When it comes to working the calves, many people tend to ask, “Does Squats work Calves?”
The answer to this question is yes and no. Squats alone will not give you bigger calves, but they can help contribute to overall lower body muscle growth, which can in turn make your calves look bigger.
The reason why squats alone won’t give you bigger calves is because the calf muscles are relatively small compared to other lower body muscles like the glutes and quads. To really target the calf muscles, you need to do exercises that specifically isolate them, such as calf raises.
However, squats can still be helpful for building up the calves. This is because they indirectly work the calf muscles by forcing them to stabilize the weight of your entire body during the exercise.
So, while you won’t see a drastic change in your calf size from doing squats alone, they can still be a helpful exercise for overall lower body development.
What makes a squat so effective?
Despite their basic nature, squats are a dynamic strength training move that requires many upper and lower body muscles to work in tandem. A proper squat form requires total body coordination and strength making it fantastic for muscle growth and burning calories.
Performing squats with bars also requires your body to go into a defensive position, which activates the sympathetic nervous system, which we commonly refer to as the fight or flight response. This, in turn, triggers the release of two very important hormones for building muscle – testosterone and growth hormone.
These two hormones are responsible for building muscle mass and burning fat. In addition, squats target the abdominals, which are known to improve insulin sensitivity and regulate glucose, which protects your body against obesity, cardiovascular problems, and diabetes.
What Muscles Do Squats Work?
A proper squat form targets many muscles in the entire body. According to a Healthline report, a standard bodyweight squat technique works on the following muscles:
- Hamstrings – Back of the thighs
- Quadriceps – Front of the thighs
- Gluteus maximus, medius and the minimus – Buttock muscles
- Abductors – Groin area
- Abdominals – Obliques, erector spinae, transverse, and rectus abdominis
- Hip flexors
Also, you can work the muscles in your back, chest, arms, and shoulders when you do an overhead or back squat.
Benefits of Squats on Lower Body Development
Squats burn calories, reduce the risk of injury, and strengthen your core, meaning this exercise is excellent for the whole body. However, the lower body is the primary target while performing squats.
Strengthen Your Lower Body Muscles
The muscles in the lower body are engaged in almost every movement we make throughout the day. Whether it is sitting, walking, or running, the primary muscles involved are the hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, hip flexors, abductors, and calves.
These are the major muscles involved in squats, so it is effective at strengthening and toning these groups of muscles.
Besides, proper squat form reduces pain and discomfort and improves the overall mobility in the lower leg so you can move about more comfortably.
What Calf Muscles Are Targeted During the Squat?
As highlighted above, many muscles are involved in an effective squat form. Depending on the variation of the squat, several muscle groups are involved during this exercise.
In particular, the following group of calf muscles are engaged during a squat.
The gastrocnemius muscle is the main calf muscle located on the calves’ upper part. This is also the largest part of the calf muscles and is visible both from the front and back.
The gastrocnemius muscle of the calves consists of 65% fast-twitch muscle fibers and receives most of the impact when you squat, run or walk.
This powerful calf muscle is also responsible for supporting explosive movements such as jumping or sprinting.
The peroneus longus is the longest of the calf muscles and stretches down to the lower leg. This muscle group forms the outer part of the calves.
The soleus muscle lies right behind the gastrocnemius, also known as the front calves. These calf muscles are mostly made up of slow-twitch muscle fibers and are more resistant to fatigue than other muscles in the lower leg.
Because the soleus muscle resists fatigue exceptionally, they play a significant role in endurance activities such as power walking, jogging, hiking, and marathons.
The tibialis anterior lies on the anterior part of the lower leg and are also a long muscle that supports the major muscles during squats or other physical activity.
The peroneus brevis extends from the shin area down to the ankle right and works as a support. This calf muscle looks and functions similarly to the soleus muscle.
Why Are Squats Not Good for Calves?
As fantastic and effective as squats are for the lower body, it does not work your calves specifically. The calves support and balance, but for the ultimate calf development, you must incorporate various exercises into your workout.
The right squat form requires the knees to be extended no more than beyond your toes. This activates the upper leg muscles but reduces the workload on the calf muscles.
According to one research gate paper, the only way to achieve calf growth is to perform squats while pointing your knees far out. But the same research also concludes that performing squats with the wrong form increases the risk of injury to the back and knees, which is not what you want.
Because calves are the secondary muscles engaged in squats, experts perform a variety of exercises to build muscle mass in their lower legs.
Popular exercises that target calf muscles are:
- Seated calf raises
- Single-leg standing calf raises
- Weighted calf raises
- Standing calf raise
- Jump squats
An effective calf exercise routine combines various moves involving all the lower body muscles. Working out with several types of calf training will successfully engage the major and stabilizer muscles, including the extensor digitorum longus and the flexor digitorum longus.
In addition, other great calf workout varieties that do not involve squatting are also an option, especially if you don’t like squats.
The best non-squat exercises for your calves include:
Running / Jogging
Running and jogging are fantastic calf exercises as they activate all the muscles in the lower leg. In just a few minutes of brisk jogging or running, the hamstrings, calves, and lower body muscles work overtime for support and mobility.
Putting your legs to run or jog also involves a range of motion as the calves become the primary muscle for the exercise duration.
Adding jumping exercises to your calf training is another way to work your calves to their maximum capacity. Jumping rope activates your calf muscles, and as you engage the balls of your feet during the downward movement, every muscle in the calves gets a thorough workout.
Learn to jump rope the proper way first. Jumping rope looks easy, but you don’t want to get hurt. Hold the ropes firmly, feel a slight stretch as you balance on the balls of your feet, and jump with a steady and controlled motion.
Cycling, spinning, and other activities that require pedaling can also be great ways to work your calves. It is no wonder that spin classes and exercise/stationary bikes in gyms are a go-to exercise for many fitness enthusiasts.
Remember to adjust the bike seat height properly, so you feel a slight stretch in your calves while pedaling, and you are good to go.
Jumping kicks your calf muscles to engage for support and stabilization. To get the full range of motion, start with low box jumps and gradually upgrade as you push your weight upwards.
For calf exercises that involve jumping, getting ankle support is a great idea, especially if you are new to the box jump move, as it reduces injury risk.
Hiking is another great non-squat exercise that activates your calf muscles. Going up and down a steep incline works calves similarly to a jump rope, standing calf raises, and box jumps.
In particular, the soleus muscle gets an intense workout, but the other muscles in the lower leg also get a thorough exercise.
Squats are a great compound exercise that strengthens and tones several lower muscle groups. It effectively burns calories, improves mobility and balance, and sculpts your legs.
However, the calf muscles are not the primary muscles engaged during this power move. Of course, the calves support the squat move, but they are the secondary muscle group, so don’t rely on them for great calves.
The key to getting great-looking and strong calves is incorporating various moves, such as seated calf raises, standing calf raises, single-leg calf raises, and other non-squat exercises.