10 Best Donkey Calf Raise Alternatives (From A Trainer)

Growing your calves is hard. There are so few movements that engage your calf muscles, and some of the most reliable exercises, like donkey calf raises, just aren't an option for some people because they can put a strain on your lower back.  

But don't worry, you can still have strong calves without having to perform donkey calf raises. In this guide, we’ll introduce some of the best donkey calf raise alternatives for you to introduce into your routine.   

Donkey calf raise alternatives need to mimic the movement of a donkey calf raise so that you’re still focusing your energy on the same areas. Here are our top 10 substitutes, some using machines and some without, that you can work into your leg routine:

1. Standing Calf Raise 

The standing calf raise is probably the best alternative to a donkey calf raise because it’s basically the same movement but standing up straight, so there’s no strain on your upper body. You don’t need a machine or any equipment to perform it, but you can hold a pair of dumbbells if you want to increase the resistance.

Start by standing with your feet in line with your hips and hands at your sides. Push from the balls of your feet and really feel the burn in your calves as they stretch. Pause for a few seconds and then slowly lower back down to starting position. You should aim to do this for 12-15 reps.

If you need more of a challenge, start by standing on the edge of a step and let your heels fall below the edge. This will give you a few extra inches of movement and really work your calf muscles.

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

You can hold a dumbbell in each hand to increase the resistance. Always make sure you squeeze your calves at the top of each rep. 

Standing Calf Raise

2. Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise

Your Soleus is one of the largest muscles around your calves, and the seated dumbbell calf really focuses the movement on it. This will help you develop broader calves more quickly, and you only need dumbbells to perform it.

Start sitting on a chair or bench with your knees bent at 90 degrees. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and rest it lightly above your knee. With your feet flat on the floor, push from the balls of your feet to raise your calves, keeping your toes on the ground.

Hold for a few seconds and then lower back down to starting position slowly. Repeat this movement for 12-15 reps, and make sure your dumbbells stay in contact with you throughout.

If you want to add some extra resistance, you can use a barbell instead of dumbbells. This will let you stack more weight and grow your calves more quickly.

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

I like to superset this exercise at the end of my calf workout. I start with a heavy dumbbell and do 3-5 reps and drop the weight by 5 or 10 pounds and continue increasing the reps. Try this method and your calves will be on fire!

Also See - Types of Dumbbells

Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise

3. Leg Press Machine Calf Raise

The leg press is one of the most important machines in any gym, and you can use it to push your calves to the limit. This is a great substitute exercise that can give you stronger calf muscles because you can keep adding to the resistance, but you do need access to a leg press machine, so it won’t be suitable for some people working out at home.

Start with the seat on the machine far enough back, so your legs are almost fully extended to reach the pad. Put your toes on the bottom of the pad so that your heels hang loose underneath it.

Push using your feet and toes until the platform on the machine starts to move away from you. Pause for a few seconds when your calf is fully stretched out, and then lower back down to starting position.

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

Try slightly changing the position of the ball of your foot on the leg press platform. By rotating your feet inward or outward, you will activate different small muscles in your legs.

Read More - Leg Press Foot Placement Guide

Leg Press Machine Calf Raise

4. Smith Machine Calf Raise 

A smith machine is a really useful piece of gym equipment that supports a variety of different exercises. This alternative movement will allow you to add as much weight as you need to really grow your calves quickly and help you control the movement to prevent injury. You will need a smith machine, though, so it might not be suitable for you if you don't have access to one.

Start by standing on a small step underneath the smith machine. Stand tall with your toes and half your foot on the step and your heel hanging off the back. Stand tall and hold the barbell on your shoulders before pushing through your toes to raise your calves up.

Pause for a few seconds, and then lower yourself back down to starting position. Make sure you load an appropriate weight and aim for at least 8 reps per set. If you find it's hard to keep your balance, you should lower the weight and try again.

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

Don't be afraid to go a little heavier on this exercise. The Smith machine's fixed sliding bar makes injury less likely since you can easily rack the bar at any time.

See Also - How Much Does A Smith Machine Bar Weigh?

Smith Machine Calf Raise

5. Machine Seated or Standing Calf Raises 

If you have a well-equipped gym, then you may have a sitting or standing calf raise machine. These are useful because they control the movement to focus the effort on your calves, and you can stack as much weight on as needed. Using these machines will help you grow big calves, but because it's not a compound exercise, you won't feel the benefit anywhere else.

Start by standing or sitting on the machine with the pads on your shoulders if standing or on your knees if sitting. Push from your toes to raise your calves until you’re almost standing on your tiptoes. Pause for a second, and then control the movement back down.

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

When doing seated or standing calf raises, make sure you let your heel fall below the foot rests and explode back up. This will make sure you get the full range of motion for this exercise.

Machine Seated Or Standing Calf Raises

6. Hack Squat Calf Raise

You’ll find a hack squat machine in the majority of commercial gyms, but most home gym owners won’t have one, so it isn’t a viable option for everyone. The machine will help you control the movement so you can build bigger calves and eliminate the risk of injury. You can also add weight so you can continue to push your body and gain muscle.

Start by standing in the hack squat machine facing towards it. Your heels should be hanging off the back of the platform with your hips and back straight. Push the lever on the machine to free the weight, which should rest on your shoulders.

Keep your knees slightly bent and raise your ankles up to engage your calves. Pause for a second at the top and lower back down to starting position. Repeat this 8-12 times before engaging the lever again to take the weight off.

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

Hack squat machines look quite intimidating if you've never used one before. Make sure you have your feet placed correctly and the shoulder pads properly secured before starting your set.

Hack Squat Calf Raise

7. Seated Band Pushes 

This is a great alternative for beginners to help improve the overall flexibility of your calves and understand how much weight they can handle. You only need resistance bands and a small space, so it’s a good alternative exercise for those working out at home.

Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you and wrap a resistance band around the balls of your feet. Hold it in both hands, and pull it tight. Keep your hands steady and your back straight, and push your feet away from you. You’ll feel your calves stretch as the resistance band works them. Aim to repeat this 12-15 times per set.

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

Resistance bands are super versatile, and we recommend them to everyone who has a home gym. You can use them to work every muscle group, and they create constant tension in your muscles.

Seated Band Pushes

8. Jump Rope 

Jump rope is an exercise used by a lot of athletes because it’s great for your cardio and conditioning. It also has the added benefit of working your legs, but particularly your calves, in the same way donkey calf raises do. Of course, you won't get the same muscle gains, but it will help improve your fitness and endurance.  

Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart and a slight bend in your knees. Swing the rope up over your head, and as it reaches your feet jump slightly off the ground to let it pass under you.

Repeat this for 1-2 minutes, or longer if you feel comfortable with the movement. Try to keep the jumping controlled, and when you get more advanced, you can switch to one foot.

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

For an intense session, I like to jump rope for 1-2 minutes and then drop down into burpees. This routine will really get your heart rate up.

Read Also - How Long Should A Jump Rope Be?

jump rope

9. Tiptoe Farmer’s Walk  

This is an excellent workout for your calves but will also engage your arms, shoulders, and upper body. You don’t need any specific equipment, but you can perform this with dumbbells if you want a bit more resistance. It’s a little difficult to master the movement and balance of this exercise, but it does really work your calf muscles.

Start by standing tall with your hands at your sides, holding a dumbbell in each hand if you want the extra resistance. Rise up onto your tiptoes and walk quickly forward, turn round, and walk back to your starting position. Try to keep your chest open and spine neutral throughout the movement to avoid injury. If you’re struggling to keep your balance, reduce the weight and try again.

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

You can use almost anything to add resistance to this exercise. If you don't have dumbbells or kettlebells, you can use a backpack full of stuff or water containers. Don't worry about what the weight looks like, just lift it!

Tiptoe Farmer’s Walk

10. Jump Squats 

Squats are an awesome compound exercise to help build your legs, and by adding the explosive jump movement into it, you can really focus the energy on your calves. You don't need any equipment, and you can perform this movement anywhere, so it's a favorite with those who exercise outside of the gym.

To perform a jump squat, start with your feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend at the knees. Squat down low and then drive through your feet to jump up into the air. Control the landing by bending your knees and then moving into the squat position as you hit the floor.

You can then go straight into the next rep and repeat the movement again. This is a great exercise to improve your cardio and your lower body strength. Aim for 8-12 reps and repeat for 2-3 sets.

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

This exercise is great for building explosive strength that helps you push through your plateaus on compound lifts. 

Jump Squats

Benefits Of Donkey Calf Raise Substitute Exercises (Are They Good?)

Donkey calf raise alternatives can help you grow larger calves in the same way donkey calf raises do. The alternative movements offer slight nuances that improve your versatility and mobility. This will give you stronger ankles and improve your overall stability.

Most of these donkey calf raise alternatives can be performed at home, and you can add resistance to challenge your body and grow bigger calves. By mixing it up and incorporating a variety of these substitute exercises, you can help build explosive power in your lower legs.

What Muscles Do Donkey Calf Alternative Exercises Work?

Calves are challenging to target with compound exercises, so you need to have specific exercises engage them. Donkey calf raise alternatives are particularly effective at engaging the following muscle groups: 

Calf Muscles 

Donkey calf raises and the substitutes all work your calf muscles. This includes all the different muscle groups at the bottom of your leg, which are essential for walking, running, and jumping. Alternative donkey calf raises will help you grow diamond-shaped calves.


The gastrocnemius is the most prominent visible muscle of your calf, near the top of your lower leg. It has two heads, the medial and lateral, and connects the ankle to the knee. This muscle is essential for fast, explosive movements and jumps.  


Your Soleus muscle is a lot flatter and less visible, but still key to lower leg movement. It connects to your gastrocnemius at the Achilles tendon and is really important for endurance exercises. Low weight, high rep movements, like skipping, will help to grow your Soleus 

Achilles Tendon  

Your Achilles tendon is vital for connecting your different calf muscles and helps ensure coherent movement in your lower legs. The alternative donkey calf raises won’t engage the achilles tendon directly but will help to stretch it and improve your overall flexibility.  


Most of the substitute donkey calf raises require some stability and will indirectly engage your core. The amount of strain put on your core varies with each movement, but it should help you strengthen it.  

Donkey Calf Raise Alternative FAQs 

How many calf raises should I do to get bigger calves? 

You should aim to do 8-12 reps of calf raises and 3-5 sets per workout to grow your calves. Remember, it can take months to see muscle growth, so don't expect results overnight.

Do calf raises build mass? 

Yes, if you perform the movement correctly and increase the weight regularly.  

Is it good to do calf raises every day? 

Performing calf raises regularly can help you strengthen your legs but performing them every day can lead to muscle fatigue. Remember to listen to your body and take a rest day if you need it.

What are some common mistakes when doing donkey calf raise alternatives?

The most common issue with donkey calf raise alternatives is that people only perform half reps. Make sure that you are raising your feet up and down fully and engaging your calves in a controlled movement to get the full benefit.  


The donkey calf raise alternatives on this list give you some useful options to grow your calves without putting strain on other parts of your body. By incorporating one or more of these movements into your routine, you can really improve your strength and flexibility, which will support you when you're doing other exercises.


Last Updated on March 16, 2023