Your calf muscles support the load of your lower body and propel you forward when doing activities like walking and running.
There’s good reason to make a leg day a regular part of your routine: The lower body helps improve balance and stability while walking, standing, running and performing everyday movements. But when we work our lower body, we usually focus on the glutes and legs — the calves are an important, but often overlooked muscle.
While we all love feeling confident with our legs in shorts or our favorite pair of heels, working your calf muscles comes with much more than aesthetic benefits. Your calf muscles are responsible for supporting a lot of the load from your lower body, and they propel you forward when doing activities like walking and running. The stronger your calves are, the faster you’ll be able to run, the higher you’ll be able to jump, and the less likely you’ll be to get injured while working out.
With that in mind, I’ve put together some of the best calf-targeting exercises you can do at home, without any special equipment needed. Remember to take it slow and build up your repetitions over time if you’re just starting to focus on this muscle group — you can add a few of these moves into your current workout or create a calf-focused circuit with your favorites.
1. Calf raises
Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart and your core engaged. Squeezing your calf muscles, slowly raise your body, lifting your heels until you’re on your toes. Make sure to stand tall and straight, and then lower your heels back to the floor with control. Repeat.
2. Jumping jacks
Start by standing upright with your legs together and your arms by your sides. With slightly bent knees, jump into the air. As you’re jumping, spread your legs shoulder-width apart, and swing your arms laterally up and over your head. Jump back to the starting position and repeat!
3. Butt kickers
Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. You’ll be kicking your feet behind you to try and touch your bottom; this will help with hip flexor mobility and can also loosen up the quads. Simply kick your right foot back toward your right glute, and then kick your left foot back toward your left glute. The faster you go, the more you may feel like you’re running in place, so make sure you focus the movement on kicking your feet toward your glute with every step.
4. Jump squat
Jump squats are a power move that targets your entire lower body and core. With your feet hip-distance apart, lower into a squat position. Make sure you keep a strong/straight back, and keep your knees behind your toes. With control, jump straight up and swing your arms overhead. Softly return back to your starting position and repeat.
5. Raised heel squat
Begin this move by standing with your feet wide and your toes pointed slightly outward. With a strong back, engage your core and glutes as you lower into a squat position. Then, press down through your toes to come up and lift your heels. Keep the weight in your toes and you press up to stand. Slowly lower your heels back to the floor and repeat.
6. Mountain climbers
Begin in plank position, keeping your back straight, your hips low and your core engaged. Bring your right knee under your chest toward your right elbow. Return your right leg back to plank position; bring your left leg under your chest toward your left elbow. Repeat while alternating your legs, keeping a steady pace. Remember to breathe and concentrate on engaging your abs, glutes and hamstrings.
7. Outward calf raise
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, pointing your toes slightly outward. Engage your core to keep yourself stable, and slowly lift your heels up off the floor. Make sure you keep your knees straight but soft throughout this movement to prevent knee injury or pain. Hold briefly at the top, and slowly lower your heels back to the floor. Repeat.
8. Inward calf raise
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, this time, pointing your toes slightly inward. Engage your core to keep yourself stable, and slowly lift your heels up off the floor. Make sure you keep your knees straight but soft throughout this movement to prevent knee injury or pain. Hold briefly at the top, and slowly lower your heels back to the floor. Repeat.
9. Isometric calf raise
For this move, we’ll begin by performing a traditional calf raise. With a tight core, squeeze your calves as you raise your heels off the ground. Once you reach the top of the motion, pause. Hold here for a deep inhale, followed by a count of 3, and then lower back to the starting position on your exhale. Repeat.
10. Fast feet
For this exercise, we’ll start in an athletic, half-squat stance. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart, your hips low, and your knees relaxed/slightly bent. Pushing through the balls of your feet, run in place as quickly as you can, swinging your arms forward and back for stabilization and extra speed.