How to Tone Calves Without Making Them Bigger

athletic sport runner man running up stairs in urban training
A runner climbs stairs for his calves. (Image: OcusFocus/iStock/Getty Images)

Your calf muscles are engaged throughout a typical day as you walk and run about daily errands and engage in cardiovascular and strength-training workouts. As such, it takes a significant amount of resistance and training to build your calves beyond their current size. Including specific exercises for the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of your lower leg can, however, tone your calves without making them bigger.

Single Calf Raises

Step 1

Perform basic calf raises with one calf at a time by first placing a 25-lb. plate on the floor next to an immovable bar; the thickness of this plate gives you enough room to flex and extend your ankle, working your calf muscles through a full range of motion.

Step 2

Place the ball of your right foot, or the area underneath the base of your toes, at the edge of the plate. Contract your calf muscles so you are standing on your toes while holding on to the bar for balance, focusing on the center of your calves. Use a two-second count to raise your body.

Step 3

Hold the contraction for three seconds then lower your heel until it is past the edge of the plate without touching the floor; use a two-second count to lower your body. Perform 15 repetitions, then switch sides to work your left calf.

Step 4

Perform the exercise for two more sets of 10 to 15 reps per leg, but hold a 10-lb. dumbbell in your hand on the same side as the calf you are working.

Inverted Calf Raises

Step 1

Place two 25-lb. weight plates close together, flat on the floor and next to an immovable bar. Stand on the balls of both feet with your toes pointed inward to work the outer, or lateral, border of your calves. Hold the bar for balance.

Step 2

Contract your calf muscles to quickly raise your body and hold the contraction for three seconds. Slowly lower your heels past the edge of the plates using a four-second count.

Step 3

Contract your calf muscles again to quickly raise your body and hold the contraction for three seconds. Repeat the exercise for 15 total repetitions. Complete two more sets.

Everted Calf Raises

Step 1

Place two 25-lb. weight plates about 6 inches apart, flat on the floor and next to an immovable bar. Stand on the balls of both feet with your toes pointed outward to work the inner, or medial, border of your calves. Hold the bar for balance.

Step 2

Contract your calf muscles to quickly raise your body and hold the contraction for three seconds. Slowly lower your heels past the edge of the plates using a four-second count.

Step 3

Contract your calf muscles again to quickly raise your body and hold the contraction for three seconds. Repeat the exercise for 15 total repetitions. Do two more sets.

Things You'll Need

  • 2 25-lb. weight plates

  • 10-lb. dumbbell

Tip

Do inverted and everted calf raises one calf at a time to make the exercise more difficult; hold a 10-lb. dumbbell to further tone your calves without making them bigger.

Warning

Consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen, particularly if you have been sedentary or have any health concerns.

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