7-Time Figure Olympia Champion Cydney Gillon’s Calf Workout for Beginners 

Calves can be notoriously tricky to grow, yet they are crucial for athletic performance and an aesthetic physique. Seven-time and reigning Figure Olympia champion Cydney Gillon acknowledges the struggle of sculpting the lower legs and shares a beginner-friendly calf workout to ignite new muscle tissue growth.

Cydney Gillon’s Beginner Calf Workout

Gillon recommends the following five exercises for those new to training:

Seated calf raise

Squat hold calf raise

Standing machine calf raises

Leg press calf raise

Donkey calf raise

Check out the video below:

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Seated Calf Raise

Gillon recommends a feeler set using relatively light weights to warm up the ankles. Prioritize core engagement and utilize a full range of motion (ROM) with each repetition, incorporating a brief pause at the peak and bottom of the movement to maximize calf fiber stimulation.

The 31-year-old Gillon finds that leaning forward can enhance calf muscle engagement but encourages experimenting with different torso positions (neutral or backward lean) to determine what works best for you.

Squat Hold Calf Raise

To perform this bodyweight calf raise variation, begin in a deep squat position. Gillon suggests holding onto a stable object with arms extended for balance and support.

Then, plantarflex the ankles and raise the heels as high as possible to achieve a sharp calf contraction. Slowly lower the heels to the starting position.

Notably, this exercise omits lengthening to a deep stretch. This approach contrasts with a randomized controlled trial, which found that emphasizing the initial portion of the calf raise (with the calf muscle lengthened) may be more effective for hypertrophy than a full ROM or focusing on the top half. (1)

Image via @vytaminc on Instagram

Gillon suggests experimenting with various foot positions (e.g., toes pointed out, in, or straight) to target different parts of the calves. (2)

Standing Machine Calf Raises

Gillon performed standing calf raises on a V squat machine. With her feet positioned in the center of the footboard, she pushed through the balls of her feet and paused in the fully shortened position. 

Ensure slight knee flexion to keep all the pressure in the calves versus in the back of the knees.

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Leg Press Calf Raise & Donkey Calf Raises

Gillon places the balls of her feet at the lower edge of the leg press machine’s foot platform and presses through them while maintaining soft knees. She emphasizes using a challenging weight that allows proper form throughout the exercise.

Those training with a partner can perform donkey calf raises to bias the gastrocnemius muscle. Stand on the edge of an elevated platform, allowing the heels to hang off the edge. Grasp a sturdy object and lean forward until your torso is nearly parallel to the ground. Your gym partner can sit on your lower back for added resistance.

To maximize results, Gillon recommends tailoring calf workout programming depending on training frequency, experience, and genetics. According to a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, a higher training volume (more sets per week) leads to greater gains in calf hypertrophy. (3)


Kassiano, W., Costa, B., Kunevaliki, G., Soares, D., Zacarias, G., Manske, I., Takaki, Y., Ruggiero, M. F., Stavinski, N., Francsuel, J., Tricoli, I., Carneiro, M. A. S., & Cyrino, E. S. (2023). Greater Gastrocnemius Muscle Hypertrophy After Partial Range of Motion Training Performed at Long Muscle Lengths. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 37(9), 1746–1753. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000004460

Nunes, J. P., Costa, B. D. V., Kassiano, W., Kunevaliki, G., Castro-E-Souza, P., Rodacki, A. L. F., Fortes, L. S., & Cyrino, E. S. (2020). Different Foot Positioning During Calf Training to Induce Portion-Specific Gastrocnemius Muscle Hypertrophy. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 34(8), 2347–2351. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003674

Kassiano, W., Costa, B. D. V., Kunevaliki, G., Lisboa, F., Tricoli, I., Francsuel, J., Lima, L., Stavinski, N., & Cyrino, E. S. (2024). Bigger calves from doing higher resistance training volume?. International journal of sports medicine, 10.1055/a-2316-7885. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1055/a-2316-7885

Featured image: @vytamin_c on Instagram

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