Calves don't get a lot of love. For many people who work out just to build an aesthetically-pleasing physique, the calves are often an afterthought because not many of us consider them to be vanity muscles (biceps, abs, pecs, etc.). Women tend to give more attention to their calves because of the slender and toned look a calf workout can give their legs. Think about it...why do people say womens' legs look so good in heels? Because heels put you on your toes, and keep your calves in continuous flex. It's like doing a calf raise and walking around in that position all day!
Beyond looks, calves are important for leg power, explosiveness, and quick turnover (the ability to move your legs faster to sprint at a faster speed), so there are a lot of benefits to working them out.
What to expect from a calf workout
If you've ever seen someone work their calves, you've probably thought they looked a little silly. That's because most of the exercises that get your calves in killer shape require you to stand on your tip-toes...and if you want to achieve that sculpted look, you're going to have to do some of those workouts too.
If you don't have access to a gym, go with the tried and true calf workout: calf raises. These are done best by standing backwards on the bottom step of your staircase at home with your heel hanging off the back. Once you have your balance (it helps if you have a railing to hold on to) go ahead and lower your heels toward the ground, and then stand on your tip-toes. That's one rep. Start with a few sets of 20 and then in the following weeks, if your legs feel like they're able to handle the workout, go ahead and up it to 30, or 40, or whatever you feel comfortable with. You can even hold some weights in your hands by your side while you do it to give yourself a better workout. Remember: feeling a burn during the workout and soreness afterward is a good thing...it means you've worked your muscles enough to tear and rebuild themselves stronger. What you DON'T want is pain. If you experience any sort of pain that is unusual for you - anything other than typical soreness or burning - stop your workout. Continuing to work out on an injured muscle will only injure it further.
Muscles you'll engage during a calf workout
Your calf is made up of two muscles: the gastrocnemius muscle is the bigger of the two. It's the one that forms the round softball-looking bulge in your leg that most people think of when they think of the human calf; and then the second is the soleus - the smaller, flatter muscle that's located beneath the gastrocnemius. Any calf exercise you do will engage both of these muscles.