How to Get Slim, Sculpted Calves: Here's What You Need to Know
If you’re wondering how to slim calves, there are two things you need to know.
But more importantly, your calves are powerful muscles. They support you when you’re standing still, propel you forward when you’re walking or running, and help you jump, twist, and climb. So instead of focusing on making them smaller, focus on making them stronger. Here’s how.
How to Sculpt Stronger Calves
Your calves are made up of two main muscles:
- Gastrocnemius. The larger of the two muscles, the gastrocnemius is made of two parts (heads) which create the familiar bulge on the back of the lower leg.
- Soleus. The soleus is a flat, small muscle located underneath the gastrocnemius.
When it comes to the size of your calves, there are a few different factors at play. “Daily activities, weight, and genetics play a part in calf size,” says Tim Liu, CSCS and Precision Nutrition-certified coach. You can’t control your DNA, but you can adjust your nutrition and your workout routine to help you get the muscle definition you’re looking for.
Cardio workouts like running, sprinting, jumping rope, and barre can help you burn fat while also increasing muscular endurance in your calves. And — no surprises here — targeted leg exercises can help you build stronger calf muscles.
You may worry that lower-body workout will make your calves “bulky,” but it’s hard to pack on serious muscle mass unless you’re really trying. So go ahead and work those calf muscles. As long as you’re following a healthy, balanced diet and you’re exercising regularly, you’ll notice your calves — like the rest of your muscles — getting slimmer and stronger over time.
3 Great Exercises for Toning Calves
Strengthening your calves can help you run faster, jump higher, and improve mobility. Try these moves to target your calf muscles.
This is the go-to move for strengthening your calves:
- Stand with your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart, and toes facing forward.
- Rise onto the balls of your feet, as high as you can.
- Pause at the top, squeezing your calf muscles, then lower your heels back down in a slow, controlled motion. Repeat as desired.
The standing calf raise can be performed just about anywhere and requires minimal equipment. On top of strengthening your calf muscles, it also improves ankle strength and mobility, helps prevent injuries, and improves athletic performance.
2. Jumping Rope
Since you can’t spot-reduce your calf muscles, cardio is key. Liu recommends jumping rope — you’ll burn serious calories while building endurance in your calves. Grab a jump rope and try this 15-minute workout:
- Scissors (1 minute): Start in a staggered stance (one foot in front of the other), and switch foot positions with each jump.
- Twists (1 minute): Jump with your feet facing forward, then 45 degrees to the left, then center, then 45 degrees to the right, then center. Keep your core engaged and try to keep your upper body from twisting.
- Skiers (1 minute): Hop from side to side with your feet together.
- Boxer skips (1 minute): With each jump, shift your weight from leg to leg. When your weight is on your left foot, your right knee should be slightly bent and your right toe should barely touch the floor (and vice versa).
- Rest (1 minute).
- Repeat the circuit two more times.
3. Plyo Lunges
You’ll use your calf muscles — along with your quads, glutes, and hamstrings — to power through this explosive move from Tough Mudder T-MINUS 30.
- Stand in a staggered stance with your right foot 2 to 3 feet in front of your left foot. Let your arms hang by your sides.
- Keeping your chest up, back straight, and core engaged, lower yourself into a lunge: front thigh parallel to the floor, rear knee bent to about 90 degrees.
- Jump straight up so that both feet leave the floor. Swing your arms if needed to optimize your momentum and power.
- Switch leg positions in the air, landing softly with your left foot forward.
- Immediately lower your body back into a lunge to begin your next rep.
- Continue alternating legs with each rep.
There’s a reason why people feel their legs shaking in the middle of a barre class — all that time spent on their toes in relevé is giving their calves a hellacious workout. So if you prefer a designed mix of cardio, Pilates, and ballet fundamentals to assembling your own routine, XB will demand all your calves can handle en route to transformative results.