How to Do Standing Calf Raises: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Targets: Calf muscles

Equipment Needed: Exercise or yoga mat (optional)

Level: Beginner

The calves are often ignored when it comes to weight training, but they’re an instrumental part of many activities—from walking and running to jumping and reaching. Add standing calf raises to your lower body workout to make all of these actions easier.

How to Do a Standing Calf Raise

woman doing standing calf raise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Stand on an exercise or yoga mat with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward. If you don't have a mat, you can perform standing calf raises on the floor. Keep your back straight, shoulders back and down, and abs pulled in.

  1. Raise your heels slowly, keeping your knees extended (but not locked).
  2. Pause for one second when you're standing as much on the tips of your toes as you can.
  3. Lower your heels back to the ground, returning to the starting position. 

Because they don't require weights or other equipment, standing calf raises are an easy exercise to perform at home, at the gym, and when traveling.

Benefits of Standing Calf Raises

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 the 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 strain and tear more easily.

Calf raises are an easy, low-impact method for strengthening the gastrocnemius and soleus. Strong, flexible calf muscles result in better stability and balance, decreased risk of foot and ankle 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. The ability to do calf raises can also indicate an older person's ability to engage in activities of daily living.

Strong calf muscles contribute to overall stability, reduce stress on the Achilles tendon, and give the lower leg a defined appearance.

Other Variations of the Standing Calf Raise

You can perform this exercise in a few different ways to better meet your fitness level and goals.

Seated Calf Raise

Performing seated calf raises only works the soleus muscle (which sits underneath the gastrocnemius muscle). However, this is a good option for people who find it difficult to stay balanced when standing.

Sit in a chair with your back straight, shoulders back and down, core engaged, and feet flat on the ground. Push down on the balls of your feet while lifting your heels off the ground. You can do both heels together or one at a time.

woman performing seated calf raises

 Ben Goldstein / Verywell

Assisted Standing Calf Raise

If you find it hard to keep your balance while doing standing calf raises, you can also perform this exercise while holding on to a chair back or the wall to help stabilize yourself. Follow the same steps; just use one or both arms to hold the chair or wall.

Changing Foot Position

Modifying the way you place your feet changes the muscles worked. Turn the toes inward slightly and you'll work the inner calf muscles more; turn them outward slightly and you place more tension on the outer calf muscles.

Standing Calf Raise on a Step

You can increase the range of motion of the calf raise by doing it on a step or stair. This allows your heels to drop down further during the eccentric portion of the exercise.

To do it, stand with the balls of your feet on the step or stair, push your heels up as far as you can, then lower them slowly until your heels are just below the top of the step or stair. Once you feel a good stretch in your calf muscles (stretch, not pain), return to the starting position.

Standing Calf Raise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Dumbbell Standing Calf Raise

Use dumbbells, kettlebells, or even gallons of water to add weight to your raises. This can help you build strength in your calves as they work harder to lift the additional weight. Hold the weights at your side during this movement with your arms slack.

If you’re ready to take this calf raise variation to the next level, try increasing the weight or using a barbell instead.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these mistakes to keep your standing calf raises safe and effective.

Not Stretching Beforehand

Stretching is perhaps the most important component of calf exercises as it prevents exercise-related cramping and reduced flexibility. Spend five to 10 minutes stretching your calves before training to avoid these issues.

Going Too Fast

Control the tempo of the exercise to see the full benefits of standing calf raises. Performing the movement too quickly isn’t as effective–at least in the beginning. It’s best to raise and lower your heels slowly to see increased strength and aesthetic improvement. 

Once you've mastered calf raises, you can perform them with more power and force to gain maximum benefits from this exercise.

Folding Forward

To stay properly balanced while performing calf raises, keep your chest up and stand tall. Leaning too far forward redistributes your body weight (and the weight of your dumbbells, if you're using them), which can cause back pain and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.

Too Few Reps

Because standing calf raises are an isolation exercise with a small range of motion, it’s better 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 (if any), but between 10 and 30 is a good place to start.

Safety and Precautions

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

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

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 stretch or foam roll both before and after training.

With proper stretching, standing calf raises can be a beneficial part of a regular strength training routine. Do this exercise 10 to 30 times, starting at the lower end of this range and working your way to the higher end as your calves become stronger.

Try It Out

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

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Article Sources
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