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How to properly do calf raises

Body-wide exercises allow you to target multiple muscles, burn more calories and increase fitness levels. But some areas, such as your calf muscles, can pose a challenge.

Although your calves are one of the most difficult muscle groups to target, adequate training at numerous angles1 may lead to immense enhancements. You can try to work on your calves by doing calf raises. This guide will help you learn how to perform them safely and correctly.

What are calf raises?

Calf raises work on your calf muscles and can be performed with or without weights.2 Most people are familiar with double-leg calf raises or standing calf raises (usually done without a machine) that can be performed anywhere.3 They help build mass,4 strengthen your lower leg, and boost ankle strength and range of motion. Here’s how to properly perform standing calf raises:5

1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart on the floor near a wall or a chair to maintain balance.

2. Push your weight onto your toes and lift your heels off the floor.

3. Pause for a few seconds at the top and slowly lower your body back to starting position.

calf raise

Use this Central Health Physio video as a guide when doing double-leg calf raises:

If you have access to a standing calf machine, try this variation:6,7

1. Place your shoulders on the restraint pads of a standing calf machine and secure the balls of your feet at the edge of the footplate.

2. With straight legs, do a standing calf raise on the machine by moving your heels down to stretch your calves below the toes.

3. Lift your body up as high as possible until your ankles are fully extended.

When doing standing calf raises, control the rising and lowering motion and refrain from making bouncy motions.8 If you want to challenge yourself, do a modification of this move: single-leg or one-leg calf raises:9

1. Stand on one leg, bend the other leg behind you and stand near a wall for balance. Your ankles, knees and hip of the leg you're exercising must be vertically aligned for joint protection.

2. Press down on the balls of your feet to raise your body. Pull your abdominal muscles in so you move straight up instead of leaning body forward or backward.

For more details on how to do single-leg calf raises, watch this video by Fitnessandinjury:

Another way to increase the difficulty of this exercise would be to do calf raises on a stair or elevated platform. Move your heels down to the floor or below the step, with the balls of your feet remaining on the upper surface. Afterward, lift your heels up as high as possible. This modification helps stretch your ankle further and drops the heel more. You can also try doing reps while holding a dumbbell or free weight on one hand, and placing your other hand on a wall for balance.10

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What muscles do calf raises work?

Calf raises benefit your gastrocnemius (or leg triceps) and soleus muscles. Your gastrocnemius muscle, responsible for your calf’s round shape,11 is located behind your thighbone (femur) and kneecap (patella),12 while the flatter and longer soleus muscle lies below and moves down the leg.13

What do calf raises do?

Your calf muscles pull the heel up and facilitate forward motions while walking, running or jumping,14 and are connected to your heel bone by the Achilles tendon.

Tightened calf muscles because of a foot drop, anterior tibialis muscle weakness or lack of exercise may increase your risk for muscle or Achilles tendon tears or injuries, or be a precursor for sprains and plantar fasciitis. Calf raises may aid in stretching tight calf muscles and alleviating Charley horses and muscle spasms,15 and can be added to a rehabilitation plan for Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and medial tibial pain.16

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology highlighted another benefit of performing calf raises. Subjects who underwent high-speed calf raise training at home without special equipment experienced improvements to explosive plantar flexion force, with such results linked to neuromuscular adaptations.17

10 types of calf raises

Add variety to your workout by performing these other types of calf raises. If you’ll be doing them for the first time, talk to a trainer or physical therapist to learn about the proper form and movement needed in order to prevent injuries:18,19

Standing barbell calf raise20

1. Stand straight, squeeze your quads and lock both knees. Afterward, relax and unlock the knees but keep your quads squeezed in.

2. Lift your body using the balls of your feet and move your heels up completely. Hold the position for two seconds and squeeze calf muscles.

3. Slowly lower your body until your heels touch the floor.

Donkey calf raises (without a machine)21

1. Stand on a small bench or platform and allow your heels to slightly dangle off the edge.

2. Bend over and hold a stable item for support, with your torso parallel to the ground.

3. Flex your calf muscles, lift your body as high as you can, and return to initial position.

If you want an alternative to the typical donkey calf raise, do the move on one leg at a time, perform it with bent knees or intensify the move by putting on a weight belt.22

Donkey calf raises on machine

1. On a donkey calf machine, place the balls of your feet on the platform and put your upper glutes or lower back under the pad.

2. Rest your forearms on the armrest and hold the handles.

3. Press up onto toes. Squeeze them before lowering heels to the floor.

Dumbbell calf raise

1. On one foot, stand on a box or platform. Hold a dumbbell in one hand and use the other to hold a stable surface or object.

2. Allow your heel to move toward the floor, then press up on toes as high as possible.

3. Flex your calves by lifting your body up before moving back to starting position.

dumbbell calf raise

Seated dumbbell calf raises

1. Sit on a bench and place the balls of your feet above a short platform. Hold dumbbells across lower quads.

2. Perform a seated calf raise by pressing calves up and moving heels down.

3. Stretch your feet, and then press up onto toes as high as possible and squeeze.

Seated calf raises without a machine

1. Sit on a firm and sturdy chair and place your feet flat on the floor. Your knees must be aligned directly above the feet and not turned in or out.

2. Lean forward and place hands on your thighs near the knees, and push down to increase resistance. Slowly press down onto the balls of your feet and raise your heels up.

3. Gradually move your heels down and repeat steps. 

seated calf raises without a machine

Seated calf raises on machine

1. On the calf press machine, place the balls of your feet on the platform.

2. Undo the safety latch and release the weight on the calves.

3. Move your heels down as low as possible to reduce the weight.

4. Press onto the balls of your feet and lift heels upward.

Leg press calf raise

1. Sit on a leg press machine and put the balls of your feet at the bottom platform, with your heels dangling off the edge. Don't unrack the safety bars.

2. Press through the balls of your feet and squeeze calves.

3. Slowly lower your toes downward and do additional reps.

Smith calf raise

1. Step into the Smith machine and place the balls of your feet on the platform.

2. Once the bar is across the upper back, lower your heels toward the floor and stretch.

3. Press up onto your toes as high as possible and repeat.

Seated Smith calf raise

1. Sit on the bench inside a Smith machine. Put the balls of your feet on the platform and hold the bar across your lower quads.

2. Using your calves, press up and move heels back to the floor.

3. Once your feet are fully stretched, press onto toes, move up and squeeze.

How many calf raises should you do?

While there’s no “official recommendation” for the amount of calf raises you ought to be doing, 10 reps would be a good place to start. Try to do as many sets as you can so you’re able to perform a total of 30 reps, with 45 seconds of rest in between sets.23 If you feel like 10 reps is too much or too little, go for eight to 12 reps of calf raises for one to three sets.24

Once you’re regularly doing calf raises, add more reps. While raising your workload may trigger muscle fatigue, you can at least finish your exercises and do them effectively. If you can already do at least 50 reps of calf exercises within five sets or less, challenge yourself by adding 20- to 30-pound weights to your workout and doing 30 reps.25

Calf raises for beginners

Calf raises may seem simple, especially for beginners, but a misstep can cause injuries. Here are some reminders when performing this move:26

To help increase strength, perform this exercise consistently for two to three times a week.

Gradually increase the load on your muscles as time passes.

Add variety to your workouts by combining double-leg and single-leg standing and seated calf raises. Allot 45 seconds between sets so your body can rest.27

Safety tips when doing calf raises

To prevent injuries from occurring while doing calf raises, practice the following safety tips:28

Move slowly ­— This helps maintain proper body alignment and enhances your mind-to-muscle link. Slowly move upward, do a slow count of two to four and lower yourself while doing a slow count of four, or stretch for two seconds, rise up for a second, do an isometric hold at the top of your range of motion and move down for two seconds.

Talk to a doctor or physical therapist before exercising raises — Some exercises may not be appropriate for people with health problems, issues regarding their physical condition or previous foot, ankle or calf injuries. Any of the aforementioned people may help you learn the best way to do calf raises without harming yourself and triggering additional health problems.

Calf raises are a welcome addition to your workout, but do them safely and correctly

Some people don’t realize the importance of working out the calf muscles until it’s too late and injuries have developed. Calf raises are a beneficial addition to your workout as they help ensure that these muscles remain strong for daily activities. There are many variations of calf raises for you to choose from that you can master in no time.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about calf raises

Q: Do calf raises work on certain muscles?

A: Calf raises help build and strengthen your gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.29 They’re considered one of the most difficult muscle groups to work on.30

Q: How many calories do you burn doing calf raises?

A: There’s not enough research highlighting the total amount of calories burned while doing calf raises.

Q: Can you do calf raises on the floor?

A: Yes. Standing calf raises, done on one or two legs, require that you to stand on the floor or a platform or step to perform the move.31,32

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