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10 Best Exercises to Lose Calf Fat (From a Personal Trainer)

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: November 29, 2021

As a fitness instructor, I’ve noticed people tend to prize calf size and shape when it comes to lower body aesthetics.

Those who have worked on these areas will probably agree that losing calf fat or gaining calf muscle is a tricky business.

Toning and building up your calves should be an integral part of your training because they provide strength and stability when performing physical activities.

From an aesthetic point of view, they give the legs a “finishing touch.”

This article will give you tips on how to lose calf fat and have shaped calf muscles.

Summary of Our Key Findings

  • You cannot target and lose fat from just one area/spot in your body. When you lose weight, your genetics is a big factor that determines where fat is lost. You will lose calf fat if you focus on losing weight overall. 
  • Your genetics, exercise regime and diet affect how your calves turn out.
  • Most people don’t have bigger, more toned calves because they don’t treat them like other muscles and work on them.

Exercises To Lose Calf Fat

woman using a foam roll and a man running outdoors

Before we get into the intense exercises to lose calf fat, it’s preferable to do some basic stretching and myofascial work to help loosen up the muscles.

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling can be done with the help of a foam roller or lacrosse ball. The purpose of foam rolling is to loosen the myofascia around the calves and increase their mobility.

The exercise is performed by sitting on the floor with both legs outstretched, placing both calves on the foam roller.

Next, take the weight off your buttocks and focus it on the calves. This will tingle or slightly hurt, but it shouldn’t cause intense pain. You can also opt to roll each calf individually for a deeper massage.

Foam rolling won’t directly help you lose calf fat, but it is recommended before intense exercise. Never do a static stretch of the calves before an intense calf workout.

Cardio

If you want to lose fat and build calf muscles, but find it difficult, then regular exercise can make a ton of difference. If you want slim calves, do at least 150 minutes of cardio per week (brisk walking, running, cycling, jump rope, burpees, etc).

Cardio will not directly burn fat on your calves because your body cannot spot reduce fat.

However, the good news is that it will help burn calories, resulting in overall fat loss and improved calf strength. In other words, cardio will help you lose calf fat.

If your goal is to grow out your calf muscles, you need to prioritize them with strength training. This means working on them as you would focus on any other muscle.

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Exercises to Tone and Strengthen Calves

Below are some of the best exercises to tone and strengthen your calves and aid with weight loss.

Donkey Calf-Raises

man in a donkey calf raise position

These are the most effective calf exercises to increase your calf muscles size and definition.

  1. Stand in front of a railing/waist-high platform.
  2. Place an aerobic step or a weight plate on the floor. Keep the front half of your feet on the step where you can raise and let your calves fall to full extension. Keep your legs hip-width apart.
  3. Fold forward at the hip joints and bend down to grab the waist-high platform.
  4. Place a barbell or a plate on your back and bend down as far as you can.

5. Lower the heels to the floor (or as close to it as possible). This is your starting point.

6. Keeping your legs straight, slowly raise yourself up to the front of your feet, hold, come down, hold, and repeat. You should be able to feel your calves burn.

Standing Calf-Raises

  1. These are performed in the same manner as donkey raises, but instead of bending down, you stand straight.
  2. Then push yourself up, and bring yourself down using the front of your foot.
  3. This can be done with both feet shoulder-width apart or one foot at a time. You can do these using a dumbbell as well.

Weighted Seated Calf Raises

  1. These are performed seated with a plate or dumbbells on top of your quads.
  2. Next, squeeze your calves, keeping the front of the feet firm on a platform, and perform the reps as done in the donkey and standing calf-raises.
  3. Make sure to lift your heels as high as you can.

Plie Calf Raises

  1. Begin this in the sumo squat position by placing your feet in a wide stance and toes pointing outward.
  2. Get into the squat position by bending both the knees and lowering yourself (thighs parallel to the floor is sufficient).
  3. Raising your heels off the floor, push your body weight up while squeezing the calves. Make sure you hold and squeeze at the top, holding for a few seconds.
  4. Return to the starting position by placing your heels back down and keeping your knees straight and repeat.

Weighted Sumo Squat With Calf Raise

  1. Begin this in the sumo squat position, by placing your feet in a wide stance (slightly wider than shoulder-width) and toes pointing outward.
  2. Holding a dumbbell with both arms loose, get down into the squat position, and do a plie calf raise, raising your heels as high as you can.
  3. Stand back up and repeat.

Jump Squats

woman in a squat position outdoors

Jump squats are part of a total body workout and great to incorporate into your HIIT cardio session or to warm up before a heavy lifting session.

  1. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Don’t keep your legs straight. Rather, keep both knees slightly bent.
  2. Begin a regular squat (reaching a depth where your thighs are parallel to the floor is sufficient), keeping your back straight.
  3. Once you’re at the bottom, power up with a jump, and try to land as softly as you can, engaging the calves and thighs. Do not raise the heels when squatting down.

Single-Leg Squats

So these are extremely challenging and are recommended for those who are already good with squats.

  1. To do this, slightly raise your left leg and left foot off the floor, keeping the knee straight.
  2. With the help of your right foot on the floor, get into a squat position, still keeping the other leg off the floor. Make sure your right foot is flat on the floor to avoid pressure on your knee.
  3. Once at the bottom, brace your core, keep your torso upright, and squeeze your glutes when coming up.
  4. Switch legs and repeat these for reps for the right leg. Make sure to work both legs equally.

The above are fantastic workouts for lower legs.

I highly recommend doing other exercises for your legs so as to develop a balanced physique.

Calf Stretch

After completing your workout, whether weight training or cardio, it’s always good to stretch your calves. If you’re worried that your already-muscular calves look a little bulky, then stretching will help them expand and relax.

These exercises are great for muscle building and weight loss since they are compound movements.

Note that these exercises won’t give you muscular calves in a few months. Muscular calves are attained over a long period of consistent training.

Diet and Lifestyle Tips to Lose Calf Fat

Keep Your Diet in Check

vegetable salad in a bowl

You may have come across the overused phrase, “Abs are made in the kitchen.” The same principle applies if you’re looking to lose calf fat.

So avoid fattening foods or anything high in calories like pizzas, burgers, chips, processed meat, refined carbohydrates, etc. These are high in calories that increase the amount of fat in your system, affecting the amount of excess fat in your calves.

Go for healthier options like fruits, nuts, grains, whole wheat flour, lean protein, etc.

Consider going on a calorie deficit, meaning consume fewer calories than you normally do. Also, avoid foods high in sodium or those with inflammatory agents; they could lead to fat in your calves.

Drink Lots of Water

A study showed that drinking just 500 ml of water increased metabolism by 30% [1].

So it’s advisable to drink at least eight glasses per day for best results.

Exercise and Proper Rest

female in a gym smiling

If you’re looking to build muscle and lose weight, exercise and proper rest are crucial.

The right exercises can build great-looking calves, and adequate rest will help you lose fat and ensure the optimal development of your calf muscles.

However, if you’re looking for slim calves, then avoid exercises that target them exclusively.

When it comes to losing fat in the calf region, the unfortunate reality is that there is no such thing as spot fat removal.

You’ve probably heard people say - do crunches to help you get rid of belly fat, or in this case, do calf raises to burn the fat off your calves.

The truth is that you don’t decide where fat is lost; your body does.

This does not mean that you won’t shed fat from your calves, but it could be the first, second, or last place your body decides to get rid of fat.

So keep doing cardio or moderate resistance training to lose overall body fat fast and also lose calf fat in the process.

What Causes Fat Calves?

There are three reasons why you have large calves:

Being Overweight or Obese

The distribution of fat around your body depends upon your genetic predisposition, and some people tend to have disproportionately more fat in calves than other areas of the body.

However, note that big calves are not necessarily due to fat - it can also be from muscle.

A recent study by Kinoshita et al. [2] showed that calf circumference is positively correlated with calf muscle thickness and negatively correlated to fat thickness in non-obese adults.

So, are your calves fat or muscular? If you are not obese, your big calves might be due to muscle and not fat.

Poor Lifestyle Choices

mouth view of a man eating a donut

Other than obesity, the foods you eat and being sedentary for prolonged hours can lead to fluid build-up in the calf region.

Excessive salt consumption can build up water weight in the calf region, making them look fat. The average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium every day [3], and that’s more than the FDA’s daily recommended intake.

A salty meal leads to more water retention, and more water retention leads to fatter-looking calves.

Also, leg swelling in the calf region can occur from either standing or sitting for too long [4].

Lipedema

Lipedema is a condition that occurs almost exclusively in women.

It causes excess body fat to accumulate in the lower leg, namely thighs, glutes, and calves, resulting in bulky-looking calves.

Lipedema can run in the family and be genetically inherited [5]. Treating it is crucial - it can make your calves look fat, causes pain, and affects one’s ability to walk.

There are many ways to treat lipedema. The three most effective methods are:

  1. Change of lifestyle - eating a healthy diet, drinking lots of water, doing low-impact exercises
  2. Decongestive therapy and compression therapy
  3. Liposuction
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FAQs

Are My Calves Made of Muscle or Fat?

Genetics plays a big factor in whether your calves are made of more muscle or fat. Like any other muscle in your body, the calves consist of both fat and muscle.

So, are your calves fat or muscular?

A simple test to determine this - flex your calf muscle as hard as you can. The hard stuff is muscle; the soft stuff is fat.

Does Walking Help Lose Calf Fat?

Yes and no. Walking is one of the best ways to lose weight and achieve slim calves.

Unfortunately, walking alone will not target the calves. Remember that there is no such thing as spot fat removal. Losing fat on your calves will depend on when and where your body decides to get rid of the fat.

Final Thoughts On Losing Calf Fat

Losing fat and growing muscular calves is a stubborn and challenging process.

To get rid of calf fat fast, you should drink plenty of water, stick to a healthy diet, consistently workout (cardio and mild resistance workouts), and get a good night’s rest.

Also, keep in mind that spot fat removal is not possible unless you opt for calf reduction surgery.

If your goal is to gain muscle and grow big calves, make sure you treat the calves like any other muscle: work them hard and give them the rest they deserve.

In the end, nothing beats good old-fashioned hard work and consistency.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14671205/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33687177/
  3. https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/sodium-your-diet
  4. https://www.womenshealthmag.com/weight-loss/g19913675/bloated-calves/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20358611/

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