to full leg extension without bending your knees.
  • Lower and repeat.


Banded Standing Calf Raise

  • Stand with a resistance band looped under the balls of your feet and held at shoulder level.
  • Rise up on your calves to full extension. Hold for 1-2 seconds.
  • Lower and repeat.

Jump Rope

  • Stand with a jump rope in hand, feet shoulder together.
  • Rotate the wrists to bring the rope overhead.
  • Jump slightly to allow the rope to travel under your feet.

The Workout:

  • Bodyweight Calf Raise – 3 x 15
  • Banded Standing calf Raise – 3 x 15
  • Jump Rope – 3 x 60 seconds

Home Workout – Calves


Single Leg Calf Raise

  • Start by standing and if you want you can use a block placing the ball of your right foot on the edge of it. Wrap the left foot around the back of the right leg. Hold onto a wall for support.
  • Contract your calf to rise up to your fullest height.
  • Lower your heel down lower than the level of the block.


Banded Seated Calf Raise

  • Sit with a resistance band under the balls of your feet and around your knees. Resting the balls of your feet on a block.
  • Contract the calves to full extension. Hold for 1-2 seconds.
  • Lower and repeat.



  • Go to an open field and jog up and down for a 2 minutes warm up.
  • Sprint for 30 seconds.
  • Walk back to the start position.
  • Repeat


The Workout

  • Single Leg Calf Raise: 3 x 15
  • Banded Seated Calf Raise: 3 x 15
  • Sprints: 5 x 30 second sprints

Gym Beginner Calves Workout

Standing Calf Raise

  • Set the appropriate weight on the machine, place your shoulders under the pads and stand with the balls of your feet on the edge of the step, with your feet hip width apart. Make sure that your feet are hip width apart.
  • Take a breath in to help stabilize your core. Breathe out as you contract your calf to raise your heels in a slow, controlled movement till you’re standing on tiptoes. Keep your ankles in line with your knees throughout.
  • Breathe in and slowly lower your heels as far as they will go in a smooth, controlled manner. Pause for 1-2 seconds in the bottom position.


Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise

  • Sit tall with your feet hip width apart and resting on the balls of your feet on a block or step. Rest a pair of dumbbells on your knees.
  • Contract your calves to raise your heels, driving your feet up and ankles forward.
  • Slowly lower your heels, keeping your ankles in line with your knees.


Step Ups

  • Stand in front of a step up box that is 16 or 24 inches in height. Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands.
  • Step up to the top of the box with your right foot. Follow through with your left foot.
  • Reverse the action to lower back down.


The Workout

  • Standing Calf Raise: 3 x 15
  • Seated DB Calf Raise: 3 x 15
  • Step Ups: 3 x 60 seconds

Gym Intermediate Calves Workout


Leg Press Calf Raise

  • Set the weight on the leg press machine and sit on the seat. The balls of your feet should be hip width apart on the platform and your heels lowered.
  • Inhale to engage your core and pull yourself down into the seat.Breathe out as you push the balls of your feet onto the platform to raise your heels.
  • Breathe in and lower your heels to the starting position, maintaining control throughout. Pause at the bottom before moving into the next rep.


Seated Calf Raise

  • Set the weights on a seated calf raise machine and sit on the machine, with your thighs under the pads. Adjust the settings for your height. Rest the balls of your feet on the footplate.
  • Contract the calves to raise your heels to full extension. Hold for a second.
  • Lower to bring your heels lower than the level of the food plate.


Box Jumps

  • Stand in front of a step up box with a height of either 16 or 24inches.
  • Hinge at the hips to load your body then jump with both feet to the top of the box.
  • Step back down and repeat, moving quickly.



The Workout

  • Leg Press: 3 x 15
  • Seated Calf Raise: 3 x 15
  • Box Jumps: 3 x 60 seconds



Make use of these calf workouts to shape and tone your lower legs. Train your calves once every five days to provide the best balance between stimulation and recovery. Start with the beginner workout, doing it for 12 weeks. Then take a week off before moving into the intermediate level program.

About the author  Steve

Steve Theunissen is from New Zealand and is a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist with over 30 years experience. Read more about Steve in the 'about us' page.

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