Calf training is something rarely discussed by strength, power, and fitness athletes and coaches. Many coaches conclude that isolated calf training is not an effective usage of a lifter’s training time, and many of the benefits can be provided when you train the basic strength movements, plyometrics, and simply jumping rope. While this often can be true, sometimes a coach or athlete will need to devote more time to calf training (injury reasons, specific weakness, ankle instability, etc), in which movements like the standing calf raise can be a viable accessory training movement to build calf strength, ankle stability, and even enhance lowe body performance
In this article we will discuss the standing calf raise benefits and offer coaches and athletes a detailed video tutorial.
The standing calf raise targets the calf muscle, specifically the gastrocnemius. Movements that are done with a bent knee (flexion) target the solues (which attaches below the knee joint).
Standing Calf Raise Exercise Demo
In the video below the standing calf raise is demonstrated, using a barbell. Note, that this movement can be done using the Smith machine, bodyweight, dumbbells, and even “donkey” calf raise machine (similar effect due to the knee being straight).
3 Benefits of Standing Calf Raises
Below are four (3) benefits of performing standing calf raises for strength, power, and fitness athletes.
Often we forget that as upright athletes (weightlifting, CrossFit, running, squatting, pulling, etc) our first base of support we have with the floor is via the foot and up through the ankle. When performing strength and power movements, ankle stability and force production can impact our ability to perform at higher intensities. Seeing that the standing calf raise can strengthen our ability to plantarflex (place pressure downwards into the floor through the foot), most strength and power athletes will find benefit in growing stronger calves.
That said, may athletes and coaches make the case that they can get ample calf training from plyometrics, glute ham raises, and even traditional pulling and squatting movements. The important thing to remember here is that if an athlete has limitations in ankle strength and stability, adding some isolated calf work could be a good idea, as long as it doesn’t take up valuable training time or energy for the movements that can offer a greater benefits to performance (squats, pulls, jumps, etc).
Lower Body Performance
The calves are a secondary muscle mover in squats, deadlifts, snatches, cleans, and even push presses. Strong calves enable us to produce force harding into the floor, which can create a more stable base of support for the primary muscle of the legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes) to extend the knees and hips. Deficiencies in calf strength may be hard to detect, and are often addressed simply by training compound exercises of more hamstring/calves dominant movements like GHDs, however in SOME cases it may be beneficial to spend some additional time isolating the calves via the standing calf raise.
While injury can occur at most joints in the body, the knees, hips, and even ankles are often injury prone areas for most strength, fitness, and power athletes. When we look at certain issues in gait and/or hip/knee issues, the calves (and the effect they have on supporting ankle stability and plantarflexion), can play a significant role in creating stability that may otherwise be lacking (flat feet), etc). Roy Flores and Matthews Devens, Assistant Athletic Trainers for New York University Athletics agree, stating that the calves (gastrocnemius and soleus) can help to support proper gait and movements that involved knee and hip flexion/extension. By creating stronger, more stable ankles (which can be done via calf raises and other strengthening exercises, especially ones that work the calves with the knee bent), athletes can expect to promote greater movement patterning, assist in stabilizing the knees and hips, and even improve power and strength performance in movements like squats, pulls, weightlifting, and running (as the calves can also affect gait).
Sprinting and Running Performance
While both of these are posterior chain dominant, meaning that they rely heavily on the hips and hamstrings, the calves do play a crucial role in the ability to react to the ground (ground reaction force) to promote greater amounts of force. In addition, the calves are a muscle group that can handle some serious loading, which can help to absorb the eccentric loading one goes through during these movements (in addition to stronger hamstrings and hips). While calf raises might not make you an elite sprinter, they may help you add muscular endurance and power that can translate to a few extra seconds or milliseconds shaved off your sprint times.
Lower Body Accessory Training
Take a look at the below lower body accessory exercises to maximize strength and fitness!
- Single Leg RDL’s for Unilateral Pulling Strength
- Can Barefoot Training Boost Lower Body Performance?
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