How to Do Standing Calf Raises

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Targets: Calves (gastrocnemius and soleus)

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells

Level: Beginner

The calves are often ignored when it comes to weight training, but they’re an instrumental part of daily life—from walking and running to jumping and reaching. For sedentary and lightly active people, calf muscles can be overactive (tight) due to a lack of flexibility training. To avoid exacerbating the issue, it’s important to remember to stretch or foam roll both before and after training.

With proper stretching, standing calf raises can be a beneficial part of regular strength training. Strong calf muscles contribute to overall stability, reduce stress on the Achilles tendon, and give the lower leg a defined appearance.

Benefits

Standing calf raises activate the two muscles that run down the back of the lower leg: the gastrocnemius and soleus. These muscles are integral in ankle flexion and extension, propelling running and jumping. The gastrocnemius also works in tandem with hamstrings to control knee flexion, while the soleus maintains proper balance and pumps blood from your leg back up to your heart. When weak, the calf muscles more easily cramp, strain, and even tear, making walking and running difficult. 

Calf raises are an easy, low-impact method for strengthening the gastrocnemius and soleus. Strong calf muscles result in better stability and balance, decreased risk of ankle and knee injuries, and better agility when running and jumping. Once strengthened, the fast-twitch muscle fibers of the gastrocnemius allow more rapid, explosive movement, making this a great exercise for amateurs and athletes alike.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Standing calf raises are an easy exercise to perform at home, at the gym, or when traveling. Use dumbbells, kettlebells, or even gallons of milk to add weight to your raises. 

  1. Hold weights of the same size at your sides with your arms slack.
  2. Spread feet shoulder-width apart, then slowly raise your heels, keeping your knees extended (but not locked). Pause for one second.
  3. Slowly lower your heels back to the ground. 
  4. Repeat 10-30 times.
standing calf raises
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Common Mistakes

Calf raises may seem simple enough, but there are still a few common mistakes to be made.

Forgetting to Stretch

Stretching is perhaps the most important component of calf exercises as it prevents cramping and reduced flexibility. Spending five to 10 minutes stretching before weight training is always recommended.

Going Too Fast

A controlled tempo is necessary to see the full benefits of standing calf raises. Performing the movement too quickly isn’t effective—it’s best to raise and lower your heels slowly to see increased strength and aesthetic improvement. 

Folding Forward

To stay properly balanced while performing calf raises, keep your chest up and stand tall. Leaning too far forward redistributes both your own body weight and the weight of your dumbbells, which can cause back pain and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.

Too Few Reps

Because standing calf raises are an isolated exercise with a small range of motion, it’s recommended to perform a higher number of repetitions to maximize the move. The sweet spot on reps depends on the amount of weight you’re using, but between 10 and 30 is a good place to start.

Rotating Feet

Turning your feet in or out while performing calf raises isn’t necessarily wrong, but it does target different muscles. For an overall calf workout, keep your toes pointing straight forward.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

To make calf raises easier, try performing them without weights and/or hold on to a chair or the wall to help stabilize yourself. You can also perform calf raises seated, although this method only works the soleus muscle. Grip dumbbells and set them just below your knees, then lift your heels the same way you would for a standing calf raise.

Up for a Challenge?

If you’re ready to take this move to the next level, try increasing the weight or using a barbell instead. You can also increase the range of motion by using a step or stair to allow your heels to drop further into the eccentric part of the exercise. Lastly, a challenging way to progress this motion is by doing box jumps—using only the muscles in your calves, jump onto a very short step (2 inches is a good place to start). Step back down and repeat. 

Safety and Precautions

Calf raises are generally safe for all populations, but if you’ve recently endured a lower-body injury, talk to your doctor before performing this exercise.

To prevent injury, focus on moving slowly, keeping a soft bend in the knees, and pushing shoulders back to prevent rounding in the back. If you experience pain, stop the exercise and consult your doctor. 

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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