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6 Seated Calf Raise Alternatives For Massive Calf Development

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There isn’t a lot of scope when it comes to training the calves. That’s because the muscle simply allows you to rise up on your toes. So, that is what an exercise to work the calves must do. 

Calf raises can either be done standing or seated. The seated version of the exercise places slightly more emphasis on the soleus muscle, which can give the impression of width to the calves.

To do this exercise, though, you either need to have access to a seated calf raise machine, or fashion a step out of stacked plates, so you can raise your feet off the floor. This allows you the range of movement you need. 

The seated calf raise is not a very common piece of equipment. Very few people will have one in their home gym. Many commercial gyms won’t even have one.

As a personal trainer, I’ve had to come up with seated calf raise alternatives to help bodybuilders, athletes and general fitness enthusiasts build stronger, bigger calves. 

The six seated calf raise alternatives in this article represent the most effective calf building exercises that I have ever come across.

What You Need to Know About Training Calves

The gastrocnemius and soleus are two separate muscles that share an insertion point on the Achilles tendon. They are often confused from a training aspect because they both produce plantar flexion.

Despite their shared insertion point, you can isolate the soleus by performing traditional calf exercises with a bent knee.

You can do exercises to isolate the soleus and the gastro, but the reality is that the soleus has very little potential for growth development because it’s almost exclusively made of slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Furthermore, as stated already, the anatomical movement of the two parts is virtually identical.

Muscles of the calf

The gastro is made of two parts – the inner and outer heads. It is commonly believed that you can work the inner or outer part more by the way you point your toes when you do the calf raise.

This is not the case. Both the inner and outer head insert at the Achilles tendon so they cannot be isolated. The whole calf gets activated when you do the exercise.

The reality is that there is nothing you can do to change the shape of your calves – it is genetic. 

Ideal Calf Exercise Foot Placement

Now that we know that angling your foot in or out does not have any influence on the effectiveness of the calf raise, we need to decide just what the best foot position is.

Rather than worrying about the angle of your foot, think about the placement of the bottom of the foot on the calf raise block. 

Make sure that the ball of your foot, just below your big toe, is firmly planted on the block. This is the most secure and the strongest position from which to extend and contract.

The ‘ball’ of your foot is called the sesamoid bone. This bone runs diagonally down from under your big toe. So, to ensure that it is fully on the block, you should angle your feet slightly upward when you are setting up for the calf raise. 

Many people only have their toes on the block. This makes as much sense as doing dumbbell curls and holding onto the weight with just your fingertips!

When most people do the calf raise, the feet naturally slip a little after every few reps. You should stop when this happens and reset yourself on the block. You need to be fully on the block to achieve a full extension and contraction. 

Range of Motion

Walk into any gym and you will see a lot of people using an abbreviated range of motion on many exercises, including the calf raise.

When it comes to this exercise, whether it’s the standing or seated version, they tend to go through a bouncy motion, barely moving from the start position. 

Why do they do this? 

More often than not it is because they have overloaded the weight beyond what they can use for a proper full range of motion rep. 

Your feet should drop lower than the balls of your feet. The calf muscle should also extend to its full extent.

If you have to drop the weight in order to achieve a complete range of motion on the calf raise exercise, then that is precisely what you should do.

A Problem with the Seated Calf Raise

The vast majority of your calf muscle is made up of the gastrocnemius. However, when you perform the seated calf raise exercise you are not able to fully stretch the gastro because the origin of the muscle is above the knee.

With your knee being bent for this exercise, you simply cannot extend it through a full range of motion. 

The fact that you cannot extend your gastro through a full range of motion compromises the exercise somewhat. However, this is still a relatively good exercise for the calves.

Just make sure that you are moving the calves through a full range of motion. 

How To Do The Seated Calf Raise

  1. Load the appropriate weight on a seated calf raise machine and then adjust the knee pad and seat position so that, when you are sitting on the machine, your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  2. Sit on the machine and position your knees under the pads. Your toes and the balls of your feet should sit at the bottom of the foot pads so that your toes are hanging off the ends.
  3. Unrack the bar, then rise up on your toes to full calf extension. Squeeze the calf tightly in the top position. 
  4. Lower your heels down as far as you can go to fully stretch the calf muscle.
Seated Calf Raise Alternative Muscles Used

Is the Standing Calf Raise Better Than the Seated Calf Raise?

The standing calf raise is a better overall calf exercise to work both the gastrocnemius. The seated calf raise is a better exercise for hitting the soleus muscle. They’re both good exercises in their own right. 

It’s not a question of which one is better – it’s a case of which one works for an intended purpose. 

The standing calf raise allows you to effectively work the entire calf muscle, including the meaty gastrocnemius. Because there is no knee bend, you are able to get  complete extension at the top of the movement.

However, many people find some discomfort directly behind the knee when they do this exercise. There is also the danger of hyper extending the knee.

To overcome these problems, you should have a slight bend in your knee when you are doing the standing calf raise. 

People with spinal problems may find that the weight that the shoulder pads transfers through their spine to the calves is problematic for them. 

A good alternative is the 45-degree leg press calf raise. That is because it provides you with a straight leg position to fully activate all the calf muscle, including the gastro.

You also have absolutely no pressure on your spine when you do the exercise on the 45 degree leg press. 

Jump Rope for Huge Calves

Jumping rope provides an excellent workout for your calves. Move directly from a resistance exercise to rope jumping to get a massive pump in the calves. Take small jumps with just a slight knee bend.

Jump as quickly as you can for 60 seconds and then go directly to your next calf exercise. 

Equipment Needed for These Exercises

6 Seated Calf Raise Alternatives that Replicate the Same Movement Pattern

Seated Calf Raise Alternatives Infographic

1. Standing Calf Raise

Equipment needed for exercise:

  • Standing calf raise machine

How to do exercise:

  1. Stand in front of a standing calf machine and select the appropriate weight from the weight stack. Get under the shoulder pads and place your feet on the foot block so that the balls of your feet are resting on it and the rest of the foot is hanging off the edges of the block. Grab the handles and stand upright so that your heels are parallel with the block. 
  2. Without bending your knees, rise up on your toes to full calf extension. Hold for a 2-count to get a full calf extension.
  3. Lower your heels down, without bending your knees, as far as they will go to get a full calf contraction. 

Exercise muscles worked:

  • Gastrocnemius
  • Soleus

2. 45-Degree Leg Press Calf Raise

Equipment needed for exercise:

  • 45-degree leg press machine

How to do exercise:

  1. Load the appropriate weight on a calf raise machine and sit on the machine with your feet on the foot platform so that the balls of your feet are on the bottom of the platform and the rest of the foot is hanging off the bottom of the platform.
  2. Unrack the foot platform and extend your legs to just short of full knee lockout.
  3. Rise up on your toes to full calf extension. Hold for a 2-count to get full calf extension.
  4. Lower your heels down, without bending your knees, as far as they will go to get a full calf contraction. 

Don’t have a leg press machine at home? We’ve got you covered with the six best leg press alternatives you can do at home without a machine.

Exercise muscles worked:

  • Gastrocnemius
  • Soleus

3. Bent Knee Calf Raises

Equipment needed for exercise:

  • None

How to do exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms by your sides. 
  2. Descend into a parallel squat position.
  3. Rise up on your toes and hold for a 2-second count.
  4. Lower and repeat.

Exercise muscles worked:

  • Gastrocnemius
  • Soleus

4. Single Leg Calf Raise

Equipment needed for exercise:

  • None

How to do exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms by your sides.
  2. Lift your left foot off the floor so that you are balancing on your right foot only. You may have to hold something for support.
  3. Rise up on your toes and hold for a 2-second count.
  4. Lower and repeat.

Exercise muscles worked:

  • Gastrocnemius
  • Soleus

5. Jump Rope

Equipment needed for exercise:

  • Skipping rope

How to do exercise:

  • Stand with your feet together and a skipping rope held loosely behind your heels.
  • Twist your wrists to bring the rope over head.
  • Jump slightly to allow the rope to pass under your feet.
  • Continue in a smooth, repetitive action for the required time or rep count.

Exercise muscles worked:

  • Calves
  • Shoulders
  • Forearms

6. Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise

Equipment needed for exercise:

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do exercise:

  1. Sit on the edge of a bench with your toes resting on a 2 x 2 plank of timber and your heels hanging down to the floor.
  2. Place a dumbbell on its end on each quadricep, just above the knee.
  3. Extend your calves up to full extension and then lower them to the floor to achieve full contraction. 
  4. Continue for the required rep count.

Exercise muscles worked:

  • Gastrocnemius
  • Soleus

Muscle contraction points

There are a couple of interesting points about the gastrocnemius and soleus contraction. 

The first is the importance of the knee angle.

The knee can flex or extend, and it appears that the position of the knee can have an effect on the activation of both muscles.

Calf Raise Knee Angle Positioning

What this means is that in order to train these muscles effectively, we have to consider the knee angle and train the gastrocnemius and soleus with both a flexed and extended knee, to ensure effective activation of both. 

Furthermore, research by Nunes et al in 2020 showed that varied foot positioning during flexion and extension of the ankle joint resulted in different muscle thicknesses at the different heads of the gastrocnemius.

This suggests that in order to maximize the effectiveness of the exercises, we need to adjust the foot position. This has been taken into account and will be programmed into the workouts.

Calf raise foot positioning

Thoughts on muscle loading

Perceived wisdom on muscle loading suggests that you need to lift heavy in order to maximize strength and size gains.

Whilst there is plenty of evidence that suggests this is true for other body parts, the calf muscles appear to be a slightly different case on account of their fiber type. 

This makes sense. 

They’re predominantly slow twitch fibers (they wouldn’t be useful for walking if they tired quickly). These respond well to high volume, low load training.

When tested by Brad Schoenfeld and his colleagues in 2020, the results showed that the calf muscles responded equally well to high or low load training.

And in some cases, the low load calf exercises were better for bringing about muscle strength and size increases.

Calf Muscles Responding To High And Low Loads

Seated Calf Raise Alternatives: The Bottom Line 

The calves are a stubborn muscle. Unless you’re genetically gifted in the lower leg department, you are going to have to train them consistently with a range of resistances and repetition schemes.

I recommend rotating through the six seated calf raise alternatives provided above to prevent calf training monotony and hit the muscle from all angles.

Looking to equip a home gym but don’t have room for lots of equipment? Check out our review of the best all in one home gym machines.

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Steve is a certified personal trainer, current home gym owner, former gym owner, and copywriter. He joined his first gym at age 15 and, five years later, he was managing his own studio. In 1987, he became the first personal fitness trainer in New Zealand.

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