The Only 8 Exercises Women Need for Bigger Calves

closeup of a young healthy woman's calves and shoes as she stands on a mountain peak rock
You can strengthen and build your calves through a combination of strength training and cardio.
Image Credit: lzf/iStock/GettyImages

Big calf muscles on women look good and do even better. They give you the push-off power you need to walk, run, jump and even do rock-star strength moves like deadlifts.

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So how do you get bigger calves? Through a combination of calf strength-training and cardio exercises.

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Here are the best exercises for women wanting to build big, strong calves.

Tip

Always warm up for strength training workout by walking or jogging slowly for at least 10 minutes. Use proper form and stay focused on what you are doing at all times. Stretch your calves at the end of every calf workout to promote healthy ankle range of motion.

The 4 Best Strength-Training Calf Exercises for Women

Women can get bigger calf muscles using free weights and weight machines. Do calf isolation exercises up to three days per week toward the end of your leg workout.

Use heavy enough weights so you can only do 6 to 12 repetitions per set. Complete 4 to 6 sets of four different calf exercises per workout.

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1. Seated Calf Raise

The seated calf raise hones in on the gastrocnemius (or gastroc) muscle. It forms that horseshoe-shaped bulge you're training for.

  1. Sit on a chair or bench with a flat back and a moderate or heavy dumbbell resting across your thighs, just above your knees.
  2. Remaining seated, press through the balls of your feet to raise your heels and the dumbbell as high as possible.
  3. Pause here for a moment then slowly lower your heels back to the floor.

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2. Standing Calf Raise

This calf-strengthener focuses on the soleus muscle. While the muscle itself isn't easy to see, it sits under the gastroc. So when you build the soleus, the gastroc looks even bigger.

  1. Stand at the edge of step, and let the back half of your foot hang off the step. (You can also stand at the edge of a weight plate on the floor.) Point your toes outward slightly.
  2. Squeeze your calves to raise off the step and pause.
  3. Lower your heels as close to the floor as possible and repeat.

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3. Standing Single-Leg Calf Raise

To up the ante on your standing calf raises and even out any strength imbalances between your legs, try working one at a time.

  1. Stand at the edge of step, and let the back half of your foot hang off the step. (You can also stand at the edge of a weight plate on the floor.) Point your toes outward slightly.
  2. Raise one foot so that you're standing on the opposite leg.
  3. Squeeze your calves to raise off the step and pause.
  4. Lower your heels as close to the floor as possible.
  5. Do all reps, then switch sides.

4. Leg-Press Calf Raise

If you have trouble balancing during standing calf raises, this variation is for you.

  1. Load the leg press machine with weight plates.
  2. Sit in the machine and place the balls of your feet at the edge of the pressing platform, pointing your toes slightly inward.
  3. Squeeze your calves to point your toes and pause.
  4. Slowly release to flex your feet, and repeat.

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The 4 Best Cardio Exercises for Building Women's Calves

Cardio exercises can also help women build big calves with lots of endurance. The best ones involve pushing off through the balls of your feet.

1. Sprinting

Basic running will strengthen your entire leg. To work your calves more, add sprints workouts once a week. After you are warmed up and have run for at least 20 minutes, sprint for 30 to 60 seconds. Recover by walking or slowly jogging for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat the sprint-recovery cycle four to eight times.

2. Barefoot Running

Find a smooth stretch on the beach, golf course or football field. After you have warmed up by running for at least 10 to 20 minutes, take off your shoes and run barefoot for 10 to 20 minutes. You will be surprised at the workout your calves get when you run barefoot.

3. Jumping Rope

Jumping rope forces you to stay on your toes, which works the calf muscles. Jump rope for 1 or 2 minutes as a warm-up before your daily workout of running, biking or swimming. Build up to 5 to 10 minutes of jumping.

4. Cycling

Most most thing about cycling for strengthening he quads, but they are equally great for building bigger calves. For the best benefits, do a combination of endurance and high-intensity interval rides.

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