6 Calf Exercises With Dumbbells That'll Boost Your Stability

Zero in on those lower legs.

How to do calf exercises using dumbbells.
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Even if you aren’t training for anything in particular, it never hurts to give your calves a little extra love. The calf muscles, located on the back of the lower leg, are actually made up of three muscles that play a major role in everyday functional movements like walking, says Alayna Curry, an AFAA-certified fitness instructor. And if you feel like running or jumping, they’ll be there for you, too — which is why calf exercises with dumbbells can be a game-changer.

“Having strong calves can also help with balance and stability,” Curry tells Bustle. And if you are training with a specific goal in mind — like getting better at running — having stronger calves will allow you to make quick stops and speedy directional changes, Curry says. As a bonus, calf strength — and stronger legs in general — also play a role in protecting the joints in the knees, thanks to the additional muscular support.

While isometric calf exercises are always beneficial, doing them while holding a pair of dumbbells is even better. “Any time you can add extra weight or resistance to an exercise, it will help improve strength in those targeted muscles,” Curry explains. This is especially true for the calves, which you use every day while walking around. Adding weights creates a more noticeable burn in that area, Curry says. To zero in on those lower legs, give these expert-approved calf exercises with dumbbells a try.

Seated Calf Raises

Katie Wang, the founding trainer of Barry’s X, likes to weave calf exercises into her lower body workouts, which she typically does two to three times a week. For seated calf raises, Wang recommends grabbing two heavier dumbbells.

- Sit on a workout bench.

- Remain tall through your spine with core engaged.

- Balance the dumbbells on your thighs.

- Keep your toes on the floor, heels high.

- Raise and lower your heels repeatedly.

- Feel your calves engage.

Do 12-15 reps, 3 to 4 times.

Squat To Isolated Calf Raise

“This exercise isolates one side of the body at a time, helping to improve muscle imbalances,” Curry says.

- Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.

- Lower into a squat with the dumbbells along the sides of your body.

- While you’re at the bottom of the dumbbell squat, lift one heel off the ground and then place it back down.

- Lift the other heel and then place it back down.

- Stand back up to the starting position.

Repeat this move for 3 rounds of 12 reps.

Toes-In Standing Calf Raise

According to Curry, turning your toes slightly inward helps target your calf muscles in a different way than a traditional calf raise, as seen in the video above.

- Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.

- Point your toes slightly in towards the center.

- Lift both your heels off the ground into a calf raise.

- Gently lower back down.

Repeat this move for 3 rounds of 15 reps.

Single Leg Calf Raise

Certified personal trainer Secoy Reeves says it’s common to forget about the calves because you don’t always see or feel them (unlike, say, the glutes or biceps). It’s also easy to feel like you don’t have the right equipment to target the calves. For this exercise, though, one dumbbell is all you need.

- Stand on one leg with your other leg bent up behind you.

- Hold the dumbbell in one hand on the same side as the raised leg.

- Raise your body upward by pressing down through your toes until you reach the top of the raise.

- Hold for a second, then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

Do 3 rounds of 10 reps on each leg.

Single-Leg Deadlift

According to physical therapist Maggie Mills, PT, DPT, this calf exercise strengthens the muscle eccentrically and also promotes stability and balance.

- Hold a dumbbell in your right hand.

- Plant your left foot.

- Hinge forward at the hips, keeping your back straight as you lower the dumbbell to the floor.

- Your right leg will lift back behind you.

- Return to stand.

Aim for 3 rounds of 12 reps with both legs.

Anterior Step-Down From Box

Next, try this move from physical therapist Amy Graber PT, DPT. “This exercise works on eccentric control of the tibia moving over the fixed ankle,” she tells Bustle. “This is a similar pattern to what our calf does in walking or going down stairs.”

- Stand firmly in the middle of an exercise step on one leg.

- Bend the knee of your standing leg as you “step” off the box.

- Continue to bend your knee as you raise and lower your lifted leg.

Do 10 reps for 3 rounds on each leg.

Studies referenced:

Hody, S., Croisier, J. L., Bury, T., Rogister, B., & Leprince, P. (2019). Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Risks and Benefits. Frontiers in physiology, 10, 536. [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Osteoarthritis of the knee: What can I do to strengthen my knees? 2019 Jul 18. Available from:


Alayna Curry, AFAA-certified fitness instructor

Katie Wang, trainer

Secoy Reeves, certified personal trainer

Maggie Mills, PT, DPT, physical therapist

Amy Graber PT, DPT, physical therapist