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Strength Workout: The Calf

Stairs legs training

The number of times clients have come in with sore calves from their weekend activities is too numerous to count.

In this article, we cover:

  • The anatomy of the calf

  • Why you should strengthen your calves

  • A workout and post-workout you can do anywhere to build strong, robust calves.

Anatomy of the calf

Each calf is actually a series of muscles and ligaments that aids all movements involving the foot and ankle. You can think of the calf as the main engine driver for the foot.

Here’s a breakdown of the entire calf:

Anatomy Of Calf Muscle Graphical Display

Why you should strengthen your calves

Imagine you are wearing really long socks (for example, football socks). And like a good football player, you’re wearing them pulled up to the limit – just below the knees.

Now, you grab the sides of one sock at the point where your calf muscle bulges the most.

You scrunch the sock, pulling the slack on one side so that the sock becomes tight.

You feel a slight pinch from the tightness.

Not satisfied, imagine continuing to scrunch so that the sock gets really, really … REALLY tight..


Now you’ve pulled your foot a little and can’t move it as freely. Your calf is also at risk of sustaining a strain, which could put you out of action for some time.

This is exactly what can happen if you don’t take care of your calves.

The stronger the calves, then the more tightness you can withstand without picking up an injury.

Try to give them some TLC before and after any major calf workout (for example, when going hiking or playing sports like tennis, basketball or football).

Calf strengthening workout

Main workout: The calf raise

Calves are a really simple muscle group to work out.

All you really need to do is point your toes down to the ground and then move them up to the ceiling.

While you can do this with some machines in the gym, we’re going to look at a workout you can do anywhere through use of your own body weight. 

What equipment you’ll need:

  • Some stairs or steps.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Stand with your toes on the edge of a step, facing in the direction of the ascending steps.

  2. Raise one leg to leave you standing on just the toes of the other foot. Feel free to grab on to something to help with balance.

  3. Raise onto the tips of the toes of the standing foot (like a ballerina).

  4. Lower your heel very slowly, until your heel ends up as far below your toes as possible and feel a deep stretch in the calf. 

  5. Extend back onto your tip toes quickly.

  6. Repeat for 12 – 20 reps before switching to the other leg.

Go for 3 sets per workout and 2 workouts per week for a proper calf-strengthening boost.

If you’ve got your technique right, you should to feel a decent burn after each workout.

Got your technique right, but not feeling the burn? Do the same workout while holding dumbbells.

Post-workout: Foam-rolling the calves

So, you’re now strengthening your calves twice a week and on your way to reshaping the entire look of your legs.

Great job!

However, you’ll also want to give them a little TLC so that they can keep up with the calves’ huge daily demands, avoid injury and keep them in good working order.

What equipment you’ll need:

You’ll need some kind of object to roll with:

  • A hard roller or a slightly larger ball (around the size of a softball) is ideal.

  • A tennis ball is a little too small.

  • Otherwise, a wine bottle, a canned drink or anything that is hard and will roll should work fine.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Start with the roller just above the crook of your ankle.

  2. Slowly roll all the way down your calf and stop just before you hit the crook of your knee
    (if you feel like it’s not doing much, place one foot on top of the other calf to apply more pressure).

  3. When you find a tender spot, stop and move your foot in a circle
    (this may be difficult at first and can cause quite a bit of discomfort, but don’t worry; so long as it doesn’t reduce you to tears, it’s an example of ‘good pain’).

  4. Roll up and down the calf 4 times, repeating the foot circle motion at least once per full calf roll.

Remember that football sock from earlier?

We’ve basically just smoothed that out so it’s back to normal and can function properly again.

What’s next?

So, spare a thought for your calves the next time you’re going to go on a big hike (Hong Kong’s most popular past time) or some kind of workout where you’ll be doing pretty much any movement on your feet. 

Think about your calves give them some love both before and after they’re in for a beating.

Your calves will thank you.

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