gastrocnemius exercises

28 Greatest Gastrocnemius Exercises Plus Tips & Stretches

June 12, 2021

The gastrocnemius, a.k.a. calf muscle, has garnered so much attention in recent years to the point where people are getting calf implants. Yes, we know that might seem a little ridiculous and even extreme so we wanted to tell you there's a better and cheaper way to get those chiseled lower rear legs. Now, maybe you didn’t know the scientific name gastrocnemius or how to pronounce it (*gastro nemeas*) but after reading this article you will know the 28 best exercises you can do to build your calves. We broke it down into calf exercises you can do at home and a few gym based calf exercises. Plus we will give you a few tips to grow your calves and some stretches to help alleviate any calf pain you may experience.

best gastrocnemius exercises

Gastrocnemius anatomy

The gastrocnemius is a two headed superficial muscle (you can see it) located on the back of the lower leg. The name Gastrocnemius comes from the Latin word gaster meaning ‘belly’ or ‘stomach’ and knḗmē meaning leg. The name quite literally means stomach of the leg because of how a well-developed calf muscle protrudes out from the leg. The two muscles that form the gastrocnemius are the lateral head and the medial head.

The lateral head starts at the lateral condyle (a rounded bulge at the end of some bones) of the femur while the medial head begins at the medial condyle of the femur. The opposite ends create a common tendon with the soleus muscle. This tendon is the Achilles which inserts onto the posterior surface of the heel bone. Behind the gastrocnemius is the soleus muscle. Some people refer to these three calf muscles as triceps surae or "three-headed muscle of the calf".

gastrocnemius workout

What is the function of the gastrocnemius?

The main function of the gastrocnemius muscle along with the soleus muscle is plantar flexion. This gastrocnemius action moves the foot at the ankle joint and flexes the leg at the knee joint. The gastrocnemius is essential for running and jumping as well as other dynamic leg movements. It also supports the action of walking and standing. The reason why the gastrocnemius is mostly involved in the fast movements such as running is because it contains more white muscle fibers (type II fast twitch) compared with the soleus. The soleus muscle is mainly responsible for slower movements or non-moving (standing) because it has more red muscle fibers (type I slow twitch).

    Top 20 Gastrocnemius Exercises

    Here's a list of the top 20 calf exercises that can be performed at home or outside. No gym equipment is needed for these bodyweight gastrocnemius exercises. Many of these bodyweight calf exercises can actually help to burn some major calories while blasting those calf muscles. When doing these exercises shoot for high reps with each set; we recommend at least 20 reps per set.

      1. Jumping Jacks

        • Stand with feet hip width apart with hands at your sides
        • Jump up and spread your legs out to the sides and swing your arms over your head
        • Return to starting position
        • Repeat for desired reps

        exercises for calves at home

        Note: Try to start on the balls of your feet and never let your heels touch the floor.

          2. Standing Calf Raise 

            • Stand with your feet hip width apart, toes pointing forwards
            • Push through the balls of your feet, lifting your heels as high as you can
            • Pause briefly at the top squeezing your calf muscles
            • Slowly lower down to starting position
            • Repeat for desired reps

            calf exercises gym

            Note: Switch up your foot positioning to target specific head of the gastrocnemius. Point your toes inwards and outwards for equal number of sets.

            3. Elevated Standing Calf Raise

            • Stand with your feet hip width apart on the edge of a platform or elevated surface
            • Push through the balls of your feet, lifting your heels as high as you can
            • Pause briefly at the top squeezing your calf muscles
            • Slowly lower down until your calves are completely stretched out
            • Repeat for desired reps

            calf exercises for runners

            Note: Try to slowly drop your heels to avoid any bouncing as this targets your Achilles not your calves.

            4. Isometric Calf Raise

            • Stand with feet hip width apart
            • Press through the balls of your feet, lifting your heels as high as you can of the floor
            • Squeeze at the top for 5 seconds
            • Slowly return to starting position
            • Repeat for desired reps

            Note: Try to contract your calves for up to 10 seconds for an added burn.

            5. Single Leg Calf Raise

            • Stand on one foot, toes pointing forward
            • Push through the balls of your foot, lifting your heel as high as you can
            • Pause briefly at the top squeezing your calf muscles
            • Slowly lower down to starting position
            • Repeat for desired reps
            • Switch sides

            Note: Perform this exercise next to a prop in case you need to support yourself to help with balancing. Make it more difficult by doing this on a elevated platform.

            6. Jumping Calf Raise

            • Stand up with your feet hip width apart and hands at your sides
            • Press through the balls of your feet, exploding up into the air
            • Softly land on the balls of your feet
            • Repeat for desired reps

            Note: On landing make sure your knees aren't completely locked out.

            7. Hole Calf raise

            • Stand on a platform or elevated surface with your toes pointing outwards
            • Lower down into the bottom part of a squat position
            • Perform a calf raise by pushing through the balls of your feet as high as you can
            • Slowly return to starting position
            • Repeat for desired reps

            Note: Perform this exercise on an elevated surface not too high off the ground and use a prop for extra stability if you have balance issues.

            8. Seal Jack

            • Stand with feet together with your arms stretched out in front of you
            • Jump up and spread your arms and legs to the sides
            • Land softly with your feet spread apart and your arms out to the sides
            • Jump up again and return to starting position; this is one rep
            • Repeat for desired reps

            calf exercises to build muscle

            Note: Try to complete this exercise without letting your heels touch the floors.

            9. High Knees

            • Stand with feet hip width apart
            • Raise your left leg bringing your knee up as high as you can
            • Lower left leg then bring right knee up as high as you can
            • Alternate knees, continuing to run in place
            • Repeat for desired time

            calf exercises to jump higher

            Note: Try to complete this exercise without letting your heels touch the floor.

            10. Butt Kicks

            • Stand with your feet hip width apart
            • Bring your right heel up to your butt
            • Lower your right leg back to the floor then repeat with your left leg
            • Alternate between legs for desired time

            calf exercises to run faster

            Note: Try to land softly on the balls of your feet then quickly kick your other leg up without dropping your heel to the floor.

            11. Raised Heel Squat

            • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart
            • Rise up onto the balls of your feet
            • Perform a squat, at the bottom of the squat lower your heels to the floor
            • Push through the balls of your feet back to starting position
            • Repeat for desired reps

            Note: Focus on pushing through the balls of your feet to target your calf muscles.

            Related: Why Squatting With Your Heels Raised Can Be Good

            12. Jump Squat

            • Stand with feet shoulder width apart
            • Lower down into a squat position
            • Push off through the balls of your feet, jumping as high as you can
            • Softly land on the balls of your feet
            • Repeat for desired reps

            calf exercises without equipment

            Note: Focus on pushing through the balls of your feet and limit the amount of time your heels are on the floor at any time.

            Related: How Many Calories Do Squats Burn?

            13. Toe Jumps

            • Stand with fee hip width apart
            • Rise up to the balls of your feet
            • Hop up and down quickly
            • Repeat for desired reps

            Note: Keep your heels from hitting the floor the whole time.

            14. Step Up Hop

            • Stand with feet hip width apart
            • Step up onto a shin level platform with your right leg
            • Push up off the balls of your right foot into hop
            • Land softly on the balls of your foot then step back down to ground level
            • Switch sides
            • Repeat for desired reps

            Note: Use caution when jumping, making sure you land directly on the platform.

            15. Bosu Ball Squat

            • Stand on the Bosu ball with feet hip width apart
            • Slowly lower down into a squat
            • Push up through your heels to starting position
            • Repeat for desired reps

            calf exercises for mass

            Note: Use a prop of some kind to help support you if you have balance issues.

            16. Sprints

            • Run at your fastest speed for desired distance or time while keeping your heels off the ground as much as possible

            how many calf raises should I do

            Note: Sprint up a hill or incline to work your calf muscles to the max.

            17. Plyometrics

            • Starting on an elevated platform
            • Slowly slide off the edge of the platform landing on the balls of your feet
            • Immediately explode off the ground pushing through the balls of your feet to jump as high as you can
            • Land softly on the balls of your feet (this is one rep)
            • Repeat for desired reps

            Note: This is not a beginner's exercise, make sure you're warmed up thoroughly before starting plyometrics.

            18. Tip Toe Walk

            • Stand with feet hip width apart
            • Walk on balls of your feet
            • Repeat for desired time or distance

            Note: Throw on a weighted vest or grab some heavy objects to make it more difficult.

            19. Jump Rope

            • Stand with feet hip width apart, holding a jump rope with both hands
            • Jump up and swing the rope over your head and under your feet
            • Repeat for desired reps or time

            build bigger calves

            Note: Increase difficulty by trying single leg jump rope or alternating legs.

            20. Toe taps

            • Stand with feet hip width apart
            • Place raise platform in front of you or do at the bottom of staircase
            • Lift your right leg and tap your toes on the raised surface
            • Switch sides
            • Repeat for desired reps or time

            calves exercises with dumbbells

            Note: Try to stay on your toes the whole time without letting your heels touch the floor. Use a higher raised surface to increase the difficulty.

            Related: 26 best bodyweight leg exercises

            8 Best Gastrocnemius Gym Exercises

            Now that you are familiar with calf exercises that you can do in the comfort of your own home, it's time to cover the best calf exercises you can do in the gym. The advantage to calf workouts in the gym is that you have access to machines and loads of weight that you can use turbo charge your calf muscle building. As we mentioned previously, if you want to put some size and strength on your calf muscles you should work them with more that just bodyweight.

            1. Tip Toe Farmer’s Walk

            • Stand up straight with your feet at hip width. Grab two dumbbells with a neutral grip and hold them to your sides.
            • Walk for desired distance or time staying on the balls of your feet the whole time, keeping your heels off the ground

            bodyweight calf exercises

            Note: If your grip gives out from holding the heavy dumbbells try using wrist straps to help you perform this exercise for a longer time.

            2. Seated Calf Raise

            • Sit in position with your feet hip width apart on the footplate
            • Start with your heels lowered and your calves stretched out
            • With your knees slightly bent, push through the balls of your feet as high as you can
            • Slowly lower down to the bottom of the stretched position
            • Repeat for desired reps

            how to workout your calves

            Note: This exercise targets the soleus muscle rather than the gastrocnemius due to the placement of the knees.

            3. Donkey Calf Raise

            • Stand with your feet hip width apart on a platform then hinge at the hips so your upper body is parallel with the floor
            • Start with your heels lowered and your calves stretched out
            • With your knees slightly bent, push through the balls of your feet as high as you can
            • Slowly lower down to the bottom of the stretched position
            • Repeat for desired reps
            calf workout at home

            Note: Do this exercise with your toes pointed inward and outward for your other sets. You can also do the donkey calf raise on a machine if your gym has one where you are sitting up straight or bent over with the weight on your lower back.

            4. Seated Calf Raise with Dumbbells

            • Sit on a bench with your back straight with your feet flat on the floor in front of you, toes pointing forward
            • Hold two heavy dumbbells with a neutral grip and rest on your knees
            • Press up through your toes, lifting your heels off the ground as high as you can
            • Pause at the top briefly squeezing your calf muscles then slowly lower to starting position
            • Repeat for desired reps

            Note: Perform this exercise with equal sets of various foot positioning, complete with toes pointing inward and outward.

            5. Standing Calf Raise

            • Stand with your feet hip width apart, toes pointing forward
            • Place barbell across your upper back
            • Push through the balls of your feet, lifting your heels as high as you can
            • Pause briefly at the top squeezing your calf muscles
            • Slowly lower down to starting position
            • Repeat for desired reps

            gastrocnemius muscle

            Note: Complete this exercise with other variations in foot position (toes pointed inward/outward).

            6. Leg Press Calf Raise

            • Sit in the leg press chair then place your toes on the edge of press plate
            • Push the plate until your legs are extended
            • Press through the toes as far as you can then slowly lower the plate until your calves are fully stretched
            • Repeat for desired reps

             exercises for gastrocnemius

            Note: Use caution so your toes don’t slip off the press plate. Perform multiple sets with toes pointed inwards, outwards and one leg at a time

            7. Stair Stepper

            • Get on stair stepper machine
            • Set reasonable pace and start climbing the stairs
            • Make sure to push off using your toes on each step
            • Complete desired steps or time

             gastrocnemius function

            Note: Don’t use the handles to prop yourself up. You can increase difficulty by wearing a weighted vest.

            8. Incline Treadmill

            • Get on the treadmill
            • Increase the incline percentage to the highest level
            • Set manageable speed
            • Walk, run or jog for desired time

            Note: Start at a reasonable pace then gradually increase the speed when you’re comfortable.

            Can you actually grow your calves?

            Yes! You can definitely grow your calves even if you weren’t blessed by genetics. There’s no reason to hate or envy those born with massive calf muscles. Like any other muscle you have the power to transform your calves into some monsters but it takes hard work and dedication. You can’t simply do a few half-assed calf exercises at the end of your workout once a week then call it a day. This simply won’t cut it.

            Why are calf muscles so difficult to grow?

            Your calves are worked daily as we stand, walk, run or jump. So, if you want to grow your calves you will have to put in a ton of effort as these muscles are used to being engaged daily. Just to give you an idea of how much exercise calves get, the average American walks between 5,000-7,000 steps daily. And let’s face it, Americans aren’t known for being the most active walkers in the world.

            If you’re one of the lucky ones with big developed calves without actually targeting them in your workouts then you don’t have to worry too much about this. One the flip side if you’ve always struggled with having matchstick lower legs then it’s time you put in that work.

            However, we should give you the whole story about why it might be hard to build your calves. As mentioned before the calves are comprised of the gastrocnemius muscle and the soleus muscle. The soleus muscle is found behind the gastrocnemius muscle and is comprised of 90% slow twitch muscle fibers. Slow twitch muscle fibers have roughly half the growth potential compared with fast twitch muscle fibers.

            Related: Leg stretches using bands

            calf exercises

            How to get bigger calves

            To build bigger calves you must train them as a priority. No more saving them for the end of leg day. Start your workout with calf exercises and work them out up to three times a week. In short, the keys to building bigger calves is more volume, more intensity and heavier weights. You will need to do all these things while moving through a full range of motion.

            • Start with Calves: Research indicates that the beginning exercises you perform during your workouts yield the most results. Unfortunately, most people wait until the end of their workout to hit their calves if at all. Switch it up next time and start your workout by targeting the calf muscles.
            • Slow and Controlled: Too many people do calf raises with fast, half reps. You’ve probably seen people dropping their heels from the top of a calf raise instead of lowering in a slow controlled manner. You need to pause at the bottom of each rep to stretch the calf muscles, eliminating the Achilles heel stretch reflex that propels your heel upwards. You also need to pause and contract the gastrocnemius muscle at the top of each rep.
            • Go Heavy: Even though bodyweight calf exercises are beneficial to your muscles you will need to go heavier than your bodyweight to really stimulate growth. Every day your gastrocnemius muscles are supporting your bodyweight so it’s important to turn up the intensity. There’s a reason why many heavy people have large calves.
            • Full Range of Motion: Make sure you go the whole way up and down when doing any type of calf raises. Great activities for your calves to get a wider range of motion are any type of uphill walking, hiking, jogging sprinting.
            • Volume: Make sure to get some high rep calf exercises in to get max blood pump into your gastrocnemius muscles. You should try for 20-50 reps with short rests in between your sets.
            • Change Angles: Seeing that your gastrocnemius muscle has two heads it is important to hit each head from a different position. You should do different varieties of calf raises with different feet positioning by pointing your toes outwards or inwards. You should also target the calves from various body positions such as leg press calf raises vs standing calf raises.
            • Unilateral Training: Perform your calf exercises one leg at a time to mimic real life. In daily life we often move one leg at a time. By training each leg separately you’re able to highlight any muscle imbalances plus specifically focus on form and technique one muscle at a time.
            • Slow Eccentrics: On the second half of your calf exercises slow it down to a turtle’s pace. This stretching tension helps your muscles reach hypertrophy faster. You can also try to lift the weight with both legs then lower it with one leg. If you try this method, make sure to reduce the total amount of weight to 60-80% of the weight you are used to doing with both legs.  

            Related: How to Build Muscle Mass

            Calves FAQs:

            How long does it take to build calves?

            There are a number of variables at play when determining the length of time to see results from any weightlifting program. Your current fitness level, your workout schedule, type of workout, genetics and diet all play a part in your results. Typically, you can start to see minimal results in 4 weeks of consistent hard training. To see noticeable changes in most weightlifting protocols regardless of the muscle it might take up to four months of consistency to see major changes.

            Can calf raises make you faster?

            Yes, calf raises can help to make you sprint faster. By performing calf raises with good technique, frequency and intensity you will strengthen the contraction of the gastrocnemius which is responsible for the ankle flexion used to thrust your body forward.

            gastocnemius stretches

            Can calf raises make you jump higher?

            Yes, calf raises are one way you can improve your vertical. Calf raises can improve your jumping ability but you should combine calf raises with other calf and leg exercises if you really want to fly high. Make sure to do weighted calf raises both standing and seated. The extra load will stimulate more muscle growth.

            How many calf raises should I do?

            You should do enough calf raises until you feel a good burn. The exact number of calf raises depends on multiple variables including are you doing them with added weights, elevated, single leg etc. There a number of benefits to calf raises so this is definitely an exercise that should be in your repertoire. You can build strength, improve stability and balance with calf raises. As a general rule of thumb, if you're doing bodyweight calf raises you should be doing at least 20 reps per set.

            Related: How Many Exercises & Reps Per Muscle Group

            Is it OK to train calves every day?

            In short yes you can but it really depends on your training style, volume, exercises to determine if you should be training your calves daily. If you’re going extremely hard and pushing it to the limit, you should only train your calves 2-3 times weekly to give them adequate rest. It’s difficult but entirely possible to over-train your calves which would hinder you progress in building the muscle.

            Gastrocnemius Pain

            Just like any other muscle the gastrocnemius can be a source of pain. Because these muscles are directly related to any movement of the foot, if you experience calf pain it can be a real bummer. The pain experienced is usually described as sharp, aching or dull pain. A few common causes of gastrocnemius pain might be muscle strain or cramps, Achilles’ tendonitis, or sciatica. Treatment of gastrocnemius pain typically includes the R.I.C.E (Rest Ice Compression and Elevation) and stretching.

            gastrocnemius pain

            Calf Pain from Running

            A common occurrence for runners is for their calves to experience pain when they’re running. Sometimes this pain or tightness will dissipate as they continue but other times the pain gets worst as they continue to run. This is a sign of calf strain. Any of the three muscles can become strained in the calf. Gastrocnemius strains are easier to diagnose compared with soleus strains.

            If the pain or tightness is felt in the back of your lower leg while doing calf raises or stretching then it’s probably is gastrocnemius. Soleus strain is a tad more difficult to pinpoint. In any case the protocol is similar; reduce the stress to the calf muscles then strengthen your calf muscles to make them more resilient to injury.

            Top 8 Calf Stretches

            1. Downward Dog

            • Start in a plank position with hands stacked under your shoulders
            • Lift your hips up to get your body into a V shape by walking your feet towards your hands
            • Try to push your heels down towards the floor
            • Hold for 20 seconds then release
            • Repeat for desired reps

            bigger calves exercises

            Note: Try to do Walking Downward Dogs where you will be pedaling, pressing down on one heel at a time.

            2. Calf Rock

            • Stand with feet hip width apart
            • Rock back on your heels and pull your toes up off the floor
            • Then roll forward onto your toes while lifting your heels
            • Slowly rock back and forth for desired reps

            Note: Use your arms as a counterbalance by swinging them in the opposite direction to your body.

            3. Seated Calf Stretch

            • Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you
            • Loop a resistance band or a long towel around the bottom of your feet over your toes
            • Pull your feet towards you while keeping your heels on the floor
            • Hold for 20-30 seconds
            • Repeat for desired reps
            how to workout your calves

            Note: Focus on one leg at a time for a more targeted stretch.

            4. Standing Soleus Stretch

            • Stand with feet hip width apart
            • Step your left foot back then bend both knees
            • Press your left heel down towards the ground while you shift your weight forward
            • Hold for 20 seconds then switch sides
            • Repeat for desired reps

            gastrocnemius action

            Note: Perform this stretch close to a wall to press against for extra leverage.

            5. Seated Soleus Stretch

            • Sit down on a chair and bring your right ankle over your left knee
            • Using your hand, pull your right toes to the left while flexing your foot
            • Hold for 5 seconds
            • Repeat for desired reps then switch sides

            6. Calf Wall Stretch

            • Stand with your feet hip width apart a few inches from the wall
            • Lift your left foot, pressing your toes into the wall, keeping your heels on the floor
            • Hold for 20 seconds
            • Repeat for desired reps then switch sides

             calf pain

            Note: Make sure you do this against a wall that you don’t mind if you leave scuff marks (oops).

            7. Heel Drop Stretch

            • Stand on an elevated platform or surface
            • Place your left foot on the edge so that your left heel is hanging over
            • Drop most of your weight into your left heel
            • Hold at the bottom of this stretch for 30 seconds
            • Repeat for desired reps then switch sides

            Note: Don’t bounce at the bottom of the stretch.

            8. Calf Foam Rolls

            • Sit on the floor and place a foam roller or massage ball under your right calf
            • Cross your left ankle over your right shin
            • Lift your pelvis off the floor, supporting yourself with your hands
            • Roll the length of your calf trying to hit all areas of your calf from your knee to your Achilles
            • Do this for 30-60 seconds then switch sides
            • Repeat for desired reps
            calf stretches

            Conclusion

            If you’ve made it this far, you are well equipped with the knowledge to build impressive calves, don't be surprised if people ask you if you got calf implants. To recap, you need to prioritize your calf muscles if you want to stop hiding them under sweatpants during the summers. Work your calf muscles more often, more angles, with more weight and with more volume. Don't use the lame excuse of genetics, you are in control of your calves' destiny.

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