Calf-strengthening exercises can be an important component of your rehab after a lower-leg injury. They can also be done to help prevent problems with your mobility. Simple to perform, calf muscle exercises are easy to add to any exercise program.
Your physical therapist can show you specific exercises that work best for you and recommend a training schedule that is both effective and safe.
The Importance of Strong Calf Muscles
The two calf muscles are called the gastrocnemius and soleus. They work during foot flexion; for example, pointing the toes by moving the ankle into a downward position. It's a strong muscle group that includes two muscle heads terminating to form the Achilles tendon at the heel.
The calf muscles activate during any ambulatory movement: walking, running, jumping. That makes them very susceptible to muscular strain injuries.1
After such an injury, it is important to begin strengthening the affected calf muscle as soon as possible to:
Prevent atrophy (a loss of muscle mass)
Improve the function of your entire lower extremity
Injuries That May Be Helped by Calf Muscle Exercises
In general, any lower leg problem will probably benefit from calf rehab or strengthening.2 Some conditions that may be particularly helped by these exercises include:
Ankle or foot fracture
Below are a few examples of calf-strengthening exercises. If you're having problems moving around or have pain in your knees, calves, or feet, check in with your doctor and physical therapist.
Toe Raises for Calf Muscles
Toe raises describe a group of specific exercises used to strengthen the calf muscles.
Seated Toe Raises
Initially, toe raises can be done in the seated position. This takes most of the weight off the calf muscle during strengthening, but not so much that the muscle is not worked. This exercise is a great way to safely put a little bit of stress on your muscle after injury or surgery.
Perform the seated toe raise as follows:
Sit in a chair with both feet on the ground.
Pushing down through the toes, raise your heels off the ground.
Hold the position for 10 seconds, then lower.
Repeat 10 times.
You can add a bit of manual resistance by putting your hands on your thighs and gently pushing down.
Standing Toe Raises
This exercise is more advanced than the seated toe raise, as it places the entire weight of the body on the legs.3
To perform it:
Stand upright on both feet.
Push down through your toes, lifting both heels off the ground.
Hold this position for 5 seconds.
Repeat 10 times.
Variation: You can make this exercise more challenging by performing it on the edge of a step. Just place the balls of your feet on a step and raise and lower down.
Performing standing toe raises as part of the Alfredson Protocol can help treat Achilles tendonitis and tendinosis. You can focus the exercise on both your gastrocnemius and soleus muscle by performing it with your knees straight, or do it with your knees bent to specifically target the soleus muscle.
Resistance Band Calf Exercise
A resistance band is a simple and effective tool for working the calf muscles.
To try this exercise:2
Wrap the band around the end of your foot and press down into the band, extending your toes and engaging the calf.
Hold the position for three seconds, then slowly return to the starting position.
Perform 10 to 15 repetitions. Switch legs and repeat.
A Word From Verywell
See your doctor before you start these or any other exercises. Once you get the green light to try them, remember that calf muscle exercises should be done a few times per week for best results, unless otherwise instructed by your doctor or physical therapist. And listen to your body: If you experience pain, stop and check in with your physician.