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What is a Seated Calf Raise?

By Jessica Gore
Updated May 17, 2024
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The seated calf raise is a resistance training exercise that stimulates the gastrocnemius and soleus. These two muscles are sometimes treated as a single muscle, collectively referred to as the triceps surae or, more informally, as the calves. Usually performed while seated at a specialized machine, the seated calf raise can alternatively be performed with a weighted barbell resting over the knees.

A medium-sized muscle of the posterior lower leg, the gastrocnemius has two heads that are worked by extending the ankle joint. The soleus, located just below the gastrocnemius, also functions in extension of the foot. Additionally, the soleus is thought to play a role in maintaining upright posture and returning venous blood to the heart for reoxygenation.

Bending the knee, as in the seated calf raise, relaxes the gastrocnemius muscle. As a result, while the standing calf raise tends to focus on the gastrocnemius, the seated calf raise generally delivers more stress to the soleus. To achieve a balanced calf workout, then, both variations of the movement should be included in the rotation.

Some experts contend that stretching the calf muscles before performing the seated calf raise will maximize the effects of the exercise. The theory is that increasing the range of motion will allow the fullest degree of muscle fiber stimulation, which will, in turn, contribute to gains in muscular size and strength. To do this, the muscle must first be warmed up during a brief session of cardiovascular exercise or unweighted standing calf raises. The calves can then be stretched by standing on an elevated surface such as a step or block, and leaning forward to reduce the angle between the shin and the top of the foot.

Before beginning the exercise, it should be determined that the machine is a good fit. The knee pad should rest on the lower thighs and on the knees themselves, and the toes should sit in a relaxed and comfortable position on the toe pad. Many calf raise machines have adaptable settings to ensure proper alignment, and it is usually better to adjust them at the start of the workout then halfway through a set.

Once comfortable, the athlete can begin the seated calf raise by extending the feet and pointing the toes. The top position of the exercise can be held for a brief, conscious contraction. The feet are then slowly flexed so that the toes point slightly upward and the heels dip down toward the floor. There should be a light stretch felt in the calf at the bottom position of the exercise.

Many professionals like to use a high number of repetitions per workout set when exercising the calves, the rationale being that the calf muscles respond best to endurance exercises. The soleus, particularly, seems to generally have a higher concentration of slow twitch muscle fibers than other muscles. Ultimately, this is a personal preference and some experimentation might be required to find a combination of weight and repetitions that will work best on an individual basis.

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