5 exercises better than calf raises to sculpt your lower leg

Shorts season is almost upon us

Man standing in the gym with muscular calves
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If there’s a muscle that often gets overlooked during leg day, it’s the calf muscles and, if you do remember to train them, more often than not, it usually includes quickly smashing out a dozen calf raises at the end of your session. Our calves deserve a lot more TLC than being an afterthought like this though. 

Made up of two muscles – the gastrocnemius and the soleus – our calves are what help us bend our knee, push off the ground, and flex our foot forward. So, pretty important for everyday movement and sports activities. Not to mention they look great in a pair of shorts and if you want a symetrical-looking leg you’ve just got to train them. 

Calf raises are often the go-to exercise for building up this muscle, but what if you workout from home, or constantly find yourself waiting in a queue to use the machine? Luckily, there are plenty of other calf exercises out there (and they need more attention than three sets of raises anyway). Here’s five of our favourites… 

1. Toe touch farmers walk

Man carrying kettlebell

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Can’t get on the calf raise machine? Grab a pair of dumbbells and do these instead. These are performed just like a traditional farmer's carry, but the main difference is that you walk on the balls of your feet. This will overload the calf muscles far more than walking completely flat-footed. It’s also great for your core and upper body too. Don’t have dumbbells? Grab two kettlebells instead. 

2. Sled push

Woman pushing weighted sled across the gym floor

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The sled push is an excellent compound exercise that won’t just fire up your calf muscles as you push off the balls of your feet, but just about every other muscle in your body too. Some people even say it’s as effective as the squat and deadlift for building strength and muscle, but it’s great for speed and power too. It’s an exercise that literally anyone can do, as you can adjust the weight according to experience and it doesn’t require specific skill.  

3. Box jumps

Plyometric exercise box jump being performed by a man and woman

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Looking for a more high-intensity calf-builder? Box jumps are a great choice! Popular amongst CrossFitters, this plyometric exercise will work the gastrocnemius and the soleus, as well as your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core. Another good one for building muscle endurance and explosive power that can easily be done at home, just make sure whatever you jump onto is sturdy. 

4. Jump rope

Skipping full body workout

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It may be an activity you associate with the playground, but the jump rope is still one of the best pieces of home gym equipment you can own; it’s simple, yet effective and fun! Unlike calf raises, the it targets your calves more dynamically, alongside your hamstrings, quads, glutes and core. It’s great for building muscle endurance, as well as sneaking in a little cardio workout. Plus, you can use it literally anywhere and if you did want to add some resistance, why not wear a weighted vest?

5. Seated dumbbell calf raises

Man performing seated dumbbell calf raises

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Ok, we know what you're thinking 'this is a calf raise', yes it is, but it's far easier to integrate into your workout (especially home workouts) than standing calf raises, as no machines are required, just a pair of dumbbells. It mainly targets the soleus muscle, which is key for lower body stability and stops you from falling forward. They're also better suited for beginners as they require less stability than you would performing a standing calf raise.

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.