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7 Simple Calf Exercises With Dumbbells

Dumbbell workouts can offer you impressive benefits but what are some calf exercises you can do with dumbbells at home or in the gym?

Dumbbells are handles with weights attached to them. They are one of the most popular types of gym equipment and for a good reason. You can use dumbells in many exercises for a wide variety of muscles, including your calf muscles.

How heavy your dumbbells should be, varies from exercise to exercise and individual to individual. If you are not sure which weight would be right for you, you can start with light dumbbells and slowly build up from there.

Keep in mind that even though there are upsides, your injury risk is generally also higher when you do exercises with more weight/resistance. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.

1. Standing calf raises

Calf raises are one of the most popular exercises to work out your calves. Dumbbells are a great way to make calf raises weighted. To do a standing calf raise take the following steps:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet pointing forward and at about shoulder width apart. Hold one dumbbell in each hand or one dumbbell in both of your hands.
  2. Raise your heels off the ground with the help of your calf muscles as far as you safely can.
  3. Lower your body again in a controlled motion.

You can also do calf raises with the front of your feet on an edge, stair step, or block. This allows you to go through a bigger range of motion. If you implement this variation take a break at the bottom of the movement so that you use your calf muscles and not your tendons to move upward.

If the dumbbells you have available are not heavy enough, you can consider doing single-leg calf raises to make the exercise more challenging. For this variation, you do likely want something to hold for balance. Also don’t forget to do the same number of repetitions with your other leg to avoid muscle imbalances.

2. Seated calf raises

For this next calf exercise with dumbbells you want something at about knee height to sit on. A regular chair works fine. Once you have that, to do a seated calf raise take the following steps:

  1. Sit on the object with your upper legs and feet pointing forward. Hold the dumbbells on your upper legs as close to your knees as possible in a way that doesn’t hurt.
  2. Raise your heels off the ground with the help of your calf muscles as far as you safely can. Keep the dumbbells in the same place on your leg throughout the exercise.
  3. Lower your heels again in a controlled motion.

There are different muscles in your calves. Doing standing calf raises mainly engages your gastrocnemius (the upper calves). Doing sitting calf raises mainly engages your soleus (lower and deeper calves).

Similar to standing calf raises you can put a stable object under the front of your feet so you can go through a bigger range of motion. If you do this take a very short break at the bottom of the movement to make sure your calf muscles are doing the movement.

3. Outward calf raises

To do an outward calf raise take the following steps:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet at about shoulder width apart and pointing at about 45-angle degrees outward. Hold one dumbbell in each hand or one dumbbell in both of your hands.
  2. Raise your heels off the ground with the help of your calf muscles as far as you safely can.
  3. Lower your body again in a controlled motion.

The upper calve muscle, the gastrocnemius, has an inner and outer part. By pointing your feet outward, the calf raises focus more on the inner muscle head (inner part) of the calf muscle (1).

Dumbbells are the main theme of this list but you can also do weighted calf exercises at home with the help of household objects like a grocery bag or a heavy backpack.

4. Inward calf raises

To do an inward calf raise take the following steps:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet at about shoulder width apart and pointing at about 45-angle degrees inward. Hold one dumbbell in each hand or one dumbbell in both of your hands.
  2. Raise your heels off the ground with the help of your calf muscles as far as you safely can.
  3. Lower your body again in a controlled motion.

Similar to outward calf raises, the difference in foot position makes it so the calf exercise has a slightly different focus. Putting your feet in an inward position during calf raises makes it so you engage the outer part of your upper calf muscle more.

5. Calf raise jumps

To do a calf raise jump take the following steps:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet pointing forward and at about shoulder width apart. Hold one dumbbell in each hand or one dumbbell in both of your hands.
  2. Raise your heels off the ground with the help of your calf muscles as fast as you can so that you jump up a short distance.
  3. Land on the front of your foot so that your knee does not take the full impact.

This exercise trains muscle power which is a different fitness component than muscle strength and endurance.

Keep in mind that calf raise jumps can be a bit harder on your ankles, especially with the added weight from the dumbbell(s). That being said this exercise is softer on your body than other jump exercises like a squat jump.

6. Tiptoe walks

As you can expect from the name this next exercise is simply walking on the front of your feet with your heels in the air. Similar to standing calf raises you can hold one or two dumbbells to make tiptoe walks more challenging. This in turn can lead to more and faster calf muscle gain.

You can also describe the version of the tiptoe walk where you hold dumbbells as a farmer’s walk on your toes.

7. Calf holds

To do a standing calf raise take the following steps:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet pointing forward and at about shoulder width apart. Hold one dumbbell in each hand or one dumbbell in both of your hands.
  2. Raise your heels off the ground with the help of your calf muscles as far as you safely can.
  3. Hold this position for an extended period of time.

Calf holds are a type of isometric exercise. In simpler words, this means that you engage your muscles in a more static way, without moving a lot. On the other hand, you have isotonic exercises where you engage your muscles in a dynamic way, by moving.

Isotonic exercises are generally more useful for building muscle. That means that the other isotonic exercises on this list are likely better exercises for building bigger calf muscles with dumbbells.