Calf Training for Shapely and Toned Legs

Q: No matter what I do, I can’t seem to develop my calves. When I first started training, I saw a little muscle tone – but now I’m at a plateau. Help!


No doubt, the calves are generally one of the most difficult muscles to develop. Given that they are used so frequently in everyday activities, they tend to be stubborn to respond to traditional training regimens. But with the right approach, you certainly can see big improvements.

Before detailing a solution, it’s important to understand a little applied anatomy (you’ll see why in a moment). There are two primary calf muscles: the gastrocnemius (i.e., gastroc) and the soleus. The gastroc is the muscle that is most visually apparent; its two distinct “heads” give the calves their classic diamond shape.

Anatomically, the gastroc originates on the femur (the thigh bone) and merges with the Achilles tendon to insert at the calcaneus (the heel bone). The soleus is situated underneath the gastroc and, while it is mostly hidden from direct view, significantly contributes to the shape of your calves by pushing the gastroc outward. The soleus originates on the tibia and fibula (the two bones of the lower leg) and shares a common attachment with the gastroc, merging with the Achilles tendon to insert at the calcaneus. The take-home message here is that the gastroc crosses both the knee and the ankle joints, while the soleus crosses only the ankle joint.

OK, with this background in mind, one of the most effective techniques I’ve found for blasting through a plateau and improving calf development is to perform a bent-knee calf exercise (such as a seated calf raise) and then proceed immediately to a straight-legged calf exercise (such as a standing calf raise). This is done in superset fashion, taking as little rest between exercises as possible.

Here’s why the technique is so effective: since the gastroc crosses both the ankle and knee joints, it becomes slackened during the performance of bent-knee calf exercises. The upshot is a reduced capacity for the gastroc to generate muscular force in these types of movements (a phenomenon called active insufficiency). The soleus, on the other hand, is highly active in both bent-legged and straight-legged exercises, which can diminish activity of the gastroc during the straight-legged movement. Thus, by first pre-fatiguing the soleus with a bent-legged movement, the gastroc is forced to perform the majority of work in the straight-legged exercise, maximizing development of both muscles. Give the technique a try; if you put in the necessary effort, it shouldn’t take long to see results.

Try These Calf Workouts

Shapely and Sexy Summer Calves: Exercises for Strong and Toned Legs

Calf Training: Two Exercises to Shape Your Lower Legs

Quick Calf Workout: Tighten and Tone Your Legs

Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., CSCS, CSPS, FNSCA is an internationally renowned fitness expert and widely regarded as one of the leading authorities on training for muscle development and fat loss. He is a lifetime drug-free bodybuilder, and has won numerous natural bodybuilding titles. He has published over 60 peer-reviewed studies on various exercise- and nutrition-related topics. Brad is a best-selling author of multiple fitness books including The M.A.X. Muscle Plan (Human Kinetics, 2012), which has been widely referred to as the “muscle-building bible” and Strong and Sculpted (Human Kinetics, 2016), which details a cutting-edge, body-sculpting program targeted to women. Brad also has authored the seminal textbook Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy (Human Kinetics, 2016), the first text devoted to an evidence-based elucidation of the mechanisms and strategies for optimizing muscle growth. In total, Brad’s books have sold over a half-million copies. For more information, visit For more information, visit

©2023 Advanced Research Media. Long Island Web Design