Calf raises are a lower leg exercise that strengthens the calves and the muscles around the ankle. Our calf muscle is made up of two muscles, explains Jonathan Tylicki, a master trainer and director of education at AKT. “The main muscle of the calf is the gastrocnemius, which is the most superficial ‘meaty’ part of the calf and controls flexion of the foot as well as flexion of the knee.
Calf raises stretch and flex the calf and are best performed with a full range of motion, adds Mike Thomson, a certified personal trainer and running coach at Life Time Overland Park. There are many variations to try: You can do them with a straight or bent knee, with equipment—using dumbbells, a leg press machine, a standing calf machine, a seated calf raise machine, or a step—or without.
What Are the Benefits of Calf Raises?
Training your calves is important because of the wide use of those muscles, including during walking, running, jumping, and moving your body during functional movements. “Your calves are an extremely powerful and tough muscle group that propels you forward and raises your entire body many times a day when you walk,” says Batt. “Training your calves is particularly important to build calf strength, endurance, and explosiveness. It’s great for improving ankle stability and overall balance. Calf raises are also excellent for stretching the plantar muscles of the foot and making it more supple.”
Beyond the calf muscles, the benefits of calf raises carry over to other parts of your leg. If done correctly, you could have a more resilient Achilles tendon, says Thomson. And they can also help strengthen the smaller muscles around the ankle and knee joint, says Tylicki.
Most people are safe to do calf raises, unless they have a calf or ankle injury. However, “calf raises and strengthening the balance muscles around the ankle are extremely important to prevent injury,” says Tylicki. “Having strong calves also helps the body execute plyometric and power exercises properly, as the main muscle that initially absorbs impact from the landing is the calves.”