6 Best Dumbbell Calf Exercises: Expert Tips for Defined Legs

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico | Co-Founder & Marketing Director
Last updated: June 19, 2023
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As a fitness coach, my clients often complain about how stubborn and hard it is to grow calf muscles.

I always tell them that calves need more than regular body weight to grow, and simple workouts with dumbbells should be able to do the trick.

To explain this matter further, I decided to compile what I know from my experience in coaching for many years with building calves. I also consulted a physical therapist to help me understand the mechanics behind the most effective dumbbell calf exercises.

Let's dive in.

Quick Summary

  • Dumbbell calf exercises such as the farmer’s walk on toes, the seated and standing calf exercises, the dumbbell squat jump, and the donkey calf raise can help you build strong calf muscles.
  • Exercising your calves keeps the muscles healthy and strengthens them for improved leg performance.
  • In addition to calf exercise, a proper diet, adequate sleep, and boosting it with a protein powder supplement can help these muscles grow.

Best Dumbbell Calf Exercises

A person looking at his calves after doing Dumbbell Calf Exercises

Below are some of the best dumbbell calf exercises you should try.

Farmer’s Walk on Toes

In the farmer’s walk, you walk on your toes instead of your entire foot. While it may sound easy to do, after a few steps, it gets your calves smoking.

Performing this workout helps with your balance and coordination.

You also burn an incredible amount of calories in record time.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand while standing upright with your feet hip-width apart.
  • With your shoulders down, lift your heel to stand on your toes.
  • Walk forward without letting your heels touch the ground for 20–30 small steps for one set.

Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise

A person doing seated dumbbell calf raises

The seated dumbbell calf raise is a great exercise to train the soleus, a large muscle running from below the knee to the heel, which contributes to walking and running [1].

While this workout can be done with a seated calf raise machine, it can also be easily performed without one. You only need a bench, one dumbbell or two, and a thick plate.

Here’s how to go about it:

  • Sit on a bench and ensure your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle with your toes pointed forward.
  • Place the thick plate in front of your feet and rest the balls of your feet on the plate.
  • Hold the dumbbells on your thighs for resistance.
  • Now let your heels fall to the ground with the balls of your feet still on the plate. Then drive the knees up until you’re on tippy toes.
  • Hold for a few seconds before repeating the movement.

Standing Dumbbell Calf Raise

It's similar to the seated calf raises, except it's done in a standing position instead of seated.

Doing calf raises while standing trains the gastrocnemius muscle, a complex muscle in the lower limb that is involved in walking and posture [2].

How to do it:

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells in each hand and step up to a stepper with the balls of your feet hip-width apart and facing forward.
  • Keep a slight bend on your knee and press the balls of your feet into the ground to raise your heels. This should move your body upward until you stand on your toes.
  • Hold the position for a few seconds, then slowly lower your heels back to the starting position.

Dumbbell Jump Squat

A person doing dumbbell jump squats

This is a high-intensity exercise that involves squatting and jumping with free weights.

Because of the explosiveness involved in this workout, it makes a great workout routine for weightlifters and basketball athletes who want to achieve an athletic build.

How to do it:

  • Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Move to a squat position by bending your knees as you push your hips back to lower yourself down until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  • Once you’ve reached a low point, move explosively by straightening your legs to come out of the squat and make a jump.
  • Land with bent knees as you lower yourself into a squat again.
  • Repeat about 12 repetitions for a complete set.

Related: Best Dumbbell Squats: Muscle and Strength

Donkey Calf Raise

The donkey calf raise is a great lower-leg exercise that can give you some serious calves.

Although you can have another person support the heavy dumbbell on your lower back, the best way to do it is with a weight belt wrapped around your waist and attached to a dumbbell.

Here’s how to do it:

  • You will need a plate or stepper to elevate your feet and a higher bench or structure to support your upper body.
  • Tie a weight belt around your waist, then wrap the belt’s chain around the dumbbell enough times to ensure it's firmly fastened before attaching it to the other side of the belt.
  • Place the stepper behind the support object where you can bend over and place your feet on the stepper so that the balls of your feet are at the edge.
  • Let your heels drop, then raise them to stand on your toes.

Single Leg Calf Raise

A person doing single calf raises in the gym

Leg calf raises can help you fix strength imbalances between your feet.

The single-leg calf raise increases calf engagement because it requires more ankle stability than the standing calf raise with both legs.

For this calf workout, you only need one dumbbell. You can also do it on a platform or on the floor.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand on a platform with your left foot while your right foot is suspended. Ensure the balls of your feet are at the edge of the elevation.
  • Hold the dumbbell with your left hand while your right hand is supported by something for stability.
  • Now, raise your heel by pressing down through the balls of your foot.
  • Hold for a second or two before lowering yourself slowly back to the starting position.
  • Do 10 repetitions and switch legs.

Benefits of These Exercises

A person doing calf exercises in the gym

Below are the benefits of training your calves.

Keeps Calve Muscles Healthy

The calve muscles bear not just the weight of the lower region but of the entire body as well. They also play a significant role in keeping the legs stable when you walk and run.

Hence, if these muscles are weak, it could lead to problems such as pain when exercising and arthritis, which may emerge later in life.

So exercising them regularly is better for keeping them healthy and strong.

Strong Calves Enhance Leg Exercise Performance

The ability to enhance the performance of leg workouts is an underrated benefit that training calves offers. See, calves are involved in almost all leg exercises, including lunges, squats, and step-ups.

“The majority of athletic movements will see an improvement by strengthening the calves.”

- Garrett Reid, Vice President at the NSCA Strongman SIG 

So, strong calf muscles enhance your leg workout performance, provide stability to other muscles such as the quads and hamstrings, and reduce stress on the Achilles tendon [3].


Do Calves Need Heavy Weight to Grow?

Yes, calves need to be trained with heavy weights to grow. That's because they are used to supporting your full body weight when walking. So, to stimulate their growth through resistance training, you may need to load more than your body weight.

What Weights Are Best for Calf Raises?

The best weights for calf raises are anything from 20 to 200 pounds. It all depends on your fitness level. Start with lighter weights before proceeding to heavier weights.

Boost Your Calf Workouts With a Protein Supplement

Incorporating dumbbell calf exercises such as the farmer’s walk, donkey calf raises, and standing dumbbell calf raises into your routine can help you get strong and bulky calf muscles.

But exercises alone may not be enough to get you the results you want fast enough. That's why I advise my clients to supplement their workouts and diets with protein powder.

We’ve thoroughly tested a vast number of supplements and have only included the top ones that have yielded the best testing results.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7893283/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532946/
  3. https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.00113.2014
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