Gastrocnemius Exercises for Building Stronger Calves

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico | Co-Founder & Marketing Director
Last updated: November 24, 2023
Our content is meticulously researched and reviewed by an expert team of fact checkers and medical professionals. They ensure accuracy, relevance, and timeliness using the latest reputable sources, which are cited within the text and listed at the end of the article. Before publication and upon significant updates, we confirm factual accuracy, committed to providing readers with well-informed content. Learn more.

The gastrocnemius is a calf muscle that gives it its rounded shape. Most individuals yearn to have well-built, great-looking calf muscles but don't know the right exercises to hit the different muscles of the calf.

As a fitness trainer, I researched extensively to learn about the calf muscles (particularly the gastrocnemius muscle) and to know the exercises that target these muscles.

In this article, I will detail my findings and expertise on the best gastrocnemius workouts, the anatomy, functions, and tips for building the gastrocnemius muscle.

Quick Summary

  • The best gastrocnemius workouts include seated calf raises, standing calf raises, jump rope, jumping calf press, seal jack, plyo lunges, and dumbbell jump squat.
  • The gastroc consists primarily of type II fibers or fast-twitch fibers. This implies that this muscle is essential for forceful, explosive motions like running, leaping, and changing direction.
  • Tight calf muscles may limit ankle movement and raise the risk of injuries such as shin splints and plantar fasciitis.

The Best Gastrocnemius Workouts

A person doing gastrocnemius exercises at the gym

Seated Calf Raise

The seated calf raise is a machine calf raise designed to isolate the calf's muscles.

"Calf raises, particularly seated calf raises, provide for more leg isolation in general, and allows people who cannot load weight on the spine or torso to train the calves without risk of injury."

- Daniel Dominick, Registered Physical Therapist

How to perform:

  1. Sit on the calf machine and put the balls of your feet on the platform, toes pointing forward - the bottoms will hang off.
  2. Place the base of your quads behind the knee pad and both hands on top.
  3. Loosen the safety bar by extending your ankles.
  4. Dorsiflex the ankles and lower the heels until your calves are fully extended.
  5. Exhale as you flex your calves and extend the ankles.
  6. Repeat for reps.

Read More: Calf Exercises for Mass and Strength

Standing Calf Raises

A person doing standing calf raises at the gym

Standing calf raises are a popular exercise for targeting the muscle groups of the lower leg, particularly the gastrocnemius muscles.

When performed unweighted, the calf raise is frequently done for high repetitions or for time.

You can also perform the single-leg calf raise.

How to perform:

  1. Stand with both feet shoulder-width apart on a yoga or a good exercise mat, toes pointed forward. Standing calf raises may be done on the ground if you do not have a mat.
  2. Maintain a straight back, shoulders down and back, and abs drawn in.
  3. Raise your heels gradually while maintaining your knees stretched (but not locked).
  4. Pause for a second when you're standing on the tips of your toes as much as possible.
  5. Return to your beginning position by lowering your heels to the ground.
  6. Repeat for reps.

Related Posts: 

Jump Rope

A good weighted jumping rope is an excellent calf endurance exercise that also improves total-body coordination.

How to perform:

  1. Begin with the rope behind, so it's at your heels, and grab a handle in each hand.
  2. Gently spin your forearms forward, then your wrists, to produce momentum and swing the rope above.
  3. Slightly bend your knees as the rope swings above. When the rope reaches your shins, jump by leaping from your toes. Begin gently so you can perfect the timing. After a few leaps, you'll know when to jump automatically.
  4. Your wrists can do the rest once you've reached a comfortable speed.
  5. Repeat till the set is finished.

Learn More: Does Jump Rope Burn Belly Fat

Jumping Calf Press

A person doing jumping calf press workouts at the gym

The jumping calf press is a plyometric calf workout that promotes calf strength and explosiveness.

You can either leap frequently (jumping back up as soon as you land) or do one jump, land, and pause for a count before jumping again.

How to perform:

  1. Stand upright, hands at your sides, core engaged, and back straight.
  2. To jump into the air, explosively push off the floor with the balls of your feet.
  3. Land softly on the balls of your feet.
  4. Concentrate on calf muscular tension and contraction rather than depending on quads to propel your jump.
  5. Repeat for reps.

Seal Jack

A seal jack is a jumping jack exercise in which you bring your arms together before your chest rather than above your head.

Seal jacks are a complex exercise that utilizes many joints and muscles.

They are great calf exercises for building and developing your gastrocnemius muscles.

How to perform:

  1. Stand with your feet flat together and both arms outstretched in front of you.
  2. Jump to your feet and extend your legs and arms to the sides.
  3. Softly land with your feet apart and your hands out to the sides.
  4. Return to your starting position by jumping up again.
  5. Repeat for reps.

Plyo Lunge

A person doing plyo lunges outside

This powerful plyometric motion will require activating your calf and other leg muscles.

How to perform:

  1. Stand with the right foot two to three feet in front of your left leg in a staggered posture. Allow your arms to drop at your sides.
  2. Lower yourself into a lunge while keeping the chest up, back erect, and core engaged: front thigh level to the floor, rear leg bent to roughly 90 degrees.
  3. Jump straight up, allowing both feet to leave the floor. Swing both arms if necessary to maximize momentum and force.
  4. In the air, switch leg positions, landing lightly with your left leg forward.
  5. To begin your next rep, instantly lower yourself back into a lunge.
  6. With each repetition, alternate legs.

Dumbbell Jump Squat

The dumbbell squat jump workout will aid in developing and improving lower body strength and explosiveness.

"This plyometric exercise uses the calf muscles to generate force during the ascension phase of the jump squat and to stabilize the body during the landing."

- Cody Braun, National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certified Personal Trainer

How to perform:

  1. Stand upright with your legs shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells.
  2. Lower your hips back until the thighs are parallel to the ground and you're in a squat position.
  3. Straighten your feet from the squat posture and move off the ground forcefully.
  4. As you descend back into a squat, land lightly with bent knees.
  5. Repeat for reps.

Gastrocnemius Anatomy

A person doing calf raises at the gym machine

The gastrocnemius is a two-headed, visible muscle on the lower thigh's rear [1].

Gastrocnemius has derived from the Latin words gaster ('belly' or 'stomach') and knḗmē (leg).

The name means stomach of the foot because of how well-developed the muscle sticks out from the leg.

The gastrocnemius comprises two muscles: the lateral and medial heads [2].

The lateral head begins at the femur's lateral condyle (a rounded protrusion at the end of specific bones), whereas the medial head starts at the femur's medial condyle. The opposing ends form a tendon with the soleus muscle.

The Achilles tendon attaches to the rear side of the heel bone. The soleus muscle is located behind the gastrocnemius [3].

Some call these three calf muscles the triceps surae or "three-headed calf muscle."

The Function of Gastrocnemius Muscle

Close up shot of a person's calf muscles

Plantar flexion is the primary function of the gastrocnemius and soleus calf muscles.

This gastrocnemius motion flexes the foot and moves the leg at the ankle joint.

The gastrocnemius is required for sprinting, leaping, and other dynamic leg motions. It also aids in the movement of standing and walking.

The gastrocnemius is more engaged in quick motions such as sprinting than the soleus because it includes more white muscle fibers (type II fast twitch) [4].

The soleus muscle is primarily responsible for slower motions or non-moving (standing) since it features more red muscle fibers (type I slow twitch)

Tips for Building Gastrocnemius Muscles

A person looking at his calves outside on the stairs

To grow bigger calves, you must prioritize training them.

Begin your training with the calf workout and work them up to three times each week.

Increased volume, intensity, and heavier weights are the keys to creating larger calves.

All of this must be done while moving across the full range of motion:

  • Begin with a Calf Workout: The first exercises you do throughout your workouts provide the best effects. Unfortunately, most people do not target their calves until they finish their workout, if at all. Next time, begin your routine by focusing on the calf muscles.
  • Go Heavy: While bodyweight calf workouts are excellent for your muscles, going heavier than the bodyweight may stimulate growth. Every day, your gastrocnemius muscles sustain your body weight. Thus, it's critical to increase the intensity.
  • Volume: Include high-rep calf movements to maximize blood flow to your gastrocnemius muscles.
  • Slow and Controlled: Far too many individuals perform calf raises in quick, half-rep sets. Pause at the bottom of each repetition to stretch the calf muscles and prevent the Achilles heel stretch reflex from propelling your heel higher. You must also pause and squeeze the gastrocnemius at the end of each rep.
  • Full Range of Motion: When performing any calf raise, move all the way up and down.
  • Change the Angles: Because your gastrocnemius has two heads, it is critical to target each head from a distinct angle. You should perform several calves raise variations with variable foot positions by pointing your toes inwards or outwards. You should also work on your calves from different body postures.


How Do You Build up the Gastrocnemius Muscle?

You build up the gastrocnemius muscle by doing exercises like standing calf raises. This exercise focuses on the gastrocnemius and can be performed with or without weights.

What Happens When the Gastrocnemius Is Weak?

When the gastrocnemius is weak, it may cause calcaneal gait, in which the foot sole does not contact the ground when walking. If you have a weak gastrocnemius, you may have difficulties climbing stairs and walking uphill.

Which Muscle Makes Calves Look Bigger?

The muscle that makes the calves look bigger is the gastrocnemius muscle. It's the larger calve muscle that forms the bulge seen beneath the skin.


Was this article helpful?

About The Author

You May Also Like

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *