If you’ve been a runner for long at all, you’re no stranger to experiencing sore calves at the end of a long, intense run. Your calf and quad muscles receive the brunt of the impact with every stride, and that’s why calf exercises for runners are so important for keeping your calves healthy. This is especially true if you tend to run on the forefront of your feet–also known as a “toe-runner.”
When I ran cross country in college, I earned the nickname of “Prancer.” No matter how much I tried to correct my form, I always ended up running up on my toes. I adapted over time–but it also put a lot of stress on my calves. I relied heavily on ice baths, as well as these tried-and-true calf-strengthening exercises to keep my calves healthy.
Why Calf-Strengthening Exercises Are Critical
Strengthing your calves isn’t just about preventing injury to your calves. It’s about protecting your lower legs as a whole. For example, if your calves are too weak, it puts stress on your Achilles tendon and shins. No runner likes dealing with a painful, squeaky Achilles tendon or going through the agony of shin splints.
Include these calf exercises into your training routine two to three times per week to improve your form and help prevent injuries by building muscle in your lower body. You can put them into the middle of your run or tack them on at the end while your muscles are warm.
The difference between good calf exercises and great calf exercises is the time and attention you put into them. Don’t just cruise through these so you can rush off to a shower and your post-run smoothie. Be diligent and intentional—take your time.
Good calf workouts aren’t an afterthought—they’re a priority.
It doesn’t have to take long–you just need 5-10 minutes each time. Your calves, shins, and Achilles will thank you for it!
7+ Best Calf Exercises for Runners
1. Best Dynamic Calf Exercise: Jumping Rope
Let’s start with the basics! An exercise as simple as jumping rope not only strengthens your calves, it amps up your cardiovascular ability–which as runners is what we want, right? You don’t have to use a jump rope to do this exercise, but we argue it’s more fun to see if you can set a new jump rope record without tripping!
It can also serve as a great pre-run warm-up. Jump in place on the balls of your feet for 30-60 seconds three times. Repeat for a total for three sets.
Tip: Be sure to land on your toes rather than flat-footed. Landing on your toes is what makes this a great calf exercise–you strengthen those muscles with every jump.
2. Best Static Calf Exercise: Simple Calf Raises
Stand on the edge of a step or sturdy box. Raise your left foot, putting your body weight onto your right foot. Balance on the ball of your right foot.
Next, lift your right heel and pause there for a few moments. Lower your heel and repeat. Alternate feet every 10-15 reps, completing a total of three sets for power up those calves!
Tip: You can also hold dumbbells at your sides to amplify this strength-training exercise.
3. Best Calf Exercise With Dumbbells: Toe Walking
If you have them, grab some dumbbells and hold them at your sides–but this exercise works fine without weights, too.
Lift up your feet and walk forward on your toes for about one minute to 90 seconds. Do three to five sets for stronger calves–particularly the soleus muscle in your calf that’s responsible for plantar flexion–helping you to power off when you run. Remember, don’t let your heels touch the ground–keep them as high as you can!
4. Best Calf Exercise At-Home: Ankle Mobilizing Knee Pushes
Assume a starting position in front of a three to four-inch mat or block and put your toes on it so they are elevated past your heels. Bend your right knee and push it forward until you feel that familiar stretch in the back of your calf.
Repeat with your left leg. Aim for three sets of 10-15 reps on each leg.
5. Jumping Half Chair Squats
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, flat on the floor. Focusing your energy on your lower legs, jump using only your calves.
We aren’t going for a killer, sky-high jump here–if you’re only using your calves, you won’t get that high. On the way down, absorb the power of your jump by dropping into a half squat and landing quietly.
Complete three sets of eight for toned, healthy calf muscles ready to take on any hill workout. Plus, you’re weaving in a bit of cardio with this exercise!
6. Best Calf Exercise Without Equipment: Standing Double-Leg Calf Raises
This exercise might be the most classic move for building strong calves. Like a lot of strength training practices for runners, it leverages the power of your body weight.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart–being near a wall can help for balance. Align your ankles, knees, and hips to shield your joints. Press down on the balls of your feet and lift your body up while keeping your core muscles firmly engaged.
Hold for three to five seconds, then come on back down. Do three sets of eight.
7. Best Calf Exercise With Barbell: Weighted Calf Raise
Start by doing this as a double-leg calf raise. Once you’re comfortable with that, advance to single-leg weighted calf raises.
You’ll perform this exercise much the same way as the classic calf raise and double-calf raise. The only difference is you’re going to be adding some more resistance to the calf exercise.
The easiest way to do this is with a barbell and a squat rack.
Get into the squat position with a barbell across the back of your shoulders. However, instead of squatting down, you’re going to simply perform a toe raise.
A weighted exercise like this helps you measure your progress by the number of plates you put on the bar. This helps you progress and grow muscle faster than cranking out 50 to 100+ calf raises.
Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Injury Prevention
It’s common for runners to experience sore calves–these muscles power our runs and give us the strength to tackle steep hills and fire off speedy kicks at the end of a race. So, we have to take care of them!
There’s nothing that can deter even the most disciplined training plan and running goals more than an injury that could have been prevented. Resolving those injuries involves more than drinking enough water and light stretching.
Listen to your body and invest the time into proper stretching, ice baths, and strength training activities. It might not be the most fun part of your training routine–but it’s worth it! Your entire body and personal records will thrive as a result!
Don’t wait for an injury to start doing these calf exercises for runners. Make calf-strengthening a priority—not an afterthought.
A happy runner is a healthy runner with strong muscles, enjoying pain-free runs. Get started by downloading our FREE injury prevention video series today!
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