Squats work your calves as a secondary muscle, but you will not get an intense calf workout from squats. Studies have shown that proper squat form decreases the load on the calf muscles. Improper squat form works your calves more. However, doing squats incorrectly puts you at risk of injury. To build your calf muscles, add calf raises, jump rope, boxing, cycling, or box jumps to your routine.
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What Muscles Do Squats Work?
Your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes are the primary muscles used during squat exercises. This means squats mostly target the front and back of your thighs, along with your butt muscles. The secondary muscles used during squats include the core muscles of the abdominals and lower back, along with the calves. These secondary muscles get a workout, but it’s not as intense as the workout for your thighs and glutes.
- Calves, abdominals, and lower back muscles receive some work as secondary muscle groups during squats.
Because squats work your calves only as a secondary muscle, you won’t see big improvements in calf strength, tone, or size from doing squats. In order to truly encourage your calves to grow strong, it’s essential to target them with exercises that utilize the calves as a primary muscle.
Why are Squats Not Good for Calves?
This scientific study of squat technique and muscle activation found that squats work calves more intensely when you’re doing squats incorrectly. If your knees are pointing too far in or too far out during squats, more of the workload is transferred to your calves. The problem with this is that squatting with incorrect knee placement can cause injury to your knees and lower back. It also reduces the muscle activation in the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, reducing the utility of your squats. So, doing squats the right way actually works your calves less.
- Proper squat form reduces the workload for your calves.
- Scientific studies show that your calves work harder if you do squats incorrectly.
- Squatting with improper form puts you at risk of injury.
- If you squat in a manner that targets your calves, your upper leg muscles will be neglected.
- There is no way to safely do back squats that target your calves.
Since we know performing squats with proper form makes your calves work less, we can be certain that squats are not a great calf-building exercise. An effective calf exercise targets the calves more when performed correctly. It’s also essential to choose exercises that help build calf strength without putting you at risk of injury.
The 5 Best Non-Squat Exercises for Your Calves
Because the range of motion of a squat does not primarily activate your calf muscles, you’ll need to add a different form of exercise to your lower body workout. Try the following exercises to build muscle mass and tone in your calves.
Whether you prefer the standing calf raise or the seated calf raise, both are excellent options for targeting your calves with weight training. The range of motion required for calf raises causes the calf muscles to tense during both the upward and downward movement of the calf raise. This leads to incredible results. Perform 3–5 sets of 8–12 reps to build calf muscle size and definition.
Because jump rope requires you to balance on the balls of your feet and jump repeatedly, jumping rope is one of the top calf exercises. Take the time to learn this alternating jump rope step. Then, perform cardio workouts with a jump rope. Begin with just a few minutes of jumping rope, then work your way up to 15 minutes of nonstop jump rope. Your calf muscles will get an intense workout and you’ll see the results.
Boxing is one of the most incredible calf-strengthening exercises you can perform. Don’t worry, you don’t have to fight anybody to get this workout. A cardio boxing class where you are punching a heavy bag will provide a great workout. Find a reputable instructor that teaches correct boxing form. You will learn to balance on the balls of your feet as you throw punch combinations. Not only will you burn calories and build skills, but you’ll also see amazing results for your calves.
Cycling is another incredible calf workout. Whether you begin cycling on local roadways, spend time on the stationary bike at the gym, or begin attending spin classes, you’ll get a great calf workout. Just make sure to adjust your bike seat height properly. You should feel a slight stretch in your calves when the pedal is at the lowest point. This stretch activates your calf muscles and helps to build strength, definition, and endurance.
Calves are one of the primary muscles used when jumping. So, it makes sense that adding jumping exercises to your routine will strengthen your calves. Box jumps are one of the best exercises for the job. Perform 3–5 sets of 5 reps, with 90 seconds of rest between sets. Begin with low box jumps, then gradually work your way up. Your calves will get more benefit from these leaps than from squats.
How to Work Calves With Squats
Unfortunately, your calves will not be worked very hard by performing squat exercises. Instead, try the following exercises:
- Calf raises
- Jump rope
- Box jumps
Squats are an incredible lower body exercise for building strength in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, but they only provide a slight workout for your calves. Instead, add calf-specific exercise to your routine. You’ll see incredible results by targeting your calves specifically.