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January 14, 2022 10 min read

If you are looking for a simple way to get runner-standard calves, the calf raise is a great place to start. It is an easy exercise with an excellent result on the leg muscles. The calf muscles are one of the most difficult muscles to build because they evade many full-body exercises. While they are activated in standing exercises, the results are minimal compared to what you can achieve with cake raises. We have provided some tips to help you build calf muscles worthy of a double-take.

What Are Calf Raises?

The calf muscles can easily slip out of your mind when focusing on more apparent muscles like the chest, arms, and abs. This is quite unfortunate as the calf provides a sharply jacked physique. The friendly neighborhood track star or star cyclist’s beach bod and killer calves attest to this.

Calf raises are lower body exercises specially designed to isolate and stimulate the calves.

This is not only great for firmer, toned legs but is also crucial to functional activities. When many think of functional muscles, the first thing that pops in their head is the arm and shoulder muscles for lifting or the core and back muscles for posture. Rarely do they consider the calf muscle, which is, in fact, a significant player in ankle stability and walking movements?

Calf raises not only targets your calf muscles but also other neighboring lower leg components like the Achilles tendon.

The calf raises flexes, lengthens, tightens, and stretches the calves. The calves are very stubborn muscles that are often ditched for more obvious muscle groups due to their high degree of lack of response to stimulation. However, with calf raises, all you need to do is follow each instruction with proper form, and in no time, you can form strong and beautiful calves.

The mechanics of the calf raise is simple.

It involves raising your heels off the floor (or slightly elevated surface) and standing the balls of your feet. It is low impact with excellent results on the legs. Although there are multiple variations, each variation primarily engages the calves and focuses secondarily on other leg muscles.

Muscles Worked In Calf Raises

To get a better idea of how calf raises impact your calves, you first need to understand the intricacy of the muscles. Contrary to popular gym-goers’ opinion, the calf muscle isn't one big, indistinguishable muscle.

It is a pair of muscles called the gastrocnemius, plantaris, and the soleus muscles. 

Calf raises target the muscles on the back of your lower legs that help in the movement of ankle extension and joint flexion. Although it might look dismissible, when repeated diligently with an increasing amount of resistance, it effectively strengthens the body's muscles.

Primarily, calf raises target the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.

The gastrocnemius is the major calf muscle of the leg that assists in the flexing of the knee and foot. This muscle is the visible part of the calf as it is a superficial muscle that lies beneath the skin. When stretched and trained for mass gain, the gastrocnemius is visible as a V-shaped ball behind your legs. The gastrocnemius is essential for the movements of the lower leg during climbing, walking, and running movements. This makes sense as a long involvement in these activities would often lead to more pronounced calf muscles.

The gastrocnemius connects to the Achilles which connects directly to the heel.

The gastrocnemius muscle also splits to connect to the inside and outside of your knee. This aids the flexion and extension of the needs during movement. Another primary calf muscle that is worked during calf raises is the soleus. The soleus is a calf muscle that lies below the gastrocnemius. Although it is not as evident as the gastrocnemius, it is equally a functional muscle.

The soleus muscle is a flat muscle that originates from the upper parts of the tibia and fibula bones.

It joins the gastrocnemius and attaches to the heel, where it stops. The soleus muscle assists in the plantar flexion of the foot.  During calf raises, you activate other leg muscles like the peroneus muscles. These muscles include the peroneus brevis and peroneus longus. Also known as the fibularis muscles, the peroneus muscles equally assist with plantar flexion.

The peroneus brevis is a short muscle located at the lateral part of the lower leg, deeper than the peroneus longus.

It is one of the three peroneus muscles that aid the plantar flexion of the leg. The peroneus longus, on the other hand, lies more superficial than the peroneus brevis. It is the most significant peroneus muscle and begins at the top of the fibula, extending laterally down the leg, and tapers into a tendon. It enables the movements of ankles and feet, allowing you to flex your joints. Together, these muscles help to keep your ankles stable.

Calf raises help strengthen these muscles, resulting in better mobility and acting as a safeguard against injuries to the legs.

Depending on the degree of leg flexion, you are doing your legs a favor by performing calf raises. Calf raises go past the calf muscles and work their magic on surrounding muscles.

Benefits Of Calf Raises

You can never get too much calf training. If you have not started focusing on calf workouts for your legs, you are doing yourself a great disservice. Training your calves is essential for various functional reasons that range from walking, jumping, and full-force races. Your calves bear the brunt of your weight every day and require the strength needed to propel you without fatigue.

Some benefits of calf raise include:

  1. Better-looking calves: The look of your calves says a lot about you. With one look, many experienced bodybuilders and gym-goers can guess that explosive leg power is not your forte. Growing your calf muscles for a more aesthetically pleasing look is a trend that is here to stay. Many people consider underdeveloped calves as giving an individual the appearance of an unfit lifestyle. Study shows that  calf raise is an effective way to build the gastrocnemius for better-looking calves.
  2. Strength and explosiveness: Training your calf muscles is a great way to increase power output. With calf raises, you can strengthen your calves, enhance the calf muscles endurance, and increase explosiveness. This will directly impact your athleticism and take your fitness to a whole other level.
  3. Better performance: The calf is an integral part of your fitness. Stronger calves lead to better performance at exercises that require immense strength and force. Since these movements involve movements of the legs to a large extent, your ability to increase your performance is enhanced by the strengthening of your legs.
  4. Stability of the legs: in addition to the calves, the calf raises the target and strengthens the leg balance muscles like the hamstrings, quads, and the smaller muscles near the ankle. Ensuring that you have an outstanding balance always will drastically reduce your rate of injuries.
  5. A stepping stone for your fitness goals: The legs are a big part of most full-body exercises like the treadmill, deadlifts, and even plyometric exercises. Stronger calves mean stronger legs, and stronger legs translate to better performance in other fitness activities. This helps you to gear up towards other fitness exercises, helping achieve your fitness goals faster.
  6. Great for the joints: Your ankles benefit from calf raises. The peroneus, gastrocnemius, and soleus muscles increase the ankle's mobility, strengthening it in the process.
  7. Stronger Achilles tendon: Calf raises also train the most significant and strongest tendon in the body, the Achilles tendon. This is because, during flexion of the calf muscles, they pull the attached tendon along for movement. It is a vital tendon that makes it possible to stand on tiptoes, walk, run, and jump. Strengthening your Achilles tendon can make all the difference in your workout routine.  Achilles tendon injuries are becoming an increasing cause of concern amongst athletes. A strong calf and even stronger Achilles tendon reduces the risks of injuries during exercises, increases leg muscle tolerance, and provides a better foot range of motion. 

How To Do Calf Raises (Form)

Calf raises can be done by anyone regardless of their fitness level. They require no sudden burst of energy, immense strength, or muscle endurance. As beginners, the only burn you might feel comes from your calves getting more action than they probably ever have. 

To do the calf raise:

  • Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep your toes pointing out.
  • Keep your back straight and neck neutral.
  • Square your shoulders and keep your chest forward.
  • Hold your arms straight at your side.
  • Pull your abs in to engage your core.
  • Keeping the rest of your body still, raise your heels off the floor and get on your tiptoes. It can get a little shaky, so it is advisable to practice with sturdy support.
  • Hold this position for one or longer, depending on your tolerance.
  • Lower heels, so you are once again standing with your foot planted.
  • Repeat until you complete a set.

Calf Raises Variations

Calf raises may be simple, but they provide impressive results on the legs. What makes it a fantastic leg exercise is you can perform it in different modifications. Calf raises are scalable, allowing you to adjust them to suit your fitness needs. Some of these variations include:

1. Assisted Calf Raise

The assisted calf raise is a simpler version of the basic calf raise. It is a significant modification option for beginners or individuals suffering from an injury to the legs. The assisted calf raise is a basic calf raise performed while holding stable support for balance. It is a great way to train your body for stability while equally getting great results on your calves. The assisted calf raise can be used as leverage to prepare your leg muscles for more difficult calf raise variations. It is also an excellent rehabilitation exercise for people recovering from injuries like a sprained ankle.

To do the assisted calf raise:

  • Stand erect facing sturdy support like a wall or the back of a chair.
  • Keep your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your side.
  • Your neck should be neutral and your back straight.
  • Grip the support until you are stable enough to proceed.
  • Engage your core.
  • Lift your ankle off the floors as far as you can while feeling the stretch in your calves.
  • Pause for a few seconds.
  • Lower your heels.
  • Repeat.

2. Seated Calf Raise

While the seated calf raise doesn't profoundly affect the gastrocnemius muscle, it still works wonders in strengthening the soleus muscle and toning the legs.

The  seated calf raise is an excellent option for people who find it challenging to stay on their feet due to injuries or other reasons. It removes the need for balance and provides a more low-intensity workout for gym-goers and fitness enthusiasts.

To do the seated calf raise:

  • Sit upright on the edge of your chair.
  • Keep your back straight.
  • Angle your knees, so your legs are at a 90-degree angle with the floor. 
  • Keep your hands in your laps or grip the chair.
  • Brace your core.
  • Keeping your upper body still, lift your ankles off the floor.
  • Hold for a few seconds.
  • Lower your heel to the floor.

3. Dumbbell Calf Raise

Dumbbells, kettlebells, weighted plates, barbells, and even sandbags increase the difficulty of calf raises. It places more weight on your body, increasing the effort needed to stay up during the raises.

To do this variation:

  • Clutch equally weighted dumbbells in each hand.
  • Stand erect with your hands at your side and your palms facing your body.
  • Engage your core and raise your heels off the floor.
  • Hold this position for a few seconds.
  • Lower your heels.
  • Repeat.

The dumbbell calf raise requires more energy and focus on holding proper form.

4. Calf Block Raise

This is a calf raise exercise variation done on a step or calf block. It increases the range of motion of the calf, thereby stretching the muscles further.  

To do this variation:

  • Face the calf block or step.
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Step onto the elevated surface with the balls of your feet on the step or block and your heels hanging off the edge. Your heels should go as low as they can without you feeling any pain.
  • This is the starting position.
  • Grip the handle or wall for support.
  • Brace your core.
  • Raise your heels from their low position until you are standing wholly on the balls of your feet.
  • Squeeze your calves. You should feel your calf stretch taut.
  • Pause at the bottom of the movement. Hold this position for a few seconds.
  • Lower your heels until it is pointing downwards.
  • This is one repetition. Repeat these moves as much as you can fit in a set.

Tips To Help Your Calf Raises

There are a lot of factors that go into ensuring that you perform a perfect cake raise. These factors include your position, posture, and even breathing technique.

Here are some tips to help you achieve perfect calf raises:

  • Time your breathing: Remember to breathe out as you raise your heels and breathe in as you lower your heels.
  • Change foot position: Tired of the bare standing calf raises with your foot pointing forward? Feel free to explore other leg positions. The placement of your legs during calf raises helps to engage different muscles. Turning your toes slightly inward will activate the inner calf muscle, and turning them outwards will help you to focus on the more superficial cake muscles.
  • Warm-up with stretches: Stretches are an excellent way to reduce the risk of muscle injury during workout sessions. Stretches increase flexibility and get rid of cramping or strains. 
  • Keep your back straight: While it might seem tempting to adjust your weight and lean forward, this is bad for your muscles. Leaning forward shifts your body weight away from your calves and onto your lower back. This can increase your risks of back pain while not engaging your calves as well as you wish. Keep your back straight and chest proud throughout these sets.
  • Increase your reps: Calf raises are low-intensity exercises with a short range of motion. It requires little effort and so might be difficult to maximize. To get the most out of calf raises, increase your reps per set. This will tax the calf muscles for longer and stimulate them for a longer time.

Bottom Line

The calves are an integral part of your fitness and deserve to be treated as such. They are generally safe and scalable to fit your fitness goals regardless of your fitness level. Calf raise might be easy to perform, but when your form is compromised, a lot can go wrong. It is essential to practice good form, take it in stride, and listen to your body.

For the best results, combine the calf raises with other  calf exercises to create the ultimate leg day program for impressive calf strength and stronger legs.