The best calf exercise for building strength and mass is the simple rise on toes, with the resistance provided by resistance bands or barbell plates.
A complete strength training program should build strength head to toe. Multi-joint exercises alone do not provide adequate stimulus for the fatigue-resistant calf muscles in most cases. Therefore Elastic Strength program includes direct training for the calves.
Rise on toes builds strength and muscle mass in the large calf muscles, both the gastrocnemius and soleus.
These large muscles of the calves have only one function: plantar flexion of the foot. Therefore the only exercise option is rise on toes.
I have poor calf genetics so I have had to find the best method for performing the rise on toes. The best calf exercise has to be the rise on toes with specific technique.
I think I have found the best calf exercise for people with poor calf genetics like myself.
Rise on toes can be performed one or two legs at a time, and can be loaded with plates or resistance bands.
In either case I recommend using then Brute Belt or other hip belt to eliminate the grip as a weak link and load the legs more directly.
I have found that the best calf exercise, which produces the deepest fatigue in the calves, to the point of cramping, i the two-leg calf raise on a block with resistance bands, as demonstrated in the video to the right.
The resistance bands provide the greatest resistance at the top of the contraction, and the least in the stretched position, matching the strength curve of this movement.
When you try it you will see what I mean. A set of 20-30 repetitions will leave you with a deep fatigue and ache in the calves, and difficulty walking, which I never got from regular weights. You can get close to the effect of resistance bands by using the 2-zone rise on toes with hip belt and plates described below.
The rise on toes with the X3 bar in a front rack position is my second choice. Its basically the same as the hip belt version. Again the key is the variable resistance. However this has a lesser range of motion than my first choice.
Front Rack X3 Bar Rise On Toes
I don't like doing the rise on toes in the deadlift position as recommended in the X3 standard program because it makes the grip the weak link, limiting the load you can put on the calves over a long set. Forearms get plenty of work in upper body pulling exercises.
My third choice is the single-leg rise on toes loaded with a hip belt and barbell plates.
When using plates, I recommend doing single-leg rise on toes, because otherwise you will need to use a load of plates that is awkward to handle. This variation also presents the risk of dropping plates on your feet, which could result in broken bones.
I recommend making the single leg rise on toes more intense by doing it in 2 zones as explained in the video to the right. Before I switched to using resistance bands to train my calves, this was the best calf exercise I knew of.
This method allows you to reduce the limiting influence of the sticking point of the exercise which occurs at the point when the foot is parallel to the ground.
By working the upper range of motion first, you exhaust the calves in their most contracted position first, then finish with intense work in the stretched position.
I personally have found rise on toes loaded with a hip belt and resistance bands to be far more intense and productive than plate loaded.
Therefore, with safety and productive as primary criteria, I think the rise on toes with hip belt and resistance bands is the best calf exercise.
When doing the Elastic Strength program, choose one of the following calf exercises and get as strong as possible with that exercise: