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How to Shape Your Calves

by Heather Hitchcock

About Heather Hitchcock

Heather Hitchcock has been writing professionally since 2010. She has contributed material through various online publications. Hitchcock has worked as a personal trainer and a health screening specialist. She graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor of Science in exercise science.


The soleus and the gastrocnemius are the two largest muscles that make up the calves. The calf muscles can be one of the more difficult muscles to shape because the different muscles respond to various stimulus. However, building and shaping your calves is not impossible, it just takes consistently performing the correct exercises using the appropriate amount of weight and repetitions.

Training Your Calves

Step 1

Train the gastrocnemius muscle with exercises that involve keeping your leg straight such as the standing calf raise. The gastrocnemius consists of two muscle heads -- the lateral and medial heads – and primarily has fast-twitch muscle fibers, which respond best to heavy weight and lower repetitions.

Step 2

Work your soleus muscle with bent-knee exercises such as the seated calf raise. The soleus muscle consists of mostly slow-twitch muscle fibers, which respond better to lighter weight and higher reps.

Step 3

Train your calves at least two days a week on nonconsecutive days. Include both high- and low-repetition exercises in both of your training days to stimulate both muscles. Another option is to train your calves four days a week by alternating between gastrocnemius training and soleus training.

Calf-Toning Exercises

Step 1

Perform calf raises on a 45-degree leg press machine to work the gastrocnemius. Choose a weight in which muscle fatigue occurs within the eight to 12 repetitions for five or six sets. Sit at the leg press machine and position your toes on the edge of the platform with your heels hanging off. Push the platform up, extending your ankles and then flex your ankles until your calves are fully stretched. Repeat using slow and controlled repetitions.

Step 2

Include standing calf raises in your gastrocnemius training. Perform this exercise by holding dumbbells at your sides or on a standing calf raise machine. Position the balls of your feet on the edge of a step or block with your heels hanging off the edge. Lift your heels as high as possible and then lower down until your calves are fully stretched. Repeat for six to 10 repetitions for three sets. Keep your toes pointed forward during standing calf raises to target both the heads equally. Complete one or two of your sets with your toes pointed inward to target the lateral head, and one or two sets with your toes pointed out to target the medial head.

Step 3

Perform the seated calf raise to strengthen the soleus muscle. Sit at the seated calf raise machine and place the balls of your feet on the platform with heels hanging off the edge. Place lower thighs under the lever pads. Elevate the lever slightly by lifting your heels up and then release the support lever. Lower your heels down until your calves are stretched, and then raise your heels up as high as possible. Pause for a moment before repeating for five sets of 20 to 25 repetitions. This exercise can also be performed by placing a barbell across your lap instead of using the machine.

Items you will need

  • Dumbbells
  • Barbell
  • Leg press machine
  • Standing calf raise machine
  • Seated calf raise machine


  • Perform each repetition through its entire range of motion to stimulate every area of the muscle. Avoid bouncing or quick and jerky repetitions.


  • Always check with your medical provider before beginning any new exercise program.

References (4)

Photo Credits:

  • Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.