For most individuals, working to grow the leg muscles, specifically the calves, is a great challenge. The seated calf raise is one of the most well-known exercises developed to target the muscles in the calves, primarily the soleus muscle. However, doing this exercise alone will not maximize the potential growth of the calves.
There are numerous alternatives to the seated calf raise exercise that works more than just the soleus muscle. These alternative exercises may be performed with or without the use of weights or machines. Examples of these alternative exercises include jumping rope, standing calf raises, squat hold calf raises, and calf raises on a leg press machine.
Knowing the alternatives to the seated calf raise exercise allows individuals to modify their training program depending on their needs. While alternative exercises target the same area of the body, these exercises help maximize potential muscle growth.
What is a Seated Calf Raise?
Calf exercises are often applied in training programs to increase leg muscle size. However, training the calves also proves to be important in daily activities as this improves the force of plantar flexion. Plantar flexion is a movement required in almost all types of sporting events as well as mundane day-to-day activities such as standing on the tips of the toes and pressing down on the car pedals while driving.
The seated calf raise is one exercise that targets the calves, with primary use of the soleus muscle. It is performed by sitting on a chair, feet placed hip width apart, and heels positioned behind the knees. The heels should then be lifted off the ground, leaving the toes in contact with the floor. This position is briefly held followed by gentle lowering down of the heels. The seated calf raise may be done using bodyweight only, dumbbells placed above the knees, or with the help of machines.
Seated Calf Raise Alternatives
The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles make up the bulk of the calf muscles. Seated calf raises put more emphasis on the soleus muscle due to having the knees bent all throughout the exercise. The following alternatives will train both components of the calf muscles to maximize its growth potential.
Jumping rope utilizes muscles that the seated calf raises miss. It builds endurance for the calf muscles, as well as strength and coordination. Furthermore, jumping rope provides endless variations to keep the exercise challenging.
To jump rope, the individual must first make sure that the rope is the appropriate length for their height. Standing with the feet and knees together, the rope is flicked over the head and passed under the feet by pushing the toes into a quick but gentle hop. The knees must remain slightly bent, to land softly and to keep it from locking. Jumping rope is usually performed before a workout for 10 minutes as part of the warm-up.
Single Leg Standing Calf Raises
Single leg standing calf raises work both the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles through a full range of motion. This exercise works through the full range of motion allowed by the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.
A single leg standing calf raise is performed by standing on the edge of an elevated platform such as a step on the stairs, with the hands placed on the railing for stabilization. The heel is lowered to the ground, then the body weight is pushed up until the individual is standing on the ball of their foot. This is held for one to two seconds, and then the heel is lowered down again. This process is repeated ideally 12 - 15 times per set.
Squat Hold Calf Raises
Squat hold calf raise is a great alternative to the seated calf raise. It places the knees in a similar position as in a seated calf raise, but it works the gluteal muscles too. Squat hold calf raises works the soleus muscles more than the gastrocnemius, but a considerable amount of force is still produced by the latter.
This exercise is performed by having the individual assume a squat position, with the feet shoulder width apart, and hands in front or placed on the hips. While maintaining the squat position, the individual pushes up to stand on their tip toes and then back down to the ground. The activity is repeated 12 - 15 times without coming out of the squat.
Leg Press Calf Raise
Using a leg press machine to do calf raises is a good alternative to doing traditional calf raises or seated calf raises. It works both the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in a seated position but with the knees only slightly bent. The individual is able to modify the weights to progress the exercise to build stronger calves.
Performing this exercise starts out by adjusting the lock out position of the machine to where the knees are only slightly bent. The individual sits on the leg press machine and places only the ball of the foot on the lower edge of the footplate. The footplate is pushed away by contracting the plantarflexors and slowly brought back down in a span of 3 seconds. This is performed 12 to 15 times each side.
Common Mistakes during Calf Exercises
Temporary plateaus in muscle performance happen when a muscle is not challenged the way it should be. In order to increase muscle size and develop muscle strength in the calves, sufficient muscle contraction, frequency and variation must be incorporated into the routine. The following are common mistakes to avoid to be able to maximize potential muscle growth.
Insufficient Muscle Contraction
One of the most common mistakes individuals make when trying to build calf muscles is not contracting the muscles correctly. A number of individuals tend to contract only up to half of the range, completely missing the isometric contraction at the top of the movement.
An adequate contraction is required to be able to fully excite a muscle. Stretching the muscle through its full range of motion, and allowing it to contract eccentrically achieves this goal. Eccentric contraction on the calves and taking ample time to perform each repetition places the muscle under tension in a sufficient amount of time, ultimately resulting in muscle growth.
An explosive concentric contraction of the calf muscles with an isometric squeeze at the top of the movement, before a slow release for an eccentric contraction will engage the muscles optimally to induce muscle growth.
The calf muscles are not usually trained as much as upper body muscles. This is because people usually forget to train the calf muscles due to the inconspicuous action of these muscles. Thus, muscle growth is slowed down due to insufficient training frequency.
Training frequency refers to the number of times an individual works out, or in this case, a muscle group is worked out in a week. The frequency of training depends on the individual’s needs and primary goal. A beginner will start out at fewer sets while more experienced lifters may benefit with more sets.
As stated earlier, the calf is made up of two muscles, and stimulating each muscle requires different positions. Simply doing one calf exercise to enhance muscle performance is not enough. Doing only one type of calf raise would optimally train only one of these muscles.
Incorporating different variations of the calf exercises (seated and standing) in a workout trains the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles which allows for optimal calf muscle growth.
Exercises targeting the calf muscles are beneficial for individuals wanting to increase lower leg size as well as the general population. While the seated calf raise is one such exercise that works the calves, it primarily targets the soleus muscle only, thus it is not optimal for calf muscle growth. Exercises that target both the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles such as single leg standing calf raises and squat hold calf raises, prove to be good alternatives for maximizing calf development.
- Zaroni RS, Brigatto FA, Schoenfeld BJ, Braz TV, Benvenutti JC, Germano MD Marchetti PH, Aoki MS and Lopes CR. High resistance-training frequency enhances muscle thickness in resistance-trained men. J Strength Cond Res 33 (7S) : S140-S151, 2019.