A calf raise is a strength training exercise one can do to isolate two main muscles in the lower leg: the gastrocnemius and the soleus, both commonly referred to as the calf muscles, which run from the back of the knee to the Achilles tendon. Calf raises typically begin by placing the balls of the feet on a solid surface, with the bridge and heel of the feet hanging off the back. To perform the move, one pushes off the balls of the feet through the calves to raise the heels as high as possible, pausing at the top as the calves contract, and then lowering back down slowly. This exercise can be done with or without machinery, standing or sitting. One may choose to add weights or simply rely on body weight alone.
Most gyms have weight machines specifically for performing a calf raise. To use a standing machine, one balances on the balls of the feet on a raised bar. Two padded bars that may be adjusted for height are supplied on this type of machine. As an individual steps onto the machine, the padded bars are positioned to rest atop both shoulders. Variable weights can be added to increase resistance.
Seated calf raise machines are another common type of weight apparatus. On this machine, an individual sits on the seat provided and rests the balls of the feet on a platform, placing the knees directly under a padded resistance bar. One then pushes against this bar as the heels move through the full range of motion. This machine also typically allows for extra weight to be added. Some users prefer the seated calf raise because they believe it is easier to isolate the calf muscles without relying on the upper legs and shoulders.
One does not, however, need a machine to perform a calf raise. An exercise step such as those used in a step class, a set of stairs, or any solid surface sturdy enough to support one’s body weight may be used. For safety, it may be a good idea to use this equipment near a bar or wall for stability. One may wish to hold dumbbells at his sides to potentially give the calves a harder workout. Calf raises may also be performed focusing on one leg at a time.
Many fitness experts list several cautionary pointers when performing a calf raise. The toes should be kept pointed straight to help prevent injury. If one wishes to isolate the inner or outer calves, he should first take a wider stance, then focus on using only the outer or inner footpads during the exercise. Pausing for two or three seconds at the top of the movement should sufficiently contract the muscles. On the way down, the movement should be controlled rather than sudden. Individuals should straighten, but not lock, the knees; keeping this pointer in mind may help to isolate the calves rather than using the quadriceps and also protect the knees.