Strong calves help protect you from injury and can increase sports performance, not to mention bigger calves look good.

Donkey calf raises are an effective exercise but aren't an option for some people because they can put a strain on your lower back. 

In this guide, I’ll introduce some of the best donkey calf raise alternatives so you can improve your calf strength and size. 

Strengthening your calves impacts ankle strength and stability, running and sprinting performance, injury prevention and will assist in every day movement.

Donkey calf raises are a great way to strengthen your calves but if you're unable to do them, there are plenty of alternative calf raise exercises to choose from

Here are my top 10 substitutes for donkey calf raises for a strong and injury free lower body.

1. Standing Calf Raise 

Woman Showing How To Do Standing Calf Raise Exercise

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.

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.


  • Improves ankle strength and stability.
  • Assists in injury prevention.
  • Increases size in the calf muscles. 

How To do a Standing Calf Raise:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

You can do standing calf raises by holding a dumbbell in each hand to increase the resistance. Always make sure you squeeze your calves at the top of each rep.  

2. Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise

Woman Doing Seated Dumbbell Calf Raises

Your Soleus is one of the largest muscles around your calves, seated calf raises really targets this muscle. This will help you develop broader calves more quickly, and you only need dumbbells and a seat to perform it.

If you want to add some extra resistance to the seated calf raise, you can use a barbell instead of dumbbells.

This will let you stack more weight and grow your calves more quickly making it a great donkey calf raise alternative.

However, if you want to do this exercise at home, you can try out seated calf raise alternatives.


  • Lower intensity than the standing version making it good for those with an injury.
  • Improves function of the calves.
  • Improves sports performance.

how to do a Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise:

  1. Start sitting on a chair or bench with your knees bent at 90 degrees. 
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and rest it lightly above your knee.
  3. With your feet flat on the floor, push from the balls of your feet to raise your calves, keeping your toes on the ground.
  4. Hold for a few seconds and then lower back down to starting position slowly.
  5. Repeat this movement for 12-15 reps, and make sure your dumbbells stay in contact with you throughout.

Tips From A Trainer!

I like to superset this seated calf raise 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! 

Related Article - Types of Dumbbells

3. Leg Press Machine Calf Raise

Man Doing Leg Press Machine Calf Raises At The Gym

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 for donkey calf raises that can give you stronger calf muscles because you can keep adding to the resistance. 


  • Using the leg press allows you to add more weight and increase size of the calf muscles.
  • Doing calf raises can promote explosive power.
  • Simple and safe way to train the calves. 

how to do a Leg Press Machine Calf Raise:

  1. Start with the seat on the machine far enough back, so your legs are almost fully extended to reach the pad.
  2. Put your toes on the bottom of the pad so that your heels hang loose underneath it.
  3. Push using your feet and toes until the platform on the machine starts to move away from you.
  4. Pause for a few seconds when your calf is fully stretched out, and then lower back down to starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

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. 

4. Smith Machine Calf Raise 

Man Doing Smith Machine Calf Raise Exercise At The Gym

A smith machine is a really useful piece of gym equipment that supports a variety of different exercises, including calf raises.

This donkey calf raise alternative exercise 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.


  • Using the smith machine allows you to focus on form rather than balance.
  • Easy to do this exercise with more weight.
  • Safe and effective way to do a weighted calf raise.

how to do a Smith Machine Calf Raise:

  1. Start by standing on a small step underneath the smith machine. 
  2. Stand tall with your toes and half your foot on the step and your heel hanging off the back.
  3. Stand tall and hold the barbell on your shoulders before pushing through your toes to raise your calves up.
  4. Pause for a few seconds, and then lower yourself back down to starting position.
  5. Make sure you load an appropriate weight and aim for at least 8 reps per set.

Tips From A Trainer!

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. 

5. Machine Seated or Standing Calf Raises 

Man Doing Machine Seated Or Standing Calf Raises

If you have a well-equipped gym, then you may have a sitting or standing calf raise machine.

Seated calf raises 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 making it a great choice instead of a donkey calf raise.


  • Very effective in strengthening the calf muscles.
  • Can improve performance in sports that require jumping or sprinting.
  • Calf raises will protect you from injury and increase joint strength. 

How to do a Machine Seated or Standing Calf Raise:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

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. 

6. Hack Squat Calf Raise

Man Doing Hack Squat Calf Raise

The hack squat is more well known for it's lower body strengthening benefits, it can also be used for standing calf raises.

Hack squat machines are found in the majority of commercial gyms, but most home gym owners won’t have one, so it isn’t a viable option for everyone. 

You can also add weight so you can continue to push your body and gain muscle, this is a very effective variation of a donkey calf raise.


  • The machine will help you control the movement so you can build bigger calves and eliminate the risk of injury.
  • Builds strength and size in the calves.
  • Great for injury prevention. 

how to do a Hack Squat Calf Raise:

  1. Start by standing in the hack squat machine facing towards it. 
  2. Your heels should be hanging off the back of the platform with your hips and back straight.
  3. Push the lever on the machine to free the weight, which should rest on your shoulders.
  4. Keep your knees slightly bent and raise your ankles up to engage your calves.
  5. Pause for a second at the top and lower back down to starting position.
  6. Repeat this 8-12 times before engaging the lever again to take the weight off.

Tips From A Trainer!

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. 

Related Article - Best Hack Squat Alternatives

7. Seated Band Pushes 

Woman Doing Seated Band Pushes Outdoors

This is a great alternative to donkey calf raises 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 calf raise exercise for those working out at home.


  • Can be done at home or whilst travelling.
  • Good to those who need to rehab injury.
  • Stronger calves are important to prevent injury.

how to do a Seated Band Push:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

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. 

8. Jump Rope 

Men Jumping Rope At The Gym

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.

If you don't have a jump rope at home, you should check out jump rope alternative exercises that provide full body strengthening.


  • Increases athletic performance.
  • Promotes stability in the ankles.
  • Strengthens the calf muscles whilst improving cardiovascular fitness. 

How to do Jump Rope:

  1. Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart and a slight bend in your knees. 
  2. Swing the rope up over your head, and as it reaches your feet jump slightly off the ground to let it pass under you.
  3. Repeat this for 1-2 minutes, or longer if you feel comfortable with the movement.
  4. Try to keep the jumping controlled, and when you get more advanced, you can switch to one foot.

Tips From A Trainer!

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. 

9. Tiptoe Farmer’s Walk 

Man Doing Tiptoe Farmer’s Walk

This one is a little bit different to traditional calf raises. It's an excellent workout for your calves and 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 its a great alternative for donkey calf raises. 


  • Improves flexibility in the feet.
  • Improves posture.
  • Strengthens and increases size of the calf muscles.

how to do a Tiptoe Farmer’s Walk:

  1. Start by standing tall with your hands at your sides, holding a dumbbell in each hand if you want the extra resistance. 
  2. Rise up onto your tiptoes and walk quickly forward, turn round, and walk back to your starting position.
  3. Try to keep your chest open and spine neutral throughout the movement to avoid injury. 

Tips From A Trainer!

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! 

10. Jump Squats 

Woman Doing 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, making it a very accessible variation to donkey calf raises.


  • Improve your cardio fitness levels. 
  • Builds lower body strength. 
  • Effectively strengthens the calves. 

how to do a Jump Squat:

  1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend at the knees. 
  2. Squat down low and then drive through your feet to jump up into the air.
  3. Control the landing by bending your knees and then moving into the squat position as you hit the floor.
  4. You can then go straight into the next rep and repeat the movement again.
  5. Aim for 8-12 reps and repeat for 2-3 sets.

Tips From A Trainer!

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

Benefits Of Donkey Calf Raise Substitute Exercises

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 alternativecan 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 themDonkey 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.[1]  

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.[2 


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 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 you can build mass with calf raises.  

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 options for calf training without putting strain on other parts of your body.

By incorporating one or more of these calf raises into your routine, you can really improve your lower strength and flexibility and stay injury free.




Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website