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June 13, 2022 8 min read

The standing calf raise is an essential workout for any leg day. The Smith Machine calf raise in particular is an effective calf workout that can help you get bigger calves.

Using weight plates instead of a machine, or bodyweight is a valuable tool for safely increasing the volume of your calf training. With a proper range of motion, the smith machine standing calf raise can help you effectively target the lower body in ways that a calf raise machine simply cannot.

The Smith Machine Standing Calf Raise

The Smith Machine is a versatile piece of equipment and can be used for both upper body and lower body workouts.

The Smith Machine is a squat rack on a track.

It is easy to re-rack on your own, and it’s a relatively safer option for beginners.

The Smith Machine isn’t just a squat rack with training wheels, though. There are a lot of benefits to using a Smith Machine instead of free barbells and weight plates.

Benefits of Doing a Smith Machine Calf Raise

Using a Smith Machine for squats, lunges, and calf raises is a great way to practice with heavier weight, especially during times when you don’t have a spotter. More importantly, the Smith Machine is on a track, thus taking balance out of the equation.

The stable track of the Smith Machine allows you to focus on form, and it prevents synergistic dominance from getting in between you and your gains.

Synergistic dominance occurs when synergist muscle groups take over during an exercise, inhibiting the isolated engagement of the muscles you are trying to target.

Often, synergistic dominance becomes a problem when the weight is too heavy or if stability is an issue.

How to Do a Standing Calf Raise (Bodyweight)

Before attempting a standing calf raise with a Smith Machine, you must first master the calf raise with your body weight.

Range of motion, dorsiflexion, and tempo will be the key aspects of this exercise that need to be monitored.

To perform a standing calf raise with your own body weight:

  1. Find a step up box, edge of a doorway, or weight plate to step on. Your heels will need room to bend backward. This is called dorsiflexion.
  2. Bring your step close towards a wall or the edge of a piece of equipment. You will need something to hold onto for balance. Imbalanced calf raises can lead to poor gastrocnemius (upper calf) engagement.
  3. In the starting position, place the balls of your feet on the edge of your weight plate or step-up box.
  4. Keep your legs straight and let your ankles descend below the step about 2 inches, or about as deep as it is comfortable.
  5. Push off with the balls of your feet, with straight legs, all the way up to the top.
  6. Hold the rep and pause for 1-2 seconds at the top of the lift. Squeeze your calves on the way up, focusing on the gastrocnemius. The soleus (lower calf) engages a bit more effortlessly than the gastrocnemius. Focus on the upper calf, and the lower calf will follow.
  7. Perform 5 sets of 30 reps, with 30 seconds of rest,  for a killer calf workout.

The Smith Machine Standing Calf Raise

Once you feel comfortable with the standing calf raise, it may be time to add weight. Enter the Smith Machine.

The Smith Machine can help you effectively add weight while allowing you to keep a greater range of motion than a standard standing calf machine would allow.

The Smith Machine is an upgrade from bodyweight calf raises, and it allows you to increase the load on this lift, but just like a bodyweight calf raise exercise, you will need to bring your own weight plate or step to use for dorsiflexion. You will need to be up a few inches off the ground so that your ankle can descend without the floor getting in the way.

How to Do a Smith Machine Standing Calf Raise

The Smith Machine standing calf raise is an excellent way to safely increase your weight on the calf raise, and finally get you the bigger calves you deserve. You can do more than squats, rows, and presses with the Smith Machine.

With the help of a weight plate or a step up, you can turn the Smith Machine into the best calf raise tool in the gym.

To perform a Smith Machine standing calf raise:

  1. Find a weight plate that is large enough for you to step on. A 45 lb plate is perfect. If you have a sturdy step-up, then use that. If you don’t trust your step, or think that your step is too light for this lift, then a weight plate is your safest option.
  2. Place the weight plate in the center of the barbell, on the interior part of the Smith Machine. The edge of the plate should meet the barbell. You want the weight plate to be in front of the barbell but also centered in the middle of the barbell.
  3. Load your barbell up with your desired weight. If you leave the barbell weightless or too light, then the Smith Machine calf raise can backfire on you. If when you start this lift, it feels bouncy and disengaging, or the barbell is bouncing off of your back, then you probably need to add more weight.
  4. Place the barbell on your back as if you were doing a barbell back squat, and step up with the top 1/3 of your foot on the plate. Once you are in the starting position and feel like you can comfortably push the barbell up with the balls of your feet, you are ready to begin your set.
  5. With a straight leg, push off with the balls of your feet, and unlatch the barbell from the Smith Machine by gripping the bar and rotating your wrists slightly backward.
  6. Let your heel drop down until it hits the floor. Push back up with the balls of your feet.
  7. Squeeze your upper calf on the way up to facilitate proper gastrocnemius engagement.
  8. Repeat for 10-30 reps, depending on load and training style.

Calf Raise Machine vs. Smith Machine Standing Calf Raise

standard calf raise machine can be used effectively if a Smith Machine is not available, or if you feel like you aren’t ready to do a calf raise with the Smith Machine.

To perform a calf raise with a machine:

  1. Set the height. Set it so that when you step into the machine at the starting position, your knees have to be bent.
  2. Set the weight. Anything from 20 to 200 lbs is common. Start with a lower weight on this one. Try 4 sets of 20 reps at, 40-60 lbs.
  3. In the starting position, place your feet on the step with the balls of your feet on top of the center of the step. You will be pushing off with the balls of your feet, so adjust your feet accordingly. Place your head and shoulders into the machine and hold onto the handles on the side.
  4. For the initial lift, start with your knees bent and squat on the way up.
  5. Every repetition after that first initial rep is a straight-legged exercise. Dip your ankles slowly backward so that it descends under the step about 1-2 inches.
  6. Push up with the balls of your feet, with a straight leg.
  7. Squeeze your gastrocnemius on the way up, and hold it for a second at the top.
  8. Repeat for 10-30 reps, depending on the load and type of training you’re doing.

Pro Tip: Point your toes out for greater medial gastrocnemius activation (the half of your calf closer to the inside of your legs, as opposed to lateral gastrocnemius (outside half of the calf) activation.

Double Pump Calf Raise

A “double pump” movement can be performed with a calf raise machine or a Smith Machine. This method ensures that you will not only target the soleus (lower calf) but also the gastrocnemius (upper calf).

To incorporate the double pump technique into your next standing or seated calf raise:

  1. Set up your calf raise equipment exactly as you would normally do for a Smith Machine, standard calf raise machine, or bodyweight calf raises.
  2. In the starting position, lower your ankles down 1-2 inches below the step or weight plate.
  3. Push up with the balls of your feet, but only until your ankle is level with the step or weight plate.
  4. Pause for only 1 second, and then push up the rest of the way to your maximum height. Squeeze the gastrocnemius on the way up. This is the second part of the “double pump.”
  5. Repeat for 10-20 reps with 20-100 lbs, depending on your training style and ability.

Form Tips for Calf Raises

1. Don’t go too heavy. If increasing weight limits your range of motion, then consider lightening the load. If your goal is to increase the size of your upper calf, then hitting the top of these lifts is key to getting that pump in the gastrocnemius.

2. Slow down. When you do calf raises fast, you sacrifice your range of motion. To properly engage the gastrocnemius, you will need to get that squeeze in your upper calf. Rapid tempo reps, often referred to as “pulsing,” may be appropriate in some situations and it may serve as a complementary part of your calf raise workout, but it should not be relied on as your primary method of calf raise. Short, fast reps with limited range of motion target the soleus and it fails to target the upper calf. Having a big soleus and small gastrocnemius will result in a “cankle” appearance.

3. Have a full range of motion. You will achieve this by slowing down and using an appropriate amount of weight. Your goal is to push up as high as you can off of the balls of your feet. It should look like you are standing on your tiptoes, but of course you are actually on the balls of your feet, not your toes.

4. Keep your legs straight. Do not bend at the knees! This is a highly overlooked point but your knees should be nearly locked. Some people like to turn the calf raise into a short-range squat by bending at the knees. This takes the load off of the calves and shifts it onto the quads and glutes. Keep the knees straight so that the rest of your lower body muscles cannot take over.

5. Consider high reps. If you run a lot or have a job where you’re on your feet all day, your calf muscle endurance is likely higher than the average person’s. If this is you and your calf raises feel too easy for you, try increasing the reps instead of increasing the weight.

6. Save the calves for last. Many people find that the calves are best saved for last because, if done correctly, the movement should have very little quad, hamstring, and glute engagement. At the end of a leg day, most of your lower body muscles will feel exhausted, but your calves will probably still feel relatively fresh. Luckily, you do not need them. A straight-legged standing calf raise or even a seated calf raise, will effectively take the other lower body muscle groups out of the equation.

7. Carb up! Leg day takes a lot of carbs. If you get to the calf portion of your leg day with depleted glycogen stores, you will not perform your best. For a great intra-workout that helps you go the extra mile and push yourself just past last PR, try HYPERADE.

  • Get Bigger Calves 

    The Smith Machine standing calf raise is a remarkably effective lower leg exercise. If you want bigger calves and you don’t naturally carry a lot weight there, then the leg press and deadlifts will not be enough.

    The Smith Machine offers a great alternative to seated calf raise, donkey calf raise, bodyweight calf raise, and a standing calf raise in a machine. The half-free weight, half-machine nature of the Smith Machine increases freedom, complete customization over form and range of motion.

    It’s also a great tool for safely increasing weight, so you can lift heavy without risking your ankles. For more lower body bodybuilding tips, check out our list of the 10 best calf exercises for strong, sculpted legs.