Standing vs Seated Calf Raises: Which is Best?

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 23, 2022

Despite their comparatively small size, the calves muscle group have received quite a bit of attention in regards to maximizing training efficiency while at the gym.

While it has been well-established that calf raises are among one of the best ways of improving calf muscle strength and size, there is some confusion as to which type of calf raise this may be.

To put it short, standing calf raises are better for targeting the gastrocnemius or “outer” muscle of the calves, whereas seated calf raises may be employed as the most effective exercise for directly targeting the soleus or “inner” muscle of the calves.

What are the Standing and Seated Calf Raise Exercises?

Both the standing and seated calf raise exercises are free-weight or machine-based isolation movements meant to target the calf muscles of the legs.

standing and seated calf raises
Standing calf raise left - Seated calf raise right

They are most often performed as accessory exercises within a leg workout, occasionally acting as the sole source of dynamic training stimulus within a training program.

This is simply because of the fact that calf raises fulfill the often-forgotten need for calf muscle isolation exercises during most bodybuilding and strength-training programs, with the majority of less-experienced lifters either forgetting to include such movements or assuming compound leg exercises are sufficient to train the calves.

What Muscles are Worked by Calf Raises?

As is clued in by the name, calf raises train the triceps surae muscle group - of which is divided into the lateral and medial head of the gastrocnemius muscle (the so-called “heart shape” of the calves) as well as the soleus muscle located beneath the gastrocnemius.

calf anatomy

The specificity of this muscular activation may be further subdivided between these two muscles by altering the position of the patellar joint in relation to said muscles, with seated calf raises being considered superior for soleus muscle training whereas the standing calf raise is better for gastrocnemius recruitment.

Benefits of Standing Calf Raises

Greater Range of Motion

Though both standing and seated calf raises attempt to maximize range of motion through ankle movement, standing calf raises can surpass their seated counterpart by a small increment through the knees forming a straight line with the rest of the body.

While this difference is admittedly small and unlikely to result in much change regarding muscular hypertrophy, it can nonetheless help maximize conditioning of the calves and take advantage of a lifter’s leg mobility.

Machine-Variation Available

Though there are occasionally machine-based variations of the seated calf raise, the standing calf raise has exercise machines specifically built solely for performing the exercise - meaning that factors like padding, adjustable resistance and even variable foot positioning are accounted for by such machines.

standing calf raise

In comparison, the seated calf raise machine will usually be a simple bench with weight plates loaded to one end so as to provide resistance atop the knees.

Greater Development of Explosiveness

The gastrocnemius muscle is primarily composed of fast-twitch muscle fibers, equating to greater explosiveness and faster rate of force development than its soleus underbelly. 

Considering the fact that the standing calf raise exceeds its seated counterpart in targeting this particular muscle, it can be said that the seated calf raise also excels in developing explosiveness of the lower body as well.

Greater Calf Posterior Muscle Mass Development

The gastrocnemius muscle is composed of two heads, and is layered atop the soleus muscle in such a way that it is far more visible from a posterior point of view than any other structure of the lower leg. 

standing calf raise muscles

As such, any induced hypertrophy of this particular muscle will result in a marked improvement of visible muscle mass when viewed from the back - creating bigger and thicker calves.

Because of the standing calf raise’s targeting of the gastrocnemius muscle, this equates to the exercise being quite effective at developing the muscle mass of the calves within a certain axis.

Benefits of Seated Calf Raises

Soleus Muscle Isolation

While the standing calf raise does indeed recruit the soleus muscle to a small degree, the seated calf raise is considered to be the quintessential soleus muscle exercise due to it being the sole exercise that specifically recruits the muscle in its entire dynamic range of motion.

seated calf raise

As such, performing the seated calf raise is arguably essential for any individuals that may wish to maximize the development of this specific portion of the calves.

Greater Lateral Calf Mass Development

Justa s how the standing calf raise is quite effective at building the thickness of the calves from the back, so too does developing the soleus improve the size of the calves from the sides and front.

Because of the shape and position of the soleus relative to the bones of the shins, muscular hypertrophy will result in the lower portion of the legs appearing to be wider and more defined, resulting in a more toned and muscular appearance.

Owing to the fact that seated calf raises are so effective at developing the soleus, it can essentially be said that they are capable of improving muscle mass of the calves from a lateral or front-facing point of view.

Less Strenuous on Connective Tissues

Performing any exercise when the entire kinetic chain is stacked atop itself can place pressure throughout the various joints and connective tissues of the body - especially in the lower back and legs.

This is a frequently encountered issue during the performance of the standing calf raise, wherein the angle of resistance is parallel with gravity and essentially presses the lifter into the ground, requiring them to exert opposing force by pushing upwards with the calves.

seated calf raise

This can affect the joints of the knees, ankles, hips and spinal column - especially at the higher levels of resistance.

Fortunately, such strain is not as much of a problem when performing seated calf raises, as the only joints under load are that of the ankles and feet - and usually with far less risk of poor form or excessive loading.

Standing vs Seated Calf Raise for Better Calves Growth

The main reason either calf raise variation is even included into a workout is simple; growth and development of the calf muscles, be it from a standpoint of pure muscle mass or that of force output capacity.

In truth however, both the standing and seated calf raise are equally effective at their jobs - that is to say, at their halves of the job. 

Due to the fact that the seated and standing calf raise equally train one of the two muscles that make up the calves muscle group, only performing one exercise for muscle mass and strength will be inefficient and may lead to muscular imbalances.

Instead, it is encouraged that exercisers perform both of the exercises together - or, at least, exercises that target both muscles of the calves so as to maximize hypertrophy and strength development.

Standing vs Seated Calf Raise for Injury Risk Reduction

A risk of injury is always present when performing resistance exercise, regardless of how little weight is being lifted. This is, unfortunately, also the case for both the standing and seated variations of the calf raise exercise.

However, they are not equal in this regard, with the standing calf raise being somewhat more prone to causing injuries along the kinetic chain than its seated counterpart.

The logic behind this difference is rather simple; less moving joints being involved in the exercise equates to a lesser chance of anything going wrong. 

Considering the fact that the standing calf raise involves (even unmoving) nearly every joint in the lower body and the spine, it can be quite obvious why the seated calf raise is considered far safer than its standing counterpart.

Standing vs Seated Calf Raise for Power and Athleticism

When the calves are engaged during athletic activity, it is primarily the gastrocnemius muscle that is contracting - especially during movements like sprinting, jumping or climbing, wherein a fast and sudden burst of power is needed.

Going back to the muscles being targeted by either the standing or seated calf raise variations, we can see that it is the standing calf raise that targets the gastrocnemius muscle to a far greater degree than the seated calf raise.

What this equates to is that the standing calf raise is far superior for developing power and general athletic ability in the legs, as the seated calf raise primarily works the soleus muscle.

While this is not to say that the soleus muscle does not play a role in force output and athletic activity - it does mean that if you must choose one exercise over the other for such a purpose, then it is better to pick the standing calf raise.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are Seated Calf Raises Effective?

Yes - seated calf raises are possibly the most effective soleus isolation exercise available, as they are able to recruit this difficult to target muscle at great effect, and in a full range of motion as well.

However, seated calf raises present their own set of deficits and disadvantages - the majority of which can be mitigated by the inclusion of a gastrocnemius-targeting exercise alongside proper mobility work and workout structuring.

For the best results from seated calf raises, perform them at moderate levels of resistance and higher volumes of repetitions per set.

Will Calf Raises Make Calves Bigger?

Yes - in particular, the muscle fibers of the calves respond quite well to high-volume activities like uphill sprinting and high-repetition sets of calf raises.

While all lifters differ in terms of genetic potential and muscle attachment points, there is no doubt that performing calf raises alongside a proper diet and rest will result in your calves growing bigger over time.

Are Calves the Hardest Muscle to Grow?

The muscles of the calves are not necessarily more difficult to develop per se, just that the usual level of volume and intensity results in a lesser hypertrophic response from the tissues therein. 

This factor combined with the comparatively small size of the calves can result in lifters feeling like their calves are not developing at all.

To maximize calf growth, it is suggested that exercisers perform high volume isolation work of the calves alongside maintaining their patience, as it may take some time before a noticeable size difference is realized.

In Conclusion

Both the standing and seated calf raise exercises are considered to be essential inclusions in any serious leg workout, and it is our advice that you consider performing both rather than picking one over the other.

Due to the fact that they complement each other in terms of muscular recruitment and intensity, the end result of doing so will be far more efficient and established than if one were to simply perform a single calf exercise.

However, if you still wish to stick with a single variation of the calf raise, we advise picking the standing variant as it recruits the entirety of the calf muscles to an albeit minor degree.

References

1. Zellers JA, Brorsson A, Silbernagel KG. Impact of seated and standing positions on triceps surae muscle activation in unilateral Achilles tendon rupture. Transl Sports Med. 2020 Jan;3(1):3-8. doi: 10.1002/tsm2.117. Epub 2019 Oct 20. PMID: 32432214; PMCID: PMC7236791.

2. Hebert-Losier K, Schneiders AG, Garcia JA, Sullivan SJ, Simoneau GG. Influence of knee flexion angle and age on triceps surae muscle activity during heel raises. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(11):3124–3133.

3. Arnsdorff K, Limbaugh K, Riemann BL. Analysis of Heel Raise Exercise with Three Foot Positions. Int J Exerc Sci. 2011 Jan 15;4(1):13-21. PMID: 27182353; PMCID: PMC4738962.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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