They say there’s no better workout for your calves than a night out in high-heeled pumps. Think about it: You’re constantly Barbie-toeing — which is the concentric part of a calf raise — and it seems like every high-powered ’80s businesswoman we’ve ever seen has curvy, well-developed, muscular lower legs. Realistically, though, whether you’re a man or a woman, how often can you wear six-inch stilettos? Four, maybe five days a week?
As an alternative, personal trainer Iggy Gonçalves — or “Iggy Gotcalves” to his friends — has five killer routines to turn those baby bovines into full-blown bulls. Just make sure to stretch your stems before pointing and arching.
1. Standing Calf Raise
Repeat this sequence, nonstop, twice, for a total of 60 reps. If you need an extra challenge, add dumbbells or a barbell.
3 x 10 toes pointed forward
3 x 10 toes pointed outward so your feet form a V shape
3 x 10 toes pointed inward
2. Tibialis Anterior Machine
This machine kinda looks like a Segway just for your toes, and it is best used with very low weight. If your gym doesn’t have one, Gonçalves has a backup plan: “Sit on one end of a bench with your heels coming off the other end, then place a dumbbell between your feet and push your feet into a dorsiflexion.” That means you’ll want your toes arching up, closer to your shin. Repeat this for three sets, 15 to 25 reps each.
“Feel that stretch on the front part of the leg when you bring the weight down,” Gonçalves says, “and with that same stretch try to bring it back up slowly.”
3. Calf Press on Leg Press
Act like you’re doing a traditional leg press, with your feet shoulder-width apart, but let your heels hang off the edge of the panel, so that only your soles are planted.
With your knees locked in place so your legs are straight, push the weight up using only your feet. Do three sets of 20 reps with moderate weight.
Gonçalves suggests using light weight if you’re just starting out, and warns, “If you find yourself unable to get full range of motion out of your ankle, then the weight is too heavy for you and you
are not getting the most out of this exercise.”
4. Seated Calf Raise
Similar to the previous exercise, your heels should be dangling off the machine’s foot piece so that when the weight is released you’re able to get a full stretch on your Achilles tendon.
According to Gonçalves, some seated calf-raise machines are engineered differently, so make sure to follow the instructions on how to lock and unlock the machine properly before use. Do three sets of 20 or 30 reps with moderate weight, gradually increasing it after each set as you feel more confident. “Movements should be slow and controlled,” Gonçalves says, stressing, “do not bounce the weight up and down.”
5. Calf Raise Farmer's Walk
This is undoubtedly the best exercise of the bunch — Gonçalves describes it as “walking in imaginary high heels.” Hold two dumbbells of your desired weight, and walk 80 feet on your tippy toes for three sets of 40 reps, gradually increasing your weight.
Much like walking in actual heels, you don’t want to rush this exercise, or you could end up with a rolled ankle. It’d be the gym equivalent of hobbling home at 3 a.m., clutching your Jimmy Choos in your hands like a broken and defeated drag queen. Never again.