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Standing calf raises are the go-to exercise to train the gastrocnemius muscle at the back of the calf. Along with the smaller soleus muscle, the calf muscles help you stand, walk, run and jump. Training your calf muscle can give you great looking legs and more power in your lower body, but if you can't do standing raises because of an injury or you're just looking to put variety into your calf routine, you have other options.
Seated Calf Raises
The seated calf raise is an alternative way to isolate the calf muscles, particularly the soleus muscle. Some fitness facilities have plate-loaded seated calf machines, but you can rig one with a weight bench and a barbell. Place a short block or phone book about 12 inches in front of a flat weight bench. When you sit on the bench, put the balls of your feet on the edge of the block and then lie the barbell across your upper thighs approximately 3 to 4 inches above your knees. Stabilize the bar with your hands as you raise your heels so your toes alone are on the block. Contract your calves and slowly lower the heels to complete one repetition. If you do not have a barbell, use dumbbells placed on each leg as an alternative.
Leg Press Machine
You can use the plate-loaded leg press machine or a sled machine to target the gastrocnemius, the muscle most activated by the standing calf raise. Position yourself in the machine with your back pressed into the padding. Hold the handles and with your feet on the plate, extend your legs. Move your toes and balls of your feet at the low portion of the platform, allowing your heels and arches to be off the support. Hold the machine's handles and extend your ankles as far as you can and then return to bent ankles to complete one repetition.
Single Leg Angled Calf Raise
Instead of standing straight up and down, you can support your upper body on a bar as you raise and lower the ankle to create activation in the calf muscles. For the single-leg angled calf raise, place a vertical bar on a rack at hip height. Lean forward and grab the bar with an overhand grip. Move your feet back so your body creates approximately a 50-degree angle with the floor; your arms should be straight. Bend your right knee so all of your weight is in the left ball of the foot. Raise your left heel to move your body forward and up and then lower the foot back down towards being flat on the floor. Do all the repetitions on one side and then repeat on the right side. Lower the bar to decrease the challenge.
Do these moves two to three times per week on nonconsecutive days to strengthen the calves. Start with one set of eight to 12 repetitions using a weight heavy enough to challenge you by the last two or three executions. If no weight is used, as in the single-leg angled calf raise, do a set of 15 to 20 for each leg. After you feel you can do a set of 12 without fatigue, increase the weight by 5 or 10 percent. You can also add a second or third set of each exercise to up the intensity.