How to do seated calf raises?

man doing calf raise

Whether you realize it or not, the calf muscles have a reputation for being the hardest muscles to develop. But dedicated training, including seated calf raises, can help you build strong, powerful calves. This is a heel raise exercise where you sit down and lift a weight using your calves.

The muscles that are worked are the calves, which actually contain two separate muscles: the soleus y gastrocnemius (better known as "twin"). The soleus runs the entire length of the lower leg, and while critical to leg function, it is difficult to see. The gastrocnemius, however, hangs at the top of the calves, connecting to the knee, and is highly visible when developed. Although seated calf raises work both muscles, they primarily target the gastrocnemius.

How to do seated calf raises?

  • Begin sitting with your back flat and a moderate to heavy dumbbell resting on your thighs, just above the knees.
  • Remaining seated, press through the balls of your feet to raise your heels and dumbbell as high as possible.
  • Pause here for a moment, and then slowly lower your heels back to the floor.

To get even more benefits from your seated calf raises, use a greater range of motion. Follow the previous step with the balls of your feet on a weight plate or a thick book. Begin and end each repetition with your heels on the ground.

How many seated calf raises should you do?

If you're a beginner, you can start by doing this exercise with a light weight for three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions. If you're not sure which dumbbell weight to use, start conservatively – 7 to 5 pounds should do the trick. Calves can easily develop excessive, late-onset muscle soreness, so get an idea of ​​how your body responds before picking up a heavier weight.

As you get stronger, you can increase your reps and start using heavier dumbbells or even weight plates. Three to four sets of 12 to 15 repetitions is an excellent goal when performing seated calf raises for maximum muscle growth.

Benefits of the Seated Calf Raise

Some of the obvious benefits of seated calf raises include increased calf size and strength. And while that obviously changes the way your legs look, it also changes your performance.

With stronger calves, you can improve function in all of your legs, increase running and jumping performance, and reduce the risk of shin and knee injuries. Even daily tasks like walking and climbing stairs become easier.

increased hypertrophy

The calf raise is an isolation movement that targets both calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus). Depending on the calf raise variation (sitting or standing), we'll target one of those muscles more than the other: soleus if the knee is bent, gastrocnemius if standing.

If we are looking to increase muscle size, we will want to train both sitting and standing to ensure balanced muscle development.

More explosiveness

The calves are responsible for ankle plantarflexion, which is the joint action of pushing off the toes to propel yourself forward or upward. This is usually the exact reason stronger, more explosive calves can increase jumping and running abilities.

Although overall lower body strength is also a key factor in both jumping and sprint performance, having stronger calves and training your ankle muscles can have a direct impact on power output.

stronger ankles

Stronger ankles can improve the ability to develop larger calves, improve athletic performance, and keep you training more consistently.

The calves work to support ankle and knee stability, making direct training of these muscles a smart idea for functional fitness athletes, runners, or anyone else who may be susceptible to ankle sprains and injuries.

Seated Calf Raise Variations

Although doing calf raises may seem monotonous and boring, the truth is that there are several modifications that can increase the training stimuli. This will also prevent the muscles from getting used to the same movement.

sitting on machine

Your gym may have a calf raise machine available, which is a great option, too. You can use this tool by placing your feet on the base of the machine and loading plates on the front or sides. Release the lever that holds the weight stationary. Then raise and lower the weight. Be sure to lower your heels as far as you can with each repetition.

barbell raise

A dumbbell isn't just the weight you can use to do seated calf raises without a machine. Try doing the lower leg exercise with a short or long bar across your upper thighs.

Seated Calf Raise Progressions

To make calf raises more difficult, try these easy progressions. They all work free weights and seated on a machine.

Weight gain

Adding more resistance is a sure way to see a further increase in strength. Doing seated calf raises with a loaded barbell is a great way to comfortably increase weight. Place a foam pad or towel under the bar for more comfort.

Pause at the top

Performing isometrics can promote growth by keeping the working muscle (aka: under tension) longer. So, at the top of the movement, try to keep your calf raised for three to four seconds before lowering your heels to the ground.

lose weight slowly

Slowing down the eccentric (lowering) portion of the exercise is another way to increase your time under muscle tension and therefore gain. As you lower your heels to the ground at the end of each repetition, slow the movement down so that it lasts for three to four seconds.

make it one sided

Doing unilateral or one-sided exercises causes fewer muscle imbalances and helps strengthen each side of your body more equally. Try doing all your reps on one leg, then the other, to see which calf is stronger.


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