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A woman doing a calf raise on a step.

Calf raises primarily target two lower-leg muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. But building calf strength improves stability up and down the kinetic chain, from the knees above to the ankles below.

As a result, calf raises are often used to prevent and rehabilitate weak ankles, knee pain, shin splints, and gait issues. Strengthening these muscles is also associated with improved athletic performance, including jumping higher, squatting heavier, sprinting faster, and achieving full extension of the knees and hips.

The key to getting the most out of calf raises is to work the full range of motion, which means performing them on a step or other elevated surface that allows the heel to drop as well as rise up.

Read on to learn more about this small but mighty move.

Calf Raise

A GIF of a woman doing a calf raise on a step.
  1. Stand on the balls of your feet on a low step or sturdy box. On a count of two, lower your heels, allowing them to drop below the level of the step.
  2. Count to two again as you rise up onto your tiptoes, going as high as possible. Move straight up and down without letting your body sway.
  3. Perform up to three sets of 10 to 12 reps, resting one minute between sets.

Dumbbell Single Leg Calf Raise

A GIF of a woman doing a single-leg calf raise on a step with a dumbbell in one hand.
  1. Stand with one foot on an elevated surface, grasping the wall or a rack for balance.
  2. While holding a dumbbell in the same-side hand as the working leg, contract your calves and push the ball of your foot into the elevated surface to rise up onto your toes, rolling onto your big toe as you squeeze.
  3. Slowly lower your heel back down to the ground, and repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

Squat to Calf Raise

A GIF of a woman doing a squat to calf raise.
  1. With your hands extended in front of you, your feet parallel and slightly wider than shoulder width, and your lower back in its natural arch, slowly bend your knees and hips, sitting back until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  2. Reverse the move, quickly standing, and come up onto the balls of your feet.
  3. Hold the top position for a moment and repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

Calf Raise With Heels Together

A GIF of a woman doing a calf raise with her heels together.
  1. Standing on the floor and supporting your hands on a sturdy surface for balance, place your heels together and rise up to stand on the balls of your feet, raising your heels as high as you can.
  2. Without letting your heels drop, bend your knees and lower your hips into a supported squat.
  3. Press through the balls of your feet to return to standing and lower your heels to the floor.
  4. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

This article originally appeared in Experience LifeLife Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.

Photos: Chad Holder; Styling: Pam Brand; Fitness Model: Breanne Solem
Maggie Fazeli Fard

Maggie Fazeli Fard, RKC, is an Experience Life senior editor.

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