Calf Raises: Benefits, Muscle Worked, and How To Do

If you’re looking to build strong and defined calves, calf raises are the ultimate exercise to add to your routine. They not only help you build strength in your lower body, but they also make you stronger overall.

However, like any other exercise, calf raises require proper form, technique, and consistency to see results. That’s where this ultimate guide to calf raises comes in handy.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the following:

Calf Muscle Anatomy

Before we dive into the different types of calf raises, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the anatomy of the calf muscles.

The calf muscles are made up of two main muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus.


  • The Gastrocnemius is the larger, more visible muscle of the calf.
  • It forms the bulge in the upper part of the lower leg and is responsible for the diamond-shaped appearance.
  • This muscle originates above the knee joint and consists of two heads – the medial head and the lateral head.
  • The Gastrocnemius contracts during activities like walking, running, and jumping, providing power and propulsion.


  • The soleus muscle is located underneath the gastrocnemius and is responsible for stabilizing the ankle joint
  • While it doesn’t directly contribute to the visible shape of the calf, it is equally important for lower leg function.
  • The Soleus is predominantly involved in maintaining posture, assisting with push-off during walking, and providing stability during activities such as standing and balancing.
Know About Calf Muscles the gastrocnemius and the soleus

Function of the Calf Muscles

The calf muscles play vital roles in various movements and activities:

  • The calf muscles are responsible for plantar flexion, which involves pointing the foot downwards, like when standing on tiptoes.
  • Plantar flexion is crucial for walking, running, jumping, and propelling the body forward.
  • The calf muscles facilitate force transmission between the foot and leg during weight-bearing activities.
  • They absorb impact and generate power, providing stability and strength to the lower limbs.
  • Strong calf muscles contribute to maintaining proper posture by supporting the ankles.
  • They help stabilize the body while standing or moving.
Want to take your gains to the next level? Discover your daily calorie needs with our free TDEE calculator

What Are Calf Raises?

Calf raises are a lower body exercise that targets the calf muscles, specifically the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.

Calf raises effectively engage the calves by flexing, lengthening, tightening, and stretching them.

Calf raises provide additional benefits beyond the development of toned and firmer calves. Strong calf are essential for ankle stability and walking movements, which makes them important for functional activities.

Calf raises have a straightforward mechanics. You raise your heels off the floor or a slightly elevated surface, standing on the balls of your feet. Then, lower your heels back down to the starting position in a controlled manner.

You can perform calf raises using your bodyweight as resistance, or you can add additional weight by using dumbbells or a calf raise machine at the gym.

Variations of calf raises include single-leg calf raises, seated calf raises, and calf raises on an incline or decline surface.

Muscle Worked During Calf Raise

When performing calf raises, several muscles are worked primarily in the lower leg.

The main muscles targeted during calf raises include:

  • Gastrocnemius
  • Soleus
  • Plantaris
  • Tibialis anterior and posterior
Muscle Worked During Calf Raise

Different Types of Calf Raises

There are different variations of calf raises that you can do to target different areas of your calf muscles.

Here are some of the most common types of calf raises:

1. Bodyweight Standing Calf Raise

The bodyweight standing calf raise is a classic move that helps you strengthen your calves because your calf muscles carry a lot of your own bodyweight.

The standing calf raise is a really easy exercise to do. They only use bodyweight, so they’re a really convenient calves exercise that you can do that home, or pretty much anywhere.

Bodyweight calf exercises are handy to exercise your calves without having to set foot in the gym.

  • Beginners Variations: Supported Calf Raise, Floor Calf Raise
  • Advanced Variations: Single-Leg Calf Raise, Calf Raise with Resistance Bands
Bodyweight Standing Calf Raise

How To Do Bodyweight Standing Calf Raise

  1. Stand up straight with your feet facing forward and placed hip-width apart.
  2. Keep a slight bend in your knee and hold your hands by your side
  3. Raise your heels by pressing the balls of your feet into the ground.
  4. You should raise your body until you are on your toes.
  5. Hold this position and then slowly lower your heels back to the ground.


  • Pause and squeeze for a count of 1-2 at the top of the movement for added intensity.
  • Keep the balls of your feet on the edge of the block/step.
  • Keep your core tight and your back straight.

2. Donkey Calf Raises

Donkey calf raises are an excellent bodyweight calf raise exercise for building calf muscles. This raise is mostly the second option after standing calf raises.

The donkey calf raises primarily engages the two muscles that make up the calves: the gastrocnemius and the soleus.

The donkey calf raises secondarily activates the hamstrings and abs. When you bend over to initiate the calf raise, the hamstrings receive a stretch.

Donkey Calf Raises

How To Do Donkey Calf Raises

  1. Stand on a board and bend forward, holding a table for support. Ask a training partner to sit across your back.
  2. Lower your heels and get as low as possible and fully contract your calf muscles fully.
  3. Extend your calves and get back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.


  • Exhale while you exert, in this case, while raising your calves against resistance.
  • You must go through full-range movements.
  • Make sure that you are not limited in the range of your movements by using high blocks.

Note: Do advanced modifications to make donkey calf raise exercise more challenging.

  • Single-Leg Donkey Calf Raises
  • Partner/Weighted Donkey Calf Raise
  • Donkey Calf Raises on Machine
Donkey Calf Raises Variations
Read More: Bodyweight Calf Raise To Build Mass And Strength Of Calves

3. Standing Dumbbell One Leg Calf Raise

Single leg calf raises are another great exercise for your calf raises workout. It’s a must-have on the list of the top-notch calf workouts.

It doesn’t require any equipment, although dumbbells can always be added and virtually no space, and anyone can do them.

You can do the standing dumbbell one-leg calf raise on the floor if you don’t have a platform to perform the exercise from.

  • Beginners Variations: Both leg standing dumbbell calf raise (both legs)
  • Advanced Variations: Single-leg raise with isometric holds, calf raise on an unstable surface
Standing Dumbbell One Leg Calf Raise

How To Do Standing Dumbbell One Leg Calf Raise

  1. Hold a dumbbell by your side, in your left hand.
  2. With your left foot, stand on a platform, with the arch and heel of your foot suspending off.
  3. Grasp something with your right hand for stability.
  4. Exhale as you raise your heel by extending your ankle.
  5. Hold for a count. Inhale as you slowly reverse the motion and lower your heel until you feel a mild stretch in your calf.
  6. Hold for a count of one. Repeat for more repetitions.
  7. Repeat with your right leg.


  • Keep the movement slow and under control.
  • Do not lock out your knee.

5. Seated Machine Calf Raise

The seated calf raise is a one of the best strength-gaining exercises that targets your calf muscles and accelerates their growth.It is best performed with an angle of 90 degrees at the knees.

During the seated calf raise exercise the following muscle worked:

  • The main target muscle is the soleus,
  • While the gastrocnemius acts as a synergist or assisting muscle.

Since the soleus comprises slow-twitch muscle fibers, performing the seated calf raise builds your endurance required for running, cycling, and walking.

Seated Machine Calf Raise

How To Do Seated Machine Calf Raise

  1. Sit in the seated calf machine and place your feet on the foot plate so that your heels hang off the edge.
  2. Place the knee pad on your knees and unrack the weight.
  3. Drop your heels as low as you can to get a good stretch in your calves.
  4. Lift your heels by contracting the calf muscles to raise the weight as high as you can on the balls of your feet.
  5. Hold this position for a second, flexing your calf muscles, then lower your heels back to the starting position.


  • Do the reps in a controlled way and limit momentum at the top of the movement.
  • Use the maximum range of motion by allowing your heels to drop as far as possible and then raising them as high as possible.

6. Smith Machine Standing Calf Raise

The Smith machine standing calf raise is a machine-based exercise targeting the muscles of the calves, particularly the gastrocnemius or upper calf muscle.

It is usually performed for moderate to high reps, such as 12-20 reps per set or more, as part of the lower body portion of a workout.

Smith Machine Standing Calf Raise

How To Do Smith Machine Standing Calf Raise

  1. Load the bar and step onto the plates with the balls of your feet
  2. Place the bar on the back of your shoulders.
  3. Hold the bar with both hands facing forward.
  4. Rotate the bar so that it is unracked from the smith machine.
  5. Push off the balls of your feet to raise your heels as high as possible.
  6. Make sure to flex your calf at the top of the contraction. Hold the contracted position for a second.
  7. Breathe in as you return to the starting position by lowering your heels.  
  8. Repeat the desired the repetitions.


  • Your knees should remain extended.
  • Don’t let your heels touch the floor throughout the set.
  • Use the maximum range of motion by allowing your heels to drop as far as possible and then raising them as high as possible.

7. Barbell Seated Calf Raise

The barbell seated calf raise is a great variation of the seated calf raise if you have limited equipment (e.g., a home setup). But you can still utilize it as a gym exercise as well.

This is a very useful exercise if you don’t have access to a seated calf raise machine.

Barbell Seated Calf Raise

How To Do Barbell Seated Calf Raise

  1. Sit on the end of a bench, chair, and place the barbell on the end of your thighs near your knee but not on your knee.
  2. Sit up straight and place the top half of your feet or balls of your feet on the floor or elevated object so that your heels are hanging off. 
  3. Lift your heels by contracting the calf muscles to raise the weight as high as you can on the balls of your feet.
  4. Hold this position for a second, flexing your calf muscles, then lower your heels back to the starting position.


  • Have a firm grip on the barbell to keep in it in one place.
  • Perform the reps nice and slow using a full range of motion.

Foot Position for Calf Raises

To do calf raises, stand with your feet hip-width apart. For a standard calf raise, position your toes pointing forward, parallel to one another.

In this study, the researchers compare how different foot positions affect different areas of the calf muscles:

  • To emphasize the medial (inner) calf muscles, turn your toes slightly outward (outward toe angle).
  • To target the lateral (outer) calf muscles, turn your toes slightly inward (inward toe angle).
  • For a more balanced approach, keep your toes pointing straight ahead.

Sets and Reps For Calf Raise

Calf raises can be done in a number of sets and reps, depending on your fitness level, goals, and the intensity of the exercise. I would like to provide some general guidelines.

For Beginner

  • Sets: Start with 2-3 sets.
  • Reps: Aim for 10-15 reps per set.

For Intermediate

  • Sets: Increase to 3-4 sets.
  • Reps: Aim for 12-20 reps per set.

For Advanced

  • Sets: Perform 4-5 sets.
  • Reps: Aim for 15-20 reps per set.

Common Mistakes To Be Avoid During Calf Raises

Although, calf raises may appear to be a simple exercise. However, like any exercise, there are common mistakes that people often make.

Knowing and avoiding these mistakes can help you get the most out of your calf raises and reduce the chance of getting hurt.

Here are some common mistakes to avoid during calf raises:

1. Using too much weight

The most common mistake is to use excessive weight, especially when using a calf raise machine or weights.

If you use too much weight, you can hurt yourself by putting too much pressure on your joints.

Choosing a weight that allows you to maintain proper form.

2. Neglecting full range of motion

Another mistake is not using the full range of motion when doing calf raises. Some people raise their heels only partially, which limits the amount of work the calf muscles can do.

Try to raise your heels as high as you can, focusing on the contraction of the calf muscles at the top of the move.

3. Using momentum

When lifting the weight with momentum, you can take the focus off of your calf muscles and limit the effectiveness of the exercise.

Make sure to use slow, controlled movements throughout the entire exercise.

4. Poor foot positioning

Incorrect foot positioning can impact the activation of the calf muscles. Placing your feet too far apart or too close together can shift the emphasis away from the calves and onto other muscle groups.

Aim to position your feet shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing forward, to target the calves effectively.

5. Neglecting the eccentric phase

The eccentric phase of the calf raise, where you lower your heels back down, is equally important as the concentric phase (raising the heels)).

Many people tend to rush through the eccentric phase or ignore it entirely.

To maximize the benefits of the exercise, focus on the stretch and engagement of the calf muscles during this phase.

Benefits Of Calf Raises

1. Lower Body Strength and Power

Regularly performing calf raises can increase the strength and endurance of your calves, allowing you to tackle activities that require strong lower leg muscles.

This improved strength can be extended to other lower body exercises and improve overall lower body performance.

2. Strength and Explosiveness

By engaging in calf raises, you can strengthen and increase the endurance of your calf muscles, which will result in enhanced explosiveness and power output.

It directly impacts your overall athletic performance, allowing you to excel in activities that require strong, forceful leg movements.

3. Enhanced Performance

It is important to build stronger calves since they play a significant role in various full-body exercises, such as running on the treadmill or performing deadlifts.

Strengthening the calves through exercises such as calf raises can help athletes achieve greater stability during athletic, explosive, and strength-based movements.

4. Improve Ankle Mobility

Calf raises provide excellent joint support, particularly for the ankles. By targeting muscles like the peroneus, gastrocnemius, and soleus, calf raises enhance ankle mobility and strength.

This stability is particularly beneficial when walking on uneven surfaces, wearing high heels, or engaging in activities that require precise footwork.

5. Strengthening the Achilles Tendon

Calf raises target the Achilles tendon, the largest and strongest tendon in the body. When the calf muscles contract during the exercise, they work with the Achilles tendon to make it stronger and more resilient.

A strong Achilles tendon improves exercise tolerance, reduces the risk of injuries, and enhances your feet range of motion.

6. Bigger Calves

To achieve well-rounded calf development, it’s essential to target both the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.

Standing calf raises primarily emphasize the gastrocnemius, while seated (bent knee) raises predominantly engage the soleus.

Calf raises are a proven method to induce muscle hypertrophy in the calf muscles. This hypertrophy increases the size of the muscles and can make the calves look more attractive.

Additional Exercises to Complement Calf Raises

In addition to calf raises, it is helpful to incorporate complementary exercises into your lower body workout routine. Here are some exercises that target different muscle groups and can be combined with calf raises:

1. Squat

Squats are a compound exercise that primarily targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. They can be performed with bodyweight, dumbbells, or a barbell.

Squats help strengthen the entire lower body and enhance overall leg strength and power.

2. Lunges

Lunges are another effective lower body exercise that targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. They can be done as forward lunges, reverse lunges, or walking lunges.

Lunges also help improve balance and stability.

3. Deadlifts

Deadlifts primarily target the posterior chain muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

They are excellent for overall strength development and improving hip extension.

4. Box Jumps

Box jumps are a plyometric exercise that targets the lower body, especially the calves, quadriceps, and glutes.

They help improve vertical jump height and explosive power.

5. Step-ups

Step-ups are a functional exercise that targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. They look like climbing stairs and can be done with a bench, box, or step.

Step-up exercises are beneficial for improving leg strength, balance, and coordination.

6. Hill Sprints

Running uphill or performing hill sprints activates the calves, hamstrings, and glutes to a greater extent than running on flat ground.

It enhances leg strength, power, and cardiovascular fitness.

7. Skipping Rope

Jumping rope is a simple yet effective exercise that engages the calves and improves cardiovascular endurance.

It can be a great warm-up or incorporated into a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine.


Weak calf muscles can lead to various issues and imbalances, including:

  1. Decreased Athletic Performance: weak calf hinders performance in sports that require explosive movements, agility, and quick direction changes.
  2. Increased Injury Risk: Weak calf muscles can contribute to a higher risk of injuries, such as calf strains, Achilles tendonitis, and shin splints.
  3. Imbalanced Lower Body: Neglecting calf strength can create muscle imbalances, potentially leading to issues in the knees, hips, and ankles.

Do calf raises make you jump higher

Studies have shown that calf exercises, like calf raises, jumping calf raise help improve vertical jump height. The calf muscles, specifically the gastrocnemius and soleus, are essential for generating force during jumping movements.

Strengthening these muscles through exercises like calf raises can enhance their ability to produce power and contribute to increased jump performance.

How many calf raises should i do

Begin with 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps for the calf raise. Gradually increase the sets and reps as you get stronger and more comfortable.

Try to do 3-4 sets of 12-20 reps or 4-5 sets of 15-25 reps for more advanced training.

Can calf raises make you faster

Yes, calf raises contribute to improving your speed. A study has shown that strengthening the calf muscles, can make your lower legs stronger and more powerful.

This can make you faster and more powerful when you do activities like running and sprinting.

Do calf raises work hamstrings and glutes

Calf raises primarily target the calf muscles, specifically the gastrocnemius and soleus. While calf raises involve some activation of the hamstrings and glutes as stabilizing muscles, but they are not the primary focus of the exercise.


Calf raises are a great exercise for building strong and defined calves.

If you use proper form and technique, varying your rep range, and incorporating them into your workout routine, you can get the most out of this exercise.

With consistency and dedication, you can achieve those strong and defined calves you’ve always wanted.

10 Best Calf Exercises To Build Bigger and Stronger Calves

Leave a Comment