Dumbbell Standing Calf Raise

For most of us, calves are those annoying muscles at the back of our legs that we can’t quite seem to grow. Some of us blame our genetics, while others just don’t train our legs.

Whatever your calf size, there’s no denying the power of strong calves. They support our bodies and help support our daily movements.

The dumbbell standing calf raise forms an essential part of the calf-building formula. In this article, we’ve given you everything you need to start growing your calves!

How To Do

  1. Start by grabbing a suitable pair of dumbbells and find a raised surface. You can use a step, plate, or plyometric box. 
  2. Hold the dumbbells with your palms facing the outside of your thighs and step onto the raised platform.
  3. Make sure the balls of your feet are on the edge with your heels hanging off. This is your starting position. 
  4. Stand upright with the dumbbells at your sides. Take a deep breath in and engage your core. 
  5. With your knees fully extended, press the balls of your feet into the ground. Lift both heels as high as you can while keeping your legs straight.
  6. When you reach the top position, pause briefly and squeeze both calves.
  7. Slowly lower back down to the starting position. At the same time, take a slow breath out. 

If your grip becomes a limiting factor, use a pair of lifting straps. Wrap them around the dumbbells and your hands before stepping onto the raised platform.

Tips From Expert

  • Don’t use momentum to bounce through the calf raises. Use a slow and controlled tempo to maximize your time under tension.
  • Ensure you use the full range of motion. Go as high as you can onto the balls of your feet, then lower down under control. 
  • Prioritize a good mind-muscle connection over the amount of weight. Focus on activating your calf muscles using a lighter weight. 
  • Ensure you train your calves at a similar frequency to the rest of your body. As they are used more frequently, you may be able to train them more often.

Optimal Sets and Reps

The programming table below can help you determine the correct number of sets and reps for your workout goals.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 3–5 4–6
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–10
Endurance Training 3–4 12–20
Power Training 3–5 1–3

How to Put in Your Workout Split

The dumbbell standing calf raise is a functional lower-body movement that targets your two main calf muscles; the gastrocnemius and the soleus. This exercise should be programmed on your leg day because it isolates the calf muscles.

  • Upper/Lower — Program it as part of your lower body session. As an isolation exercise, it can go toward the end of your session.  
  • Full-Body — When performed as part of a full-body workout, program it near the end after your compound movements. These are movements that require multiple muscle groups to be performed correctly. 
  • Bro Split — When performed as part of a bro-split, integrate this exercise whenever you want. Ideally, it can be with another lower-body muscle, such as your hamstrings. 

The correct exercise intensity largely depends on your training focus. Use the guide below to get a general idea of the different intensities. To help you better understand, your one repetition max (1RM) is the maximum weight you can lift for one repetition.

  • Strength Training — 80%–100% of your 1RM.
  • Hypertrophy Training — 60%–80% of your 1RM.
  • Endurance Training — 40%–60% of your 1RM.
  • Power Training — 80%–100% of your 1RM.

Use the loading recommendations above as a guide when programming the dumbbell standing calf raises.

Primary Muscle Groups

Gastrocnemius

Muscles located at the back of your lower leg and consists of your calf. Starts just behind your knee and extends to your ankle.

Soleus

Muscles located behind your gastrocnemius sitting slightly deeper. Runs down your leg and connects with the gastrocnemius to make your Achilles tendon.

Gastrocnemius

Your calf muscles consist of two main muscle groups located at the back of your lower legs; your gastrocnemius and soleus.

Your gastrocnemius is the most superficial and largest muscle group of the calf. It crosses your knee and ankle joints, making it essential for several functions. It’s also the primary plantar flexor, which is the movement you do when you stand up high on your toes. 

During the dumbbell standing calf raises, your gastrocnemius raises your heels. It’s the primary muscle responsible for lifting you from the balls of your feet. 

The dumbbell standing calf raise is an excellent exercise to target and build the gastrocnemius muscle.

Soleus 

Your soleus muscle is underneath your gastrocnemius and lower at the back of your leg. Although it’s also a primary mover, it’s much smaller and less visible. Your soleus only crosses your ankle joint. Because of this, its primary role is pointing your foot down when your knee is bent. 

When you lift your heels in the dumbbell standing calf raise exercise, your soleus, and gastrocnemius activate. However, if you were to bend your knees slightly, this would target more specifically the soleus.

The soleus contains a large proportion of slow-twitch fibers, making it essential for movements requiring sustained effort. More specifically, these are movements that push the foot away from the ground, such as walking or running.  

Alongside your gastrocnemius, your soleus is a primary mover in the dumbbell standing calf raise exercise. This exercise helps build muscle and strength in your soleus. This becomes even more targeted when the knees are slightly bent.

Equipment

Dumbbells

Aerobic Stepper

Dumbbells

You can use these for a wide range of unilateral and bilateral exercises. Avoid using momentum to lift. Ensure a secure grip to prevent drops.

Aerobic Stepper

This piece of equipment helps you to build strength and conditioning and develop functional fitness. Ensure the step is set up correctly.

Alternatives

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the different equipment.

Bodyweight Calf Raises

High Knees

Jump Rope

Standing Calf Stretch

Who Should Do?

Bodybuilders

As a bodybuilder, your main goal is to build an impressive physique from head to toe. This includes the often neglected calf muscles.

A pair of well-rounded calves is visually pleasing when viewed alongside a well-developed physique. They improve the overall flow of a person’s physique and provide function for the main bodybuilding lifts.

Your bigger muscle groups tend to need 48 hours of rest interval between sessions. 

Olympic Lifters

When performing any Olympic movement, our calf muscles act as secondary movers. They provide a stable base for our primary movers to function correctly. For example, when we perform a hip hinge, essentially bending at the hips, our hamstrings are responsible for helping this movement. When this happens, our calves work as secondary movers to keep our bodies stable. 

The calves also allow efficient force production through our ankles as we lift. Movements such as the squat, deadlift, snatch, clean, and push press help improve ankle stability and calf strength. 

As an Olympic lifter, dumbbell standing calf raises can be programmed as an accessory exercise. This means they should be performed after the main compound movements. 

Runners

As a runner, your feet constantly impact the ground. As each foot touches the ground and comes back up, your ankles and calves stabilize your body. Lower limb running economy directly influences running performance. This relates to your limb movement and muscle function.

Therefore, performing dumbbell standing calf raises to strengthen your claves can directly contribute to running performance. You can program them alongside compound lifts as part of your resistance session. 

Who Should Not Do?

Those With Mobility Issues

Poor ankle mobility when performing dumbbell standing calf raises can affect movement patterns in other body areas. It’s important to remember that power generation comes from the ground up.

If you struggle with ankle mobility issues, you may need to address this first through mobilization work before resistance training. In most cases, gentle stretching exercises will help to improve the range of motion. Once this is improved, you can build up to weighted exercise. 

In this case, you could start by performing the exercise in a smaller range of motion until you get your full mobility back. If doing this causes you pain, stop the exercise. 

If you notice pain in your ankles and calves when moving, it may be a sign of a mobility issue. In this case, seek the help of a healthcare or rehab professional. They will assess your range of motion and provide a detailed diagnosis and treatment plan.

Those With Ankle Injuries

As with most injuries, you will need to progress slowly to get back into resistance exercises. In most cases, you’ll need to start with simple movements that use your body weight first. 

When you plantar flex your ankle (bring your heels up off the floor), your ankle joints are heavily involved. Because of this, performing dumbbell standing calf raises isn’t necessarily recommended when suffering from injury, especially in the early stages.

Once you’ve built up your ankle strength, you may be able to progress to resistance, depending on the advice of your healthcare provider. Common ankle injuries include a sprained ankle and Achilles tendinopathy.

Benefits Of The Dumbbell Standing Calf Raise

Better Ankle Strength 

Because the calf is a smaller muscle group, we often forget its important role in supporting our body. Our feet and ankles provide support in most daily movements and while exercising, including when we walk, run, squat, pull, and push. 

Poor ankle strength and stability can impact force production in these movements. Dumbbell standing calf raises provide a great way to build plantarflexion strength. This is when we apply pressure from the ball of our feet to lift our heel from the ground. 

Bigger Calves 

The dumbbell standing calf raises targets our gastrocnemius and soleus. The gastrocnemius can be viewed as the mirror muscle or the most visible one.

Performing these provides a great way to stretch and strengthen them through their full range of motion. When programmed with the right volume and intensity, this can grow your calves. 

Having big calves gives us an impressive physique. A lot of us can build a big chest or back. However, big calves really stand out from the crowd. 

Better Performance 

To build on the stability point made above, we need a good foundation to generate force. With strong and stable calf muscles, we can improve our performance in any movement. This includes sprinting, lifting weights, swimming, and cycling.

When our feet touch the ground or need to generate resistance, our ankles can better absorb force and propel us forward if the calves are trained.

Prevents Injury 

An often overlooked factor is the role our calves can play in injury during movement. When walking or running, we use something called gait. This is the way our limbs work together.

During movement, our feet and ankles need to support the rest of our body. With weak calves, the possibility of gait issues increases. This is especially apparent in elderly populations. 

Poor gait can lead to undesired compensations in various body areas. Over a prolonged period, this uneven movement can lead to joint discomfort and falls

Frequently Asked Questions

Are standing dumbbell calf raises effective?

Standing dumbbell calf raises are an effective way to target your calf muscles. In particular, they focus on your gastrocnemius, the more superficial part of your calf that makes up the bulk of it.

What is a good weight for dumbbell calf raises?

A good weight for dumbbell calf raises depends on your ability level and training goals. Use a weight that allows you to follow the correct form. Progress as needed each week.

Do standing calf raises make your calves bigger?

Standing calf raises provide mechanical tension. This means your muscles work against resistance. Therefore, they help to make your calves bigger when programmed correctly.

 Is it okay to do calf raises every day?

Your calves tend to recover quickly, meaning you can do calf raises every day. However, two to three times a week is plenty.

Resources

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