The Importance of Single Leg Standing Calf Raises
Our quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes are essential for overall aesthetics and functionality, so many trainees focus on the deadlift, squat, and hip thrust. But what people fail to consider is the large muscle group of the lower leg: the calves.
Training the calves is essential for the overall appearance and functionality of the lower body. A pair of skinny calves will never look good, even if the person has well-developed thighs. It simply looks unbalanced.
Aside from the visual aspect, our calves play an essential role in foot stability, ankle extension, and knee flexion. Strengthening the muscle is beneficial for many activities, including walking, running, jumping, staying balanced while lifting weights, and more.
The single leg standing calf raise is among the simplest and most effective movements you can do to build up your calves. The best part is that you can do the exercise at home, so long as you have stairs or something similar for foot elevation.
How to do the Single Leg Standing Calf Raises with a Dumbbell
- Grab a moderately-heavy dumbbell with your left hand and position your right foot on the calf raise platform. The front half of your foot should be on the platform, and your heel should be in the air. You can also perform this movement on stairs.
- Grab onto something for balance with your right hand, straighten your back and bend your left leg.
- Inhale and push through your right foot by engaging your calf. Elevate yourself as much as you can.
- Hold the top position for a second as you exhale and slowly lower yourself by allowing your ankle to flex.
- Go down as much as you can – you should feel an intense stretch in your calf muscle at the bottom.
- Keep repeating.
- Once you’re finished, grab the dumbbell with your right hand and do the movement with your left leg.
What muscles does single leg standing calf raises activate?
The calves are the primary muscle group involved in single leg standing calf raises. The muscle group consists of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and soleus. Both muscles produce ankle extension, so doing calf raises works each well enough. The soleus is the larger muscle of the two, but it only works around the ankle joint (1). Meaning, knee position doesn’t affect the muscle’s functions and activation.
The gastrocnemius is smaller, but it originates from the femur, crossing the knee joint before inserting into the ankle (2). Meaning, knee angle impacts the muscle function and how well we can contract it. Standing calf raises, such as the single leg variation, is a great exercise to emphasize the gastrocnemius (3).
As far as loading ranges go, it’s beneficial to do single leg standing calf raises with lighter and heavier weights to develop the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. The soleus primarily consists of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which means the muscle group benefits from high-repetition training (4). The gastrocnemius has fewer slow-twitch fibers, benefiting from moderate and high loads.
Our glutes, abs, obliques, and back muscles are also involved to some degree. These muscles flex isometrically to keep us balanced throughout the exercise. Similarly, our biceps, forearms, and grip strength also benefit from the movement. Our arm muscles also work isometrically to hold onto the weight we use during calf raises.
Proper form when doing the Single Leg Standing Calf Raises
The most crucial element of proper form with any calf raise variation is using a full range of motion. Lower your heel as much as you can and follow that with a strong raise. Doing so allows you to stretch and shorten your calves well, which provides a strong stimulus for growth.
Doing each repetition slowly and with control is also important. It allows you to keep the tension on your calves, allowing them to grow and strengthen optimally. An excellent way to improve calf activation is to push through the entire width of your foot. Some trainees focus on pressing through a single point of the foot (for example, the big toe), reducing muscle activation and making the movement less effective.
It’s also beneficial to stay upright. Leaning forward can make the movement feel more manageable, but it will reduce its effectiveness. So, keep your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles in a straight line throughout each repetition.
Variations and Modifications of the Single Leg Standing Calf Raises
1. Bodyweight Single Leg Standing Calf Raise
If you’ve never done much calf training, starting with bodyweight standing calf raises would be a good idea. That way, you can work on your technique and learn how to engage your calves before overloading them with extra weight.
2. Slow Calf Raises
The slow calf raise is a variation where you do each repetition slowly. Doing so is good for increasing time under tension and improving calf activation. For example, you would lower yourself for three seconds, hold the bottom for a count of two, raise yourself for another three seconds, and hold the top.
3. Double Leg Standing Calf Raises
The double leg standing calf raise is another good variation that works great for beginners, especially those struggling to remain balanced. The execution of the exercise is the same, but instead of supporting yourself on one foot, you use both to raise and lower yourself.
Mistakes to Avoid
A common mistake with the single leg standing calf raise is doing repetitions too quickly. Speed limits muscle activity and reduces the effectiveness of the exercise. Avoid the mistake by doing each repetition slowly, making sure to feel your calves stretching and contracting well.
Another mistake similar to the first one relates to bouncing off the bottom. For example, trainees would lower themselves quickly and bounce off the bottom, propelling themselves back to the top. Sure, bouncing off the bottom will allow you to do more repetitions. But it will reduce the overall effectiveness of the movement. Instead of keeping tension on your calves, your Achilles tendon absorbs the force.
The third common and significant mistake is cutting the range of motion short – for example, not lowering yourself enough or stopping before you reach the top. The error typically comes from too much weight, but some trainees don’t know any better. Avoid the mistake by prioritizing a full range of motion before thinking about the load you’re using.
Similar Exercises to the Single Leg Standing Calf Raises
Glute Ham Raise
The glute ham raise is different from a calf raise, but both movements train one muscle group: the gastrocnemius. As discussed earlier, the gastrocnemius originates from just above the knee and inserts into the ankle. Thanks to its origin, the muscle aids knee flexion during glute ham raises.
Calf Press (Machine)
The machine calf press is a fantastic variation, especially if you don’t have access to a calf raise machine. The goal here is to sit inside a leg press machine and position the balls of your feet at the lower edge of the footplate. You would then straighten your knees and perform calf raises.
Seated Calf Raise (Machine)
The seated calf raise is another fantastic movement that works similarly to the single leg standing variation. Both exercises similarly train your calves. The primary difference is that the calf raises from a seated position (with flexed knees) to emphasize the soleus muscle better.