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January 10, 2022 6 min read

The calves are some of the harder muscles to grow, and unless you have good calves genetics, they can be extremely stubborn to build. Aside from aesthetics, you may not realize how important the lower half of your lower body is.

Your calf muscles are important for running, walking, flexing your ankles, and even standing.

The calves are part of the posterior chain and are recruited in deadlifts, squats, and explosive movements. Strengthening the calves can help contribute to better lifts and increased power,   but it can also help provide more stability to your ankles and help reduce the risk of injury. More ankle stability can help carry heavier weight, which is especially important in an exercise like the back squat where ankle mobility is challenged. 

In order to grow considerable calf muscles, the right training regimen needs to be in place. Part of that should include exercises where you isolate the calves. Seated calf raises are a variation of the standing calf raise where you perform it seated, typically using a calf raise machine. 

Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of the seated calf raise, we'll break down the muscles of the calves themselves. 

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Anatomy of the Calf Muscles 

Located posteriorly at the bottom of your lower body are the calf muscles. They are composed of two muscles known as the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The visible bulk of your calf is the gastrocnemius, and it aids in walking, running, and maintaining posture. Under this large muscle is the soleus, which helps flex the ankle. 

Together, these muscles attach to the Achilles tendon, which is the tendon that helps lift your heel off the ground.

Studies suggest that Achilles tendon injury is the  most common tendon injury in the lower body, and strengthening the calf muscles can help reduce the risk. 

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 How to Do Seated Calf Raises for Max Results

Benefits of the Seated Calf Raise 

Isolating the calves is important, so these muscles are not overlooked. You may forget about the calf muscles because they're not always as fun to train as the bigger glutes, quads, and hamstrings can be. The seated calf raise isolates the calves to help build a stronger, more balanced lower body.

Increased Calf Size 

Since you're isolating the calves, it helps the muscle to grow in that specific area without being overpowered by bigger or stronger muscles.

Research suggest that performing isolation exercises and then compound exercises can  produce a greater chance of hypertrophy, or muscle growth. In the seated position, you can target the soleus more than other calf exercises. Exercising the soleus can help give the calves more width. 

Improved Stability  

When running or jumping, ankle stability and mobility are crucial for power and potential injury prevention. The motion of the seated calf raise requires dorsiflexion and plantar flexion of the ankle, which both happen when you're running. This exercise can help improve flexibility and range of motion, allowing for better and safer running form, as well as a greater ability to absorb shock after landing a jump. 

Boosts Running Performance

The soleus muscle is a great contributor to lifting and accelerating the body.

Research suggest that, when strengthened, the soleus can  help decrease an athlete's energy cost of running, meaning the demand for energy will be lower. When every stride requires less energy, endurance and speed have the ability to increase, ultimately contributing to stronger and faster performance. 

Boosts Lift Performance 

Weak calves may cause more issues than you may realize. Without the strength in our calves, our ankles can lose stability, which is essential when squatting heavily. It can also limit our ability to extend the knees and the hips, an important role in Olympic lifts like the snatch and clean and jerk. Although the calves are not a prime mover in these exercises, they can play an essential part in stability and power.  

Helps Prevent Shin Splints  

Shin splints are common in runners and can be caused by poor running form and overuse. While typically not a huge cause for concern, shin splints can be annoying and could lead to bigger issues if not treated properly. The calf muscles help support the shin bones, so athletes with stronger calves can help prevent shin splints and other related injuries.  

Seated Calf Raise

How to Do the Seated Calf Raise

Understanding the benefits of the seated calf raise is great, but knowing how to actually acquire them is half the battle. Without proper form, you risk an inefficient and potentially dangerous workout.

Check out the step-by-step guide for the best form.

  1. On a standard seated calf press with the appropriate weight, you will place the ball of your feet onto the ledge with half your foot hanging off the edge. Your knee will be placed under the pad as instructed, but the most important part of this setup is the angle at which your lower leg attaches to your ankle.
  2. It is safest to have your ankle joint at 90 degrees in a rested/starting state once the latch is unhooked. Begin to allow the weight to bring your ankle as deep as possible, ensuring that the weight is not overloaded (which can damage your Achilles tendon).
  3. Lower your heels by dorsiflexing your ankles until your calves are fully stretched.
  4. Extend your ankles and exhale as you flex your calves upward.
  5. Focus on the highest and tightest contraction possible, holding for a good two to three seconds. Proceed by slowly lowering back down to a stretched position, paying serious attention to the negative portion of the workout in order to fully engage calf muscles. Bouncing on this exercise will get you nowhere – maybe a hospital room to reattach your Achilles tendon.

Max Results with the Seated Calf Raise 

A mistake people often make is walking into the gym without a plan. When you have a goal in mind, it's important to create a regimen, so you're not spending your time wandering aimlessly around the gym. Below are just some training recommendations for the seated calf raise but are not the only way to implement it into your routine. 

For Calf Size

When using a seated calf raise machine, you're usually able to stack weight plates for extra resistance. Depending on your fitness level, you'll want to choose a moderately medium to heavyweight that allows you to maintain good form and enough reps. To grow your calf muscles, you'll focus more on volume. This could range from six to 12 or higher. Ultimately, you'll shoot for muscle fatigue. That doesn't always mean muscle failure, referring to the lack of ability to perform even one more rep.

It's also important to note that recovery is part of the process when your goal is hypertrophy. When it comes to strength training, sometimes less can be more, meaning you don't have to do 100 calf raises every day. Training your calves around two to three times per week with optimal rest in between can be sufficient.  

For Calf Strength 

If more reps mean growth, then fewer reps must mean strength. Typically, that's true, but it's not the only factor. Lower reps could consist of one to five repetitions for three sets, but chances are you're not going for a one-rep max like you might a barbell exercise. Six to eight reps with a decently heavy weight can help build calf strength. 

Since this calf raise exercise is an isolation exercise, you'll want to perform it before your compound exercises, such as the leg press. This is so you can first focus on a specific muscle group without tiring out the other muscles around it. When compound exercises are performed after the isolation, it helps recruit the other muscle groups to a greater degree, ultimately helping to strengthen your lower body. 

Note that with power athletes, such as football players, the goal is maximum muscle recruitment, so compound exercises first can play a role in their training program.

Final Thoughts 

Do you need to train calves every day? Not necessarily. Like with any leg exercise, recovery time is just as important as time in the gym. The seated calf raise can be beneficial for performance and injury prevention and should be considered for any athlete of any fitness level. Of course, it can't replace exercises like the back squat or the clean and jerk, but it can help improve them. 

Stay focused in and outside the gym and consult a personal trainer if you need one. Growing stubborn calves can be a long, sometimes frustrating process, but with persistence and consistency, muscle growth can be achieved.  

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