Calf exercises are hard to find because many websites ignore calves just like many weight lifters do.
I definitely do not ignore the calves and will give you a huge selection of exercises for your calves.
I will tell you all about the best exercises. This may be the most comprehensive list of calf exercises anywhere.
Remember, if you really want to build a good set of calves, you need to attack them logically and know how to perform all types of calf raises correctly.
With the WLC System, we attack all regions of the lower leg to improve a weakness in the calf area. I explain how to perform calf raises to really build those calves, and the WLC System provides all the muscle building techniques to finally get those calf muscles growing.
Hip Belt Standing Calf Raises
My experience with Hip Belt Standing Calf Raises
These are one of my favorite exercises for calves. I love using the hip belt for these because all of the pressure is taken off of my lower back.
I've had lower back overuse problems in the past from doing too many exercises in a cycle that stress my lower back.
With the hip belt, I can do Standing Calf Raises with no stress to my lower back at all. The WLC method of calf raises extends the time your calves are under load and this also increases the time your lower back would be under load if it were supporting the weight also.
But the hip belt takes the load off the lower back.
The hip belt allows you to keep your mind on your calves throughout a set without any worry of supporting heavy weights on your shoulder and trap areas. After doing this exercise, I haven't gone back to doing calf raises in which the weight is supported by my shoulders.
I lose too much of my focus when doing extremely heavy weights that are placed on my shoulders because the heavy weight starts to stress my lower back after it wears down my shoulders and upper back.
I like to do these in the power rack so I have the rack to hold onto for balance. Using a triceps bar for these is much easier because the bars within the tricep bar will hold the hip belt straps in place and you will not get the bar moving around on you like you may with other types of bars. To get the bar into position, I put the triceps bar on a flat bench and load it with plates.
I strap the hip belt around my waist as tight as possible. I then stand over the loaded triceps bar and fasten the hip belt straps to the bar. I then use my legs and arms to lift the bar off the bench as I walk forward into the power rack. I use an extreme calf block for all my calf exercises due to the increased range of motion.
How to Perform Hip Belt Standing Calf Raises
You will use your hip belt for this calf exercise. Make sure to get a very good stretch at the start of this exercise. From the bottom, you will explode to the top position for a peak contraction.
This is the top position at the peak contraction. You want to make sure you are up on your big toe as far as possible. If you need to lower the weight, then do so because a peak contraction needs to be held for 3 seconds when doing these the WLC way.
Hip Belt Donkey Calf Raises
My experience with Hip Belt Donkey Calf Raises
These are also one of my favorite calf exercises and target the biggest muscle in the calves. Donkey calf raises give a better stretch than standing calf raises and that's why I think they may work slightly better than standing calf raises. I use these as an exercise to help bring someone's calves up as quickly as possible.
The set up to perform these is exactly like Hip Belt Standing Calf Raises except you're going to want to set you up a stable bar in the power rack around the height of your waist, so you'll be able to rest your upper body on the bar as you bend at the waist. You'll also want to set your calf block up further away than normal so you have room to bend over and rest your upper body on the bar.
When performing these, keep your hips back and only use your calves to lift the weight. Remember, 3 second peak contraction, slow negative, 3 second pause at the bottom, and explode to the peak contraction.
How to Perform Hip Belt Donkey Calf Raises
You will use the hip belt for this calf exercise as shown. You'll want to set up a fixed barbell or smith machine bar in your power rack. Use the fixed bar to bend at the waist and use as your anchor.
You want to explode from the bottom position up to the peak contraction on your big toe. Use the WLC method and hold that peak contraction for 3 seconds. Try to get a better peak contraction during the 3 seconds. Lower slowly and hold the bottom stretch for a slow count of 3 also.
Leg Press Calf Raises
My experience with Leg Press Calf Raises
To perform these correctly, you're going to need a leg press where you can place your toes on the bottom edge of the platform. This allows you to get a great stretch and makes this exercise one of the best calf exercises out there.
If the leg press doesn't have a bottom edge to the platform, some will come with a calf block that attaches to the platform. If you have a leg press in your home gym, you could even add your own detachable calf block to your leg press.
When doing these, you're going to want to use your hands to push your knees to help get the weight into position for doing your calf raises. I really want you to emphasize the stretch on these and be careful not to let your toes slip off the edge. You don't want the weight crashing down.
If you have a leg press available to do this exercise, I suggest you choose it as one of your calf exercises. If you're only doing one calf exercise, this should be it if at all possible. If you think about the position your body is in when doing these, it is the same as a donkey calf raise. Work on getting very strong on this exercise and using big weights.
Guaranteed calf growth from the exercise. If you do it right, your calves will be burning.
Standing Barbell Calf Raises
My experience with Standing Barbell Calf Raises
This exercise is a little harder to execute than others due to the balance you must have to perform these. I have a trick for doing these, though! I love to use a manta ray to rest the bar on my shoulder area exactly like I would for a squat.
I let the manta ray balance the bar and I use both arms to balance myself by holding onto the sides of the power rack or squat rack. I've used this method before I purchased my hip belt and it works wonders if you have no other way of doing heavy standing calf raises.
I've done them comfortably with 350 pounds for high reps, so the manta ray really works for balancing the bar and keeping heavy weights comfortable to your shoulder and upper back area.
This is a good exercise and heavy weights can be used. Be careful balancing the bar and yourself as you do these. Make sure you have something to hold onto when doing these. You'll know what I mean if you try these with nothing to hold onto! It will be tough not to fall over.
This exercise allows you to use some of the heaviest weight of any of the calf exercises.
How to Perform Standing Barbell Calf Raises
You'll need a barbell, a manta ray, and a power rack to perfrom these as I do in the image. With a manta ray, you can use your arms to hold onto the power rack. Use your safety spotters in case you lose control. I've never lost control in the years I've used this exercise.
From the full stretch at the bottom position above, you want to explode to the peak contraction as shown to the left. Balancing the bar will provide some extra work for your stabilizer muscles. This exercise will stress your lower back some when the weights get very heavy.
Standing Dumbell Calf Raises
My experience with Standing Dumbell Calf Raises
I actually love these as a calf exercise. I never could find a way to do these without doing them 1 leg at a time. As you may already know, I do not like many exercises that work one side of your body at a time.
So, I knew I could find a way to do these with both legs and be able to balance at the same time. My home gym is in my basement, so I decided to place a stable calf block in front of one of the poles in the basement. I lean slightly back against the pole while performing calf raises.
Of course, I made sure the pole was very stable when I built the house. The bottom of the pole is surrounded by concrete and the top is bolted into a steel bar. If you don't have anything stable to lean against, it is best that you don't try these. One of the sides of your power rack could be used to lean your back against. You just have to experiment.
I also like to use weight lifting wrist straps when doing these because the weight can get tough to hold after the dumbells start to get really heavy. I use wrist straps on many exercises like this because I don't want to take away the concentration I have on my calves. If my grip starts failing, my mind moves to concentrating on holding the dumbells instead of getting my peak contraction and full stretch on each rep.
We are doing calf exercises not grip exercises.
You also need to make sure you have access to large dumbbells if you plan on progressing much in the future. You should always plan to progress, so make sure you have access to large dumbells.
How to Perform Standing Dumbell Calf Raises
As you can see, I've placed the calf block directly in front of one side of my power rack. This way, I can use the power rack to lean slightly against for balance. Use wrist straps to hold heavy dumbells. Get a good stretch in the bottom position.
You'll feel a totally different contraction on this exercise than your other calf raises. Go all the way up on your big toe and exaggerate the motion as much as possibe, which means you should continue to increase the contraction as much as possible for the 3 seconds.
Standing Smith Machine Calf Raises
My experience with Standing Smith Machine Calf Raises
If you have access to a Smith Machine, you can do your standing calf raises with the smith machine. The smith machine takes away the trouble of balancing the bar and allows you to only focus on lifting the weight. You must make sure to get your calf block in the correct position so that you are in the center of the bar.
I also like to use the manta ray to make the weight more comfortable to my shoulder and upper back area.
I like other calf exercises better than this one just because I like to be able to balance the weight. Balancing the weight works the stabilizer muscles and leads to overall better development. But, if the smith machine allows you to lift heavier weight in the future, I think there is a plus to using the smith machine for your calf raises.
I think of the smith machine the same as I do for other calf raise machines with pads on them that rest on your shoulders. I would rather you choose another standing exercise because I think you'll be much happier with your calf development.
How to Perform Standing Smith Machine Calf Raises
Get your smith machine at the correct height and get your calf block positioned in the center. You can use a manta ray on the bar if you'd like or a bar pad. Start the exercise in a full stretch position as shown.
Get a peak contraction at the top position as shown. Really concentrate on getting up on that big toe. You concentrate on the peak contraction and you'll begin your calf growth. Just don't throw the weight around. Control the weight. Explode up from the bottom.
Seated Barbell Calf Raises
My experience with Seated Barbell Calf Raises
All seated calf exercises or calf exercises with your knees bent will work the soleus muscle more than the gastrocs muscle. The gastrocs muscle is worked much more in exercises where there is no bend in the knee. I add seated calf exercises for people who have lagging calves.
These will add a new level of development to your calves.
I love using a barbell to do seated calf raises. I place the barbell at the correct height in the power rack, which is knee height when I am seated on the bench I will be using. I use an adjustable bench in the decline position and sit on the end of the bench where your head usually would be. I position the calf block where
I need it and move the bench into the correct position. I like to use a pad on the bar when using heavy weights. I put my knees under the bar and lift up slightly and away from the power rack just enough to clear the bar holder. I then do my seated calf raises and place the bar back into the bar holder when I am finished. You may want to sit your safety spotter bars below your knees in case you have trouble getting the bar back on the bar holder.
These are one of the best calf exercises for soleus development and you will eventually be able to use very heavy weights on this exercise. Heavy weights make any exercise a great one. Try these if you never have before. The feel of this exercise is much different than any seated calf machine.
How to Perform Seated Barbell Calf Raises
Get a barbell ready in the power rack and placed at the appropriate height. You can use a pad on the barbell if you need one. Unrack the bar and start the calf exercise in the bottom position as shown with a full stretch.
For your seated calf exercises, you need to really squeeze at the top and get up on your big toe as far as possible. See the image to left. Hold that peak contraction for a total of 3 seconds and always try to get a better peak contraction. Lower slowly back to starting position.
Alternating Seated Barbell Calf Raises
My experience with Alternating Seated Barbell Calf Raises
This is the same exercise as above except you will be alternating one leg at a time. You must make sure the weight collars are on very tight because you don't want the weight falling off of the sides of the bar. I had to mention this exercise even though I haven't used it in very many cycles. I have used it in one cycle and absolutely loved it.
The feel of this exercise is different than any calf exercise I've ever done. You will have to cut the weight back and remember you're doing one leg at a time. Give these a try as your seated exercise if your calves are lagging behind! You won't regret it.
Seated Smith Machine Calf Raises
My experience with Seated Smith Machine Calf Raises
I do like using the smith machine for seated calf raises. I seem to be able to concentrate well on getting a peak contraction. I like to use a pad on the bar when using heavy weights to make my legs more comfortable.
Again, I use an adjustable bench in the slight decline position and sit on the end that your head would usually be located at. Make sure you get your calf block in the center of the smith bar. Give these a try if you never have. You may like these better than other seated calf exercises.
Barbell Squat Raises
My experience with Barbell Squat Raises
If you've never done squat raises before, you are missing some serious calf growth. Any variation of these calf exercises will build both the gastrocs muscle and the soleus muscle. Something about this exercise makes me think it is just may be the King of all calf exercises. If you've never done these before, you will want to start with just your body weight.
These are rather easy to learn. All you have to do is squat all the way down on a calf block to start. You will want to get a full stretch at the bottom and then explode all the way up on your big toe for a peak contraction. These can be rather hard at first even with no weight. These will feel much different than any calf exercise you've ever done.
You will feel your entire lower leg region working.
In order to perform these with a weighted barbell, you will have to deadlift the weight and then carefully squat down while placing the barbell on your legs. It would be best to have a partner place the barbell on your lap after you squat down. You don't have to have a partner because I have done these on my own for a long time, but as the weight gets heavier the barbell will be tough to control.
You especially will need someone to get the barbell off of your lap when you are finished unless you have rubber mats that you can just dump the barbell off onto. Please be careful doing this exercise and get you some help if this proves to be tough for you. You've got to try this exercise if your calves are lagging behind!
How to Perform Barbell Squat Raises
These can be done much easier by performing in a power rack as shown. Set your barbell up at the correct height on your safety bars. Get your calf block in position. Ensure you get the est stretch possible at the bottom position.
The bottom position on htis exercise is tough to get a full stretch. You can lean back some to get a better stretch. Experiment with the exercise until you're able to get the best stretch.
This is a tough exercise and getting a peak contraction might be tough at times because you'll want to quit on this exercise due to the lactic acid build up you'll get. Ensure to get that peak contraction on each and every rep. Don't quit on this exercise. It's a very good one!
Dumbbell Squat Raises
My experience with Dumbbell Squat Raises
You will want to squat down on your calf block with a dumbell or dumbells on the floor beside you. Once you are in the squat position on the calf block, you will place the dumbells on your legs around the knee area. If you use one dumbell you might want to place each side of the dumbell on each leg. I like to use hex dumbbells for these because they have flat sides.
If you use two dumbells for more weight, you might want to place them along your legs in the same direction as your legs. Every position will give you a different feel, so experiment and find what feels best to you. I prefer the barbell over dumbells because you can use more weight in the future.
How to Perform Dumbbell Squat Raises
You can perform this one with one dumbell as shown to the left, or you can choose to put a dumbell on each leg as you progress in weight. It may be tough to progress in weight as you get very strong on this one. Large dumbells won't be easy to fit on your thighs or be easy to get them into position.
This is also a tough calf exercise because of the lactic acid build up in your legs. You've got to get up on your big toe and really hold that peak contraction. This exercise is one of the best calf builders out there, so concentrate on that contraction.
Smith Machine Squat Raises
My experience with Smith Machine Squat Raises
The smith machine is great for doing squat raises. You don't have to worry so much about loading the bar onto your legs and dumping it off at the end of the set.
This is my preferred method of doing squat raises because you're able to add so much extra weight without any problems getting the bar into position. You must use a pad on the bar when using heavy weights to make it more comfortable on your legs.
If you don't have a smith machine, you should definitely have a partner to help you if using a barbell.
Reverse Standing Hip Belt Calf Raises
My experience with Reverse Standing Hip Belt Calf Raises
I also like for people with lagging calves to work the front part of their lower leg by doing reverse calf raises. Adding a reverse calf raise as one of your calf exercises will be well worth it. Using the hip belt is one of the best methods for doing so because of the reduced stress to the lower back.
You do these the same as hip belt standing calf raises except you place your heels on the front side of the calf block. You lower your toes all the way to a full stretch and then explode upwards to a peak contraction by trying to bring your toes as far up as possible. I want you to do these in the same style as all other calf raises.
These are one of the best mass builders for the front of your lower leg. Many people don't realize how big the front muscle is on their lower leg. Do these for a WLC cycle or two and you'll start to notice this muscle.
How to Perform Reverse Standing Hip Belt Calf Raises
You'll need your hip belt for this exercise. This time we will put our heels instead of our toes on the edge of the calf block. We will raise our toes on each rep and get a peak contraction through our heels.
It's easy to cheat on this calf exercise and cut the range of motion short. Concentrate on each rep and ensure you are getting the fullest range of motion possible. A full range of motion is very important for all your calf exercises.
Reverse Donkey Hip Belt Calf Raises
My experience with Reverse Donkey Hip Belt Calf Raises
These are exactly the same as Hip Belt Donkey Calf Raises except you will be placing your heels on the front edge of the calf block. You will raise your toes as far up as possible to a peak contraction and then slowly lower to a full stretch.
These have a slightly different feel than the standing reverse type. I actually like the standing ones better and can feel the muscle working much better. But, I have used these with good success in multiple cycles.
How to Perform Reverse Donkey Hip Belt Calf Raises
These are the same as the standing version except we will be bending at the waist for this calf exercise. Same concepts here. Start with the fullest stretch possible in the bottom position. Try to get your toes as low as possible.
I want you to really explode upwards on this exercise and get the best contraction. You'll be able to really feel the contraction on this exercise. Work hard on this one and progress in weight. You'll build those frontal calf muscles.
Reverse Standing Barbell Calf Raises
My experience with Reverse Standing Barbell Calf Raises
This exercise is not my preferred method of doing reverse calf raises simply because it only adds more stress to your lower back. You do not want your calf exercises stressing your lower back. Save that for squats and deadlifts.
If you do not have a hip belt, then try this exercise and use a manta ray so you will be able to use your arms for balance. If you don't have a manta ray, you masy be able to lean the bar against the back of the power rack as you perform your reps. You can always find a way to perform exercises. You may have to get creative but always think safety first.
I used this exercise for year with great results. I had to make sure not to let the weight stress my lower back. It's hard when the weights get heavy because a set of calf raises WLC style last so much longer than other sets.
How to Perform Reverse Standing Barbell Calf Raises
You can use some heavy weight on this exercise, but be careful for your lower back. Start the calf exercise in the full stretch position at the bottom. Your toes should be pushed down as far as possible.
Get a good contraction at the top of this exercise. Make sure to use the power rack and your manta ray squat device. The power rack will help your balance. Also use your safety spotter bars just in case.
Seated Reverse Dumbbell Calf Raises
My experience with Seated Reverse Dumbbell Calf Raises
I really like this exercise and think this is one of the best calf exercises for the front of your lower leg. This exercise consists of sitting and placing your heels on a calf block.
Place the dumbbell or dumbells on your toes in the most comfortable manner. Then do reverse calf raises. This directly stresses the front of your lower leg. I do have a big problem with the exercise, though.
When I started using around 70 pound dumbells on each foot, the dumbells were very hard to hold on my feet without losing them and were becoming very uncomfortable to my feet. So, it is very hard to continue to progress in weight.
My solution was to use a barbell, but read below to find problems with that method. This was a great exercise up until that certian point.
How to Perform Seated Reverse Dumbell Calf Raises
You'll need a bench, a calf block, and a dumbell or two to perform this one. You can use one dumbell or two. You can use two by placing one on each foot placed vertically. These can get tough on your feet as the weight gets heavier.
Hold onto the dumbell or dumbells the entire time. Don't cheat by helping lift the weights. Just use your arms to keep the weight in place. Hold that contraction and make sure to always perform these the WLC way.
Tibia Dorsal Calf Machine
My experience with Tibia Dorsal Calf Machine
This calf machine allows you to load weight onto a machine and perform seated reverse calf raises as one of your calf exercises. I have personally never used this machine, but have continuously thought about purchasing one.
I have not purchased it because it costs a little too much for my taste! I would like to purchase it and try it because I think it would be a great addition, but I'm not sure it allows enough weight to be added for the future.