The calves have a reputation for being the hardest muscles to grow. But dedicated training, including seated calf raises, can help you build strong, powerful calves.
- What Are Seated Calf Raises? They're heel-lift exercises in which you sit down and raise a weight using your calves.
- Seated Calf Raise Muscles Worked: Your calves actually contain two separate muscles: the soleus and the gastrocnemius ("gastroc" for short). The soleus runs the entire length of the lower leg and, while critical to leg function, is hard to see. The gastroc, however, hangs out at the top of the calves, connects to the knee and is very visible when developed. While seated calf raises work both the soleus and gastroc, they primarily target the gastroc.
- Who Can Do Seated Calf Raises? Anyone that's free of lower-body injury can do this exercise.
- Can You Do Seated Calf Raises at Home? Absolutely! You can do at-home seated calf raises without a machine using a dumbbell, barbell or any weighted object.
Ready to give your calves the attention they deserve? Here's everything you need to know about seated calf raises.
How to Do a Seated Calf Raise
Wanted to learn how to do seated calf raises in the most effective way possible? Follow these step-by-step instructions from New York-based certified personal trainer Carolina Araujo, CPT, to improve your seated calf raise form.
Seated Calf Raise
- Begin seated with a flat back and a moderate or heavy dumbbell resting across your thighs, just above your knees.
- Remaining seated, press through the balls of your feet to raise your heels and the dumbbell as high as possible.
- Pause here for a moment then slowly lower your heels back to the floor.
To get even more from your seated calf raises, use a greater range of motion, Araujo says. Follow the above step with the balls of your feet on top of a weight plate or thick book. Start and end each rep with your heels on the floor.
How Many Seated Calf Raises Should You Do?
"If you're a beginner, you can start by doing this exercise with a low weight for three sets of 10 to 12 reps," Araujo says. If you're not sure of which dumbbell weight to use, start conservatively — 15 to 20 pounds should do the trick. Calves can easily get excessive delayed-onset muscle soreness, so get a feel for how your body responds before grabbing a heavier weight.
As you get stronger, you can increase your reps and start to use heavier dumbbells or even weight plates, depending on what you have available. Three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps is an excellent goal when performing seated calf raises for maximal muscle growth, she says.
Seated Calf Raise Benefits
Some of the obvious benefits of seated calf raises include increased calf strength and size. And while that obviously changes how your legs look, it also changes how they perform, Araujo says.
With stronger calves, you can improve your entire legs' function, up your running and jumping performance and reduce your risk of shin and knee injuries. Even day-to-day tasks such as walking and climbing stairs become easier, she says.
Seated Calf Raise Variations
Seated Calf Raise Machine
Your gym may have a seated 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 onto the front or sides. Release the lever that keeps the weight stationary. Then raise and lower the weight as described in the above steps. Make sure to lower your heels as far as comfortable with each rep.
Barbell Seated Calf Raise
A dumbbell isn't the only free weight you can use at home to perform seated calf raises without a machine. Try doing the lower-leg exercise with a short or long barbell across the tops of your thighs.
Seated Calf Raise Progressions
To make seated calf raises more difficult, try these simple progressions. They all work with both free-weight and machine seated calf raises.
Adding more resistance is a surefire way to see more strength gain from your calf raises, Araujo says. Doing seated calf raises with a loaded barbell (always secure plates with safety clips), is a great way to comfortably increase weights. Place a foam pad or towel under the barbell for extra cushion.
Pause at the Top
Performing isometric holds can promote growth by keeping the muscle working (aka: under tension) longer, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). So, at the top of the motion, try holding the calf raise for three to four seconds before lowering your heels back to the floor.
Lower the Weight Slowly
Slowing down the eccentric (lowering) part of the exercise is another way to increase your time under tension and therefore gain muscle, per the ACE. When you lower your heels to the floor at the end of each rep, slow down the motion to last three to four seconds.
Make Them Unilateral
Unilateral or one-sided exercises address muscle imbalances and help strengthen each side of your body more equally, according to the ACE. Try performing all of your reps on one leg, followed by the other, to see which calf is stronger