Seated calf raise is among the best exercise to add thickness to the calves. However, it’s possible that you are looking to add variety or don’t have access to the seated calf raise machine. This article will cover the best seated calf raise substitutes to beef up your skinny calves. 

The calf refers to the posterior portion of the lower leg. The calf comprises two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Seated calf raise is a staple exercise in almost every leg training program. It has been known to efficiently hone in on the soleus muscles — a muscle responsible for adding thickness and width to the calves. 

However, doing the same exercise for a very long period can lead to a plateau and stalled growth. Making it essential to introduce some variety to the training. 

This article will provide you with some excellent seated calf raise alternatives and essential calves training techniques. But before that, it’s necessary to understand the muscles and biomechanics involved. 

Seated Calf Raise — Muscles Worked

Ankle plantarflexion (pointing your toes down) is the primary joint movement involved while the calve raises. Seated calf raises target the following muscle groups. 

1. Gastrocnemius

The gastrocnemius is a large superficial muscle located at the posterior side of the lower leg, just above the soleus muscle. This is the biarticular (two-joint) muscle that runs from the back of the knee to the heel. It is responsible for plantarflexion and knee flexion (leg curls). 

Strengthening this muscle can help improve athletic performance, reduce the risk of injury, and contribute to overall lower body strength and stability.

The gastrocnemius contains about 50 percent slow twitch fibers, meaning it responds well to the mix of training intensity. It makes sense to dedicate one training day for high volume and another for heavy training.  

2. Soleus

It is a large muscle located underneath the gastrocnemius. It runs from just below the knee to the heel of the foot and is one of the major muscles of the calf. Soleus only crosses the ankle joint making it more active while the bent leg calf raises. 

The soleus comprises about 80-90 percent Type-1 (slow-twitch) muscle fibers, making it respond well to high-volume training. Together with the gastrocnemius muscle, it helps with daily activities like walking or running.

What Makes a Great Seated Calf Raise Alternative

The seated calf raise is considered a quintessential exercise to hone in on the soleus muscle, owing to its unique ability to recruit this muscle throughout its entire dynamic range of motion with a high degree of precision. Another reason behind the success of seated calf raise is its scalability and convenience. 

However, seated calf raise is not the only way to target the soleus. Regardless of knee positioning, both calf muscles will be active anytime you plantarflex. 

Basically, any exercise that focuses on the planter flexion can be deemed as a legitimate seated calf raise alternative. 

9 Seated Calf Raise Alternatives

Transform your calves into a bull with these calf raise alternatives.  

1. Dumbbell Seated Calf Raise

An excellent alternative when you don’t have access to the seated calf raise machine. All you need to do is get into a seated position, place a heavy dumbbell on the top of your thigh, and do some calf raises. 

It’s true that you won’t be able to overload your calves like the seated raise machine — but you don’t really need to do that. As we studied earlier, the soleus muscle comprises mostly of ‘slow-twitch’ muscle fibers that respond well to high-volume training. 


  1. Sit on a bench with your feet flat on the ground and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Place the balls of your feet on an elevated surface, such as a bumper plate.
  3. Toes should be pointed forward and feet shoulder-width apart.
  4. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting them on top of your thighs.
  5. Slowly raise your heels off the ground by contracting your calf muscles.
  6. Pause at the top, then slowly lower your heels back down to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

2. Standing Calf Raise Machine

Contrary to many people’s belief, a standing calf raise machine isn’t just for gastrocnemius, it will train the soleus too. What I personally love about the standing calf raise machine is its scalability. It allows you to train light or heavy with ease. The standing calf raise machine is also great for drop sets as it allows you to drop the load pretty easily. 

When you are trying to hit the soleus, make sure you focus on high reps and the full range of motion. Use the smith machine if your gym doesn’t have a dedicated machine for standing calf raises. 


  1. Adjust the machine’s seat to the appropriate height and place your shoulders under the pads.
  2. Position the ball of your feet on the foot platform with your heels hanging off the edge.
  3. Slowly raise your heels off the platform by extending your ankles.
  4. Pause at the top, then slowly lower your heels back down to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

3. Single-Leg Calf Raises

Single-leg calf raises are quite underappreciated, but it has got the potential to trigger muscle hypertrophy. Single leg raise is a perfect solution for people who train at home. 

When you go single leg, you are actually doubling up the resistance, compared to the standard leg raise. Furthermore, you are adding a balancing element to the exercise, which increase muscle recruitment. 

Want to completely annihilate the calves? Do ten reps of single leg raise and then alternate the leg. With no rest, keep on alternating legs until you can’t do a single rep.


  1. Stand on a bumper plate or any other elevated surface on one leg.
  2. Hold on to something for balance and stability.
  3. Raise your heels off the ground by contracting your calf muscles.
  4. Pause at the top, then slowly lower your heels back down to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps before switching legs.

4. Donkey Calf Raise

Donkey calf raise was a staple in the old-school bodybuilding routine but somehow lost its popularity in the modern era. It may be the most underutilized exercise that you would rarely see people doing, but that doesnt reduce its effectiveness. 

What’s so special about the donkey calf raise? The quality of ‘muscle stretch’ is the true benefit of this movement. As you add a hip hinge to the standing calf raise, you are promoting deeper stretch and greater muscle damage.

Keep the knees slightly bent to increase soleus engagement.


  1. Stand with your toes on a block or a raised surface and your heels hanging off the edge. You can also use a specialized machine designed for this exercise.
  2. Hinge forward at the hip joint and place your hands on a stable surface (bench).
  3. Slowly raise your heels off the ground by contracting your calf muscles. Keep your knees straight.
  4. Pause at the top, then slowly lower your heels back down to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

5. Leg Press Raise

Leg press machine staple in almost every gym, and you can hit those calves really hard. The best part, you can train your calves with tons of overload. 

Leg press raises will feel the donkey calf raise as it keeps you in a hip hinge position — exaggerating the stretch on the calves. 

The leg press machine puts your spine in a very comfortable position, allowing you to completely focus on the target muscle squeeze and stretch. It also allows you to perform the movement with bent knees for greater soleus activation. 

I personally love to perform a few reps with straight legs and then a few reps with bent knees. 


  1. Position yourself on the backrest of the leg press machine with the balls of your feet on the footplate, allowing your heels to hang off the edge.
  2. Push the footplate away from you by extending your knees, and lifting the weight stack.
  3. Once your legs are fully extended, lift your heels by pushing the balls of your feet into the footplate.
  4. Pause at the top, then slowly lower your heels back down.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

6. Tip Toe Farmers Walk

Personally, I am a big fan of the farmer’s walk and its variations. It’s an excellent functional movement that provides a full-body workout to all the significant muscle groups in the body, including the legs, glutes, back, erector spinae, shoulders, core, chest, and arms. 

Tip toe farmers walk is a variation in which you grab a pair of dumbbells, get on the tip toe, and walk for the set distance. It is an excellent isometric calf exercise that adds strength and stability to the calves and their adjacent muscle groups.


  1. Grab a pair of moderate-weight dumbbells or kettlebells with both hands.
  2. Stand straight, with hands fully extended to the side.
  3. Keep your core braced and your shoulder blades retracted.
  4. Get on your tip toes, and walk for the desired distance.

7. Squat Hold Calf Raises

Want to focus more on soleus development? Squat hold calf raise is the variation for you. This exercise puts you in a seated calf raises position and reduces the role of the gastrocnemius. 

You don’t really need to go heavy with the squat hold calf raises, and attempt for maximum reps.


  1. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your toes pointed forward.
  2. Bend your knees and push your hips back to lower your body into a squatting position.
  3. Hold the squat position with your thighs parallel to the ground and your back straight.
  4. Rise up onto the balls of your feet, lifting your heels off the ground, and squeezing your calf muscles.
  5. Slowly lower your heels back down to the ground.
  6. Repeat the calf raises for the desired number of reps.

8. Jump Rope

People who jump rope regularly have stronger and well-defined calves. Calves are considered stubborn muscles because they are evolved to function in high volumes, making your three-four sets insignificant for growth. 

90% of the soleus muscle comprises slow twitch muscle fibers, and more than 50% of the gastrocnemius consists of slow twitch fibers. Meaning: you need to train them with high volumes, or you will be leaving considerable gains on the table. 


  1. Choose the suitable rope – It should be the right length, long enough to reach your armpits with the handles when you stand in the middle of the rope.
  2. Stand up straight and put the rope behind your heels.
  3. Grasp the handles and swing the rope over your head, forward, and over your body, so it passes under your feet as you jump.
  4. Jump just high enough to clear the rope and land on the balls of your feet.
  5. Land softly on the balls of your feet, keeping your knees slightly bent.
  6. Repeat for the desired duration or jumps.

9. Low Stair Jumps

Jump ropes can be pretty boring and can take a long time to master. Let me present you an exercise that does not require you to be good with the jump ropes — Yeah, the low stair jump is the one. 

Find an elevated surface and start jumping back and forth. Once you get better at it, you can increase the height of the surface or jump with lightweight dumbbells. Low stair jumps enhance your reactive speed and help you with your ability to jump or run. 


  1. Stand in front of a staircase or a stepper.
  2. Jump up to land on the elevated surface. Land softly on the balls of the feet.
  3. Jump down to get back into the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired reps or duration. 

5 Mistakes That Are Blocking Calve Growth

It’s true that some muscle groups are very responsive to resistance training, and some are not, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t grow the unresponsive muscle groups at all. Building a huge set of calves requires attention to detail. Let’s look at common mistakes that might be blocking your calve growth. 

1. Lack of Volume

How many exercises do you really dedicate to the calves? Most people are not doing more than two exercises. You need to boost the workout volume if you are serious about calf development.  

Solution: Calve training doesn’t require sophisticated pieces of equipment. Aim to train calves three-four times a week. Undulate the intensity between heavy, moderate, and lightweight. Training the muscle more often is the simplest way to increase the training volume without dedicating a separate day.  

2. Lack of Prioritize 

Most people train their calves at the end of a hectic leg day, it’s the same as training the rear delts after full-blown shoulders days — you simply don’t have enough fuel left to give your best. 

If you really want to spur some new growth in the calves, it’s time to pair it with upper body movements like chest, back, or arms. 

3. Tempo and Range of Motion 

Especially the novice lifters, training calve is all about blasting through the reps at warp speed. Rushing through the reps might help you train with heavier weights, but it’s not making the muscle work hard. 

Ruching through the reps allows the ‘Achilles tendon’ tendon to take over the movement. The Achilles tendon is a powerful tendon that joins your calf muscles to your heel bone. 

Keeping the tempo controlled and pursuing the full range of motion improves the calve muscle engagement and stimulate new growth. 

Pro tip: next time you do the calf raise, take a two-second pause at the bottom (full stretch) of movement. This will prevent the elasticity of the Achilles tendon to do the lifting for you.   

4. Using Too Much Weight

A large portion of calve muscle consists of slow-twitch muscle fibers that are better stimulated with higher volumes. Furthermore, heavy training will encourage you to do cheat reps. 

5. Limiting the Rep Range

Conventional bodybuilding wisdom says that you should perform 10-12 reps to maximize muscle growth. This is certainly not true with the calves. 

Calves are built to work at high volumes, and you should do as many reps as possible. I personally love to train calves at the rep range between 20-25 per set. Furthermore, introduce drop sets to completely annihilate the muscle fibers and induce growth. 

Wrapping Up

Calves are considered one of the most stubborn muscle groups that doesnt seem to grow as per our expectation. Many bodybuilding enthusiasts live in denial mode and often blame bad genetics for their underdeveloped calves. Blaming bad genetics is a poor excuse because you can make the same argument with other body parts, whether the arms, chest, shoulders, or legs. There is always some share of genetics involved, but we still work hard to make them grow. 

In order to see visible results, make sure you avoid common mistakes and undulate the training intensity.