Often overlooked as a necessity to many, the calves are an essential component in building stronger and more proportional looking legs. Formally called the gastrocnemius, the calf muscle is located on the back of your leg between your knee and ankle.
The calf muscle has two heads called the medial head and the lateral head–diametrically opposed to the gastrocnemius and soleus. This muscle is primarily responsible for the plantar flexion of the ankle and the flexion of the knee. There's another muscle that's often mislabeled as being part of the calf muscle and that's the soleus. This muscle is located outside of the gastrocnemius, also assists in the plantar flexion of the ankle, and plays a significant role in most calf exercises.
Seated Calf Raise
The seated calf raise works both the calf muscle and the soleus. To begin, sit on the machine and place your feet on the platform below. Make sure only your toes are on the foot platform while your heels are hanging off. There's an adjustable thigh pad that needs to be lowered until it's firmly positioned against your thighs. On top of the thigh pad there are two hand grips to hold on to while performing the exercise.
Once you are properly positioned, push up on your toes so the weighted lever is lifted off its rack. Then reach down to the side of you and pull the safety lever so that the rack is moved out of the way. Now slowly lower your heels as you begin to feel the weight on your calves as they become fully stretched. Next, push up on your toes as high as you can go and briefly pause at the top before returning back down. Repeat this movement for the desired amount of sets and repetitions.
Once finished, push up on your toes and then pull the safety lever back into its original position so you can rack the weight. Make sure you keep the movement slow and under control. Do not perform the repetitions at a fast pace as it could lead to ankle or calf injuries.
Standing Calf Raise
Standing calf raises have a few variations but the most standard method of this exercise is using a standing calf raise machine. Adjust the shoulder pads to compensate for your height. Step up onto the foot stand with your toes and the balls of your feet on the foot stand, leaving your heels hanging off. Make sure your shoulders are firmly placed under the shoulder pads, your torso is straight and your knees have a slight bend.
To begin, push upward on your toes and momentarily pause at the top of your movement. Slowly return the weight down until your heels are hanging off the foot stand. Repeat this movement for the desired amount of sets and repetitions. Always keep the weight under control throughout the entire movement. Never lock your knees during this exercise as it could lead to injury. If you suffer any lower back pain then choose another calf exercise as this one places significant pressure on the lower back.
Dumbbells and barbells can be used instead of the machine for standing calf raises. The movement is performed the same but you have to find an elevated foot stand or an aerobics step to allow for your heels to hang off.
Leg Press Calf Raise
The leg press calf raise involves the usage of a standard leg pres machine in which you push upward at a 45 degree angle. This exercise can be done with one leg or both legs. To begin, sit in the machine with your back and head against the back rest. Your upper body should make a 90-degree angle with your legs as you position sit down. Next, place your toes and the balls of your feet at the bottom of the foot platform. Push the weight up with your toes and release the safety levers which will place all of the weight on your feet and legs. Do not lock out your knees when pushing the foot platform as this could lead to possible knee injuries.
Slowly lower the weight until your heels are lowered and your ankles are bent. You will feel a significant stretch on the calves at this point. Repeat this movement for the desired amount of sets and repetitions. Always keep the weight under control as you slowly perform the exercise.