Calf Workouts: The 18 Best Exercises to Bulk Up Skinny Legs

Closeup shot of a man's legs walking up stairs with the sun in the background. calf workouts
Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock
by Men's Journal Editors

You might not want straight-up tree trunks for legs, but if you’re craving more solid muscle mass—especially in the notoriously tough-to-build calves—you need targeted calf exercises, aside from just hammering your lower body in colossal leg-day workouts.

Calves can be especially challenging. We’ve heard plenty of lifters complain that they just don’t have the right genetics to build big calf muscles. But these stubborn muscles can grow, if you approach your workouts the right way.

First, some anatomy: The calf is made up of two main muscles. The gastrocnemius is a lower leg muscle that sits just under the skin, and it makes up the bulk of the calf. Then there’s the soleus, a wide, flat muscle that starts below your knee and runs down your lower leg, connecting to the Achilles tendon above the heel. These muscles connect the knee and ankle joint to help with knee flexion and extension so you can walk, run, and jump.

Here, we’ve compiled some of the greatest muscle-building calf exercises (think single-leg calf raise) you can do to add some definition to your legs. Try these on for size during your next leg day workout; just be sure to move methodically with proper range of motion to really stimulate the muscles. Also consider working in some explosive cardio like sprinting and jump rope to help develop stronger, more muscular calves. They’ll create micro-tears in the muscle fiber that’ll cause the body to send blood and nutrients to the cells in need, growing your calves bigger and stronger.

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The Best Exercises for Calf Workouts