Let’s face it, with guys and bodybuilding it’s all about size. Everything is “get a bigger this” and “quickly grow your that”. Ladies are much more sophisticated than that, so creating workouts that would bring to their desired looks is that much more challenging and more fun.
Two of the questions that I get the most are: “How to get toned muscles without developing a mannish physique?” and “How the heck do you build calf muscles?” Well, today we are covering both, so grab a pen, and listen closely.
Before we get started with the top 5 exercises I would recommend to any lady without a gym membership, I have to get something out in the open. Your calves are muscles made for endurance. That means that they comprise mostly of slow twitch fibers which makes them great for longer duration and lower output muscle activity. In other words, they can’t generate as much force as quads or hamstrings, but they can be active much longer (You can walk for hours on end, but have you tried doing a wall sit for 5 minutes?).
Now, if you take a look at people whose calves are taking a beating for a living (postmen, delivery personnel, beat officers), you might realize that their calves are not as big as you might expect. The reason for that may be that calves, being endurance muscles, as we established they are, just weren’t made for hypertrophy. Combined with the fact that women don’t have the same predispositions for muscle growth due to the hormonal differences, you can rest assured that it is definitely possible to tone calves without making them bigger.
So let’s see what are the best exercises to get bigger calves for a female at home, what are the best exercises for more muscular (toned) calves that you can do at home (no, you don’t need a calf machine) and what are the best ways to do them.
There is no way around it; this is one of the staple exercises of all bodybuilders trying to get better calves. On the other hand, this beauty is amazing for toning your calves as well. Since you are standing when doing it, the prime mover is the outer part of your calf – the gastrocnemius. I love to do it with dumbbells so I can work on my grip strength at the same time, but do not despair even if you don’t have any weights.
Do this exercise one leg at a time, and really focus on the quality of every contraction. Be sure to go through the full range of motion, as it is already short in itself. Since you are doing it with no extra resistance except your own body, aim for at least 15-20 reps per leg, and keep your rest times short, not longer than 30s. If you are a beginner, three series will do the trick, but if you are an intermediate or advanced lifter, go for volume and settle for nothing less than five series.
If you are lucky enough to have a training partner at home, you can do a donkey raise, and it will definitely make training calves more fun.
Stairway walks is one of those exercises you can reach for when you just can’t make yourself work out regularly. To be honest even I, as a fitness professional, simply forget to do my calves sometimes. Similarly to abs (or a cat), your calves need your love around four times per week, and it doesn’t take too long for them to get enough (both cats and calves). Do you know even one person that exercises calves that often? Neither do I. That being the case, we can incorporate some calf work into our daily activities.
My favorite way to do this exercise is to climb on my toes with every step whenever I take the stairs around the house (or whenever I remember at least). That way, you can accumulate some habitual calf work which is great because it’s not time consuming and it does give results. A word of caution with this one – do them at home only, as people tend to give you strange looks if you forget that you are in the office building, getting some papers from the HR, rather than at home, looking for your kids’ dirty laundry.
There is another caveat here as well. I would recommend this exercise to anyone who has suffered a calf torn, because it’s low impact, and a great post rehabilitation strategy to getting back into shape.
This beauty can replace a calf machine, so not having enough money to invest in one is no longer an excuse. If you want complete calf development, you need to include some seated work as well. That way, your soleus doesn’t go untrained and can contribute to the complete look of your lower leg. Do these for the same number of sets and reps as the standing calf raises, and if you don’t have plates handy, grab a band, and anchor both sides to anything sturdy enough to provide sufficient resistance for plantar flexion (lifting your heels off the ground).
Hat down, Nordic calf raise is one of the best calf exercises known to man. This is especially true for all you advanced lifters. However, I already covered it in depth in another article, so there is really no need to talk about it here as well.
Jump rope? For toned calves? Yes, if you do it right. Jump rope is not only a great way to get your heart rate up (and a pretty fun one as far as cardio goes), but it is also a great way to train your calves the way they are meant to be trained – low impact, long duration. Be sure not to allow your knees to take over and over engage your quads (they are going to want to do that, trust me), and try doing these 10-15 minutes a day.
Depending on your fitness level, you can do more or less, and you can organize your work in more shorter sets (I remember starting somewhere at 10 one-minute sets) or you can cluster your entire jump rope work in one giant set. The choice is yours, so choose and enjoy.
As you can see, training calves is not the most fun activity, but it doesn’t have to be the most tedious one either. It’s definitely doable even with limited resources if you have proper motivation, and a positive attitude. Remember, there are no excuses, so go at it hard, but train smart.
Hey! My name is Paul Sheldon. I live in Nashville, TN and I love all things related to sports. Naturally I love workking out and I do it every day. If you want to talk feel freee to hit me a message or if you happen to be in Nashville we can get a coffee, I know a great place. Peace!