What are Calf Raises?

The calf raise is a lower body exercise that targets your lower leg muscles mainly the calves. The movement involves plantar flexion, where you push through the balls of your feet to raise your heels up above the ground. 

Calf training is often neglected and sadly, compound movements such as squats and deadlifts are not enough to build up muscles in these area. Your calves are a valuable part of daily life because they undertake almost all of your body weight with every step you take. Empirical studies found that plantar flexion training improves balance. Stronger calves decrease the risk of falls and improve functionality.

What Muscles do Calf Raises work?

The muscles targeted are the gastrocnemius, soleus, tibialis posterior, and peroneus.

What Level are Calf Raises ?

Calf raises are for beginners and above as they are very easy to perform. Just like walking, they don’t require much effort from you. Typically, you will need to perform more reps per set for calf exercises than you would for other movements.

How to do Calf Raises?

1. Stand Tall

Stand up straight with feet hip-width apart and toes facing forward. Your hands are by your sides. This is your starting position.

2. Raise Your Heels 

Raise your heels by pressing the balls of your feet into the ground. Count 2 seconds as your raise up, and squeeze the calf muscles at the top position for a second. This movement is called plantar flexion.

 

You can modify the position of your feet by rotating your toes either inwards or outwards to target all angles of the calf muscles. Rotating your toes inwards will target the outer calves. Rotating your toes inwards will target the inner calves. And, positioning your toes forward will target the middle calves.

3. Slowly Lower Down

Gradually lower down to the starting position, counting 2 seconds as you do so. This will increase time under tension for these muscles which will stimulate hypertrophy.

 

4. Repeat

Repeat this up and down movement for 12-30 reps, for 5 sets. Once you have achieved your reps and sets goals, you can perform weighted standing calf raises as a progression to increase the load on your calf muscles. You can progress to performing weighted standing calf raises to increase the intensity.

Calf Raises Benefits

Aesthetics

The most obvious one is to build mass and get bigger calves. The gastrocnemius is the muscle located at the back of the lower portion of your legs, developing these muscles will deliver your calves the desired bouldered, and rounded shape. Whilst some of us are genetically gifted with bigger calves, some of us need to put in extra effort to develop this area of our bodies.

Improve Ankle Strength

Our calf muscles are accountable for plantar flexion of the ankle joint, for example, running on your tiptoes. Therefore, possessing strong calf muscles will reinforce the stabilizers in your ankles. Calf training will play a role in stabilizing and mobilizing our ankles, which decreases the risk of falls.

Injury Prevention

Weak calves usually mean weak ankles, and as mentioned above, weak ankles can act as thin ice for injuries. There are short-lived injuries such as rolling your ankles, and there are injuries developed over the long term, such as compartment syndrome. Moreover, weak calves are a recipe for shin splints, calf pulls, and stress fractures.

Develop Explosive Power

Training your calves will promote a greater movement pattern through your lower body. It will improve power and strength, enabling you to promote greater force and enhance your performance in movements areas such as running, sprinting, and squatting at higher intensities.

Calf Raises Variations

Single-Leg Calf Raises

This variation is great to develop your unilateral strength and to avoid overtraining or overusing the dominant side. This will correct any muscular imbalances that you may have, as sometimes, the dominant side overcompensates for the weaker side, therefore, allowing time for catching up from our weaker side. To perform this, you will:

  1. Stand tall on one foot whilst holding on to an object, such as a wall or a chair for balance and support. You can cross the ankle of your elevated leg behind the ankle of your standing leg, or you can leave them up. This is your starting position.
  2. Push through the balls of your standing foot to lift your heel up as high as you possibly can. Count 2 seconds as you elevate up, pause and squeeze your calf for a second at the top position.
  3. Lower yourself back down to the starting position and perform equal reps on both sides. Aim to perform this movement between 8-20 reps for 4 sets.

Elevated Calf Raises

Elevated calf raises are done on a raised surface with the heels falling lower than the toes to allow greater stretch on the target muscles and also a greater range of movement. This variation will give more strengthening benefits than standing calf raises. To perform this, you will:

  1. Stand on the edge of a flat elevated surface with your toes pointed forward. Engage your core muscles. Rest your hands against a wall, a chair, or any sturdy object for balance. This is your starting position.
  2. Raise your heels by pushing through the balls into the ground. Count 2 seconds as you elevate up, pause and squeeze your calf for a second at the top position.
  3. Lower your heels below the platform, feel the stretch in your calf muscles, and hold this position for a second.
  4. Repeat this movement between 12-30 reps for 5 sets.

Seated Calf Raises

Calf raises can also be performed with your knees bent, normally around 90 degrees. This decreases the stretch in the gastrocnemius, thus the movement is performed to put emphasis on the soleus. To perform this, you will:

  1. Sit onto a chair with your feet on the ground, or on an elevated surface. Rest your palms on your knees as you will be using your arms to apply resistance to the working muscles. This is your starting position.
  2. Push through the balls of your feet to raise the heels as high as possible off the ground. Simultaneously, you will push your knees into the ground to apply force on your muscles, this will increase the load and resistance. Count 2 seconds as you elevate up, pause and squeeze your calf for a second at the top position.
  3. Lower your heels back to the starting position, or below the platform, feel the stretch in your calf muscles, and hold this position for a second. 
  4. Repeat this movement between 12-30 reps for 5 sets.

Farmers Walk On Toes

This variation will require you to hold a dumbbell in each hand and walking on your tiptoes. ​​It has a list of benefits that includes improving grip strength, develop core stabilization, tones the upper body and the lower body, and improve cardiovascular health. To do this you, will:

  1. Stand tall whilst holding a pair of dumbbells to your side, roll your shoulders back, grip tight, and engage your core.
  2. Keeping your shoulders down and back, raise your heels off the ground to be on your tiptoes. Engage your core.
  3. Walk on your tiptoes without letting your heels touch the ground. Walk between 20-50 steps, for 5 sets.

About the Author

My name is Pat Chadwick, I am a calisthenics coach with over 4 years of experience in helping people from all backgrounds to achieve their calisthenics goals. My goal is to become the number one calisthenics coach in the world as it is my passion to help people change their lives through inspiring bodyweight movements. I believe everyone deserves the right to feel good about their health, body, and be delighted inside and out.