15-Minute Calf-Burning Workout

Borrow these ballet-inspired moves (no machines required!) to shape and define your calves to perfection.

Photo: Getty Images

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While other bodyparts offer a wide range of exercise options, calves . . . well, tend to be boring, truth be told. In the gym, it’s all about raises: You stand with the balls of your feet on a step, platform or rail of a seated or standing calf machine, and then you simply raise and lower your heels against resistance to get your calf workout in. Ho-hum.

Thankfully, Nashville, Tennessee–based personal trainer and founder of Country Fusion Elizabeth Mooney is disrupting that pattern with her innovative, ballet-inspired routine that can be done anywhere, anytime in just 15 minutes, two to three times per week.

“This workout strengthens and tones your calves with five different exercises, all easy to do with no machines required,” says Mooney, who has been a dancer since the age of 2. “Dancers’ legs are admired for good reason, and these moves can also help you develop proper posture and balance, too, both through the repetitions and the resulting body awareness from holding the two ballet positions that are part of the exercises.”

Your Ballet Calf Burner

For this workout, you’ll want to wear flexible athletic shoes or ballet slippers and have a flat, firm surface to stand on with a few feet of clearance in all directions. If you prefer, you also can do it barefoot. You’ll perform each of the five exercises for two to three sets, with reps ranging anywhere from 15 to 40 — try to keep your rest periods between each set to about 30 seconds or so.

“Throughout these movements, make sure your pelvis is tilted up to the ceiling, your core and glutes are engaged, your shoulders are pulled back to open your chest, and your head is up with eyes forward,” Mooney says. “Also, take five minutes or so after the workout to stretch your calves to prevent tightness and injuries. Massage balls and foam rollers are great tools for recovery.”

Ballet Position Exercise Sets Reps
First Position (Demi-Plié) Plié Heel Lift 2-3 25 pulses
Second Position (Demi-Plié) Plié Heel Lift 2-3 25 pulses
Second Position (Demi-Plié) Plié Alternating Heel Lift 2-3 40 (alternating heels)
Second Position (Demi-Plié) Demi-Plié to Relevé 2-3 15 reps
Modified First Position One-Leg Curtsy Plié 2-3 30 pulses (each leg)


First Position (Demi-Plié): Plié Heel Lift

Assume the ballet first position — standing upright, legs together with your heels touching and your toes pointed outward. Slightly lower your hips straight down, bending your knees outward into a demi-plié as you keep your chest and head up, shoulders back and glutes engaged.

Next, lift your heels up a few inches off the floor so that you are balancing on your toes, and then do 25 small pulse reps up and down so that your heels are raising and lowering while your knees are going in and out, without allowing your heels to drop all the way back down to the ground. You can keep your arms out away from your body, hands in front of your hips, for balance, or put your hands on your hips. If you feel you need help with your balance, you can hold onto a chair or table with one hand.

Second Position (Demi-Plié): Plié Heel Lift

Assume the ballet second position, feet placed about shoulder-width apart, with your heels facing inward and your toes turned outward. Drop your hips a few inches into a demi-plié, knees pointed out and bent about 20 to 30 degrees. As with the first exercise, you’ll lift up onto your heels and do 25 pulse reps, focusing on your core and maintaining your posture throughout the set.

Second Position (Demi-Plié): Plié Alternating Heel Lift

Here, you’ll remain in the second position, demi-plié, and do 40 full-range-of-motion calf raises one side at a time. First, lift your left heel off the floor and lower it, then the right heel — that’s one rep. Continue for 39 more. Focus on a continuous, controlled motion, with your heels remaining in a near-constant motion back and forth as you build up pressure in your calves over the duration of the set. Concentrate on making sure your upper body remains still as your lower body moves slightly left and right as each heel lifts up and lowers back down.

Second Position (Demi-Plié): Demi-Plié to Relevé

For this movement, you’ll start in the second position, drop down into the demi-plié and then rise into the relevé position, straightening your knees, rising on the balls of your feet and lifting your arms out and upward so they are outstretched overhead, your upper arms alongside your head and hands open. Keeping your heels elevated, bring your arms back down as you lower yourself back into a demi-plié, then smoothly reverse the motion back up into the relevé. Throughout, your heels will remain elevated as you complete 15 full reps. “Keep your body vertical and core tight, maintaining your center of balance,” Mooney says. “The middle of your tibia should be aligned over the second toe, and those toes should remain on the floor. Hold your last rep for five to 10 seconds to finish.”

Modified First Position: One-Leg Curtsy Plié

Start in the first position, then step out with your right foot to the right and then bend your knee slightly to put that foot behind your left, balanced on your toes with your heel up. From here, perform 30 pulse reps, lowering your hips up and down a few inches. You should feel the burn in the calf of your supporting left leg. After 30 reps, switch leg positions and repeat.