I am a big fan of improving calf strength due to the benefits it offers in sport and every day movement. 

The seated calf raise machine is great for loading weight into the calves and building strength, but not every gym has this machine or you may need variation you can easily do at home. 

Read on if you want the best 10 seated calf raises alternatives.  

Strong calf muscles are important for explosive power, improve jumping and running ability and are key to injury prevention.

The calf consists of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and soleus muscle. Any exercise that works these two muscles will be a good alternative, but I have the most effective 10 substitute exercises that will help you achieve strong calves. 

1. Single Leg Standing Calf Raises 

woman doing single leg standing calf raises

Single leg calf raises are one of the best calf exercises for unilateral training. The main benefit of this exercise is how simple and easy it is to do - no equipment required!

By training one calf at a time, you prevent your dominant side from doing the majority of the work.

This means both calves will be worked equally, and you're less likely to develop a muscle imbalance. Training one leg at a time also offers more intensity.  

You can either perform this exercise by simply standing on the ground or make it more challenging by adding a step. 


  • Trains your body to balance on one foot.
  • Strengthens each calf equally. 
  • Low-impact method for strengthening the gastrocnemius and soleus.

How to Do A Single Leg Standing Calf Raise:

  1. Standing with your feet pointing forward, bend one knee and shift your weight to a single leg. If needed, stand next to something you can hold onto for stability. 
  2. For a weighted single calf raise, hold a dumbbell in one or both hands. Keep your arms straight and beside your body. 
  3. Engage your calf muscle and lift your heel up. 
  4. Hold at the top for 2 seconds. 
  5. Lower your heel to the ground in a slow, controlled manner. If you’re using a step, lower your heel below the step and hold for 2 seconds. Be sure to keep the muscle engaged and do not lock your knee. 
  6. Complete 12-15 reps before switching legs.

Tips From A Trainer!

Increase the difficulty of a single leg standing calf raise by holding a dumbbell on the working side. You can hold onto something for stability.  

2. Tip Toe Farmers Walk 

Man Doing Tip Toe Farmers Walk

If you've only got a pair of dumbbells to work with, you can still achieve an excellent calf workout. Like the traditional farmers walk, the tip toe farmers walk involves the same movement, except you're walking on your tiptoes.

To get the most out of this exercise, you'll want to select a weight that allows you to maintain full flexion of the ankle. You can use either a dumbbell or kettlebell. 


  • Effectively targets the calf muscles and biceps.
  • Improves posture.
  • Improves grip strength. 

How To Do A Tip Toe Farmers Walk:

  1. Hold a weight in each hand, keeping your arms straight and at your sides. 
  2. Draw your shoulders back, engage your calf muscles, and lift onto your toes. 
  3. Take slow, controlled steps forward. Be sure to keep your knees slightly bent and stay on your tiptoe for the entire walk. 
  4. Once you reach the end, turn around and walk back again using the same method. 
  5. Aim for 4 sets of 30 feet or 30-second reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Avoid shrugging your shoulders whilst doing these carries. Keep them down and back throughout the exercise. 

3. Donkey Calf Raise 

man doing donkey calf raise exercise in the gym

While most calf workouts involve a variation of the standing calf raise, the donkey calf raise is performed in a bent-over position. This targets the calf muscle from a stretched position, which greatly increases calf muscle activation.

For best results in muscle growth, you’ll want to perform a high volume of donkey calf raises in a slow, controlled movement.

To do this exercise, you’ll need an object to step on, such as a weight plate. You’ll also need a stable object to rest your arms on, like a bench or chair.

If you're unable to perform donkey calf raises due to lower back issues or limited access to the required equipment, there are donkey calf alternatives that can effectively target your calf muscles.


  • Increase calf muscle activation due to lengthened position. 
  • Increases the size of the gastrocnemius.
  • Carry's over to explosive power in sports. 

How To Do A Donkey Calf Raise:

  1. With your feet shoulder-width apart, step onto the back edge of the weight plate. 
  2. Hinge your hips and bend down, resting your forearms on the bench. 
  3. Engage your calf muscle and lift your heels up. Hold for 2 seconds. 
  4. Lower your heels back down, stretching your calves. Hold for 2 seconds. 
  5. Aim for 4 sets of 20 reps in total.

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't do pulse reps if you want the most out of this exercise! Go to full range of motion, pressing up as far as you can go then lowering as far as possible.  

Related Article - How To Use A Dip Belt

4. Squat Hold Calf Raises 

man doing squat hold calf raise exercise

This is another great seated calf raise alternative that doesn’t require any equipment.

The squat hold calf raise puts you in the same seated position, which works the soleus muscles more than the gastrocnemius muscle. Additionally, you’ll get a great glute, quad, and hamstring workout too!


  • The squatting position also builds strength in the major leg muscles.
  • Helps develop balance, body control and stability.
  • Ideal for developing functional fitness. 

How To Do A Squat Hold Calf Raise:

  1. Standing shoulder-width apart, bring your arms forward. If you’d like to make it more challenging, you can hold a weight plate. 
  2. Bend down into a squat position and lift your heels off the ground. 
  3. Hold for 2 seconds. 
  4. Slowly lower your heels back to the ground. 
  5. Stay in the squat position and continue lifting and lowering your heels. 
  6. Aim for 4 sets of 15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

You can add weight in a variety of ways - a barbell behind your neck, dumbbells by your side or a kettlebell held in the front goblet position, or you can try and make your own DIY weight rack.

5. Two Up, One Down Calf Raises 

Woman Doing Two Up, One Down Calf Raises On a Gym Mat

If you didn’t already know, muscles are stronger when they are elongated while activated. 

Eccentric muscle action allows you to lower more weight than what you can lift. This is where the two up, one down calf raise comes in.[1]

Using one leg instead of two to lower your body down allows you to increase the weight on your calf muscle. You can do this exercise without any equipment or use a step to increase the intensity. 


  • Helps reduce the risk of sports of lifting injuries. 
  • Good for rehabbing lower body injuries.
  • Builds more even strength by lowering one leg at a time. 

How To Do A Two Up, One Down Calf Raise:

  1. Using both feet, rise up onto your toes and hold for 2 seconds. 
  2. Lift your right foot off the ground and lower your heel back down. 
  3. With both feet on the ground, rise up onto your toes again and hold for 2 seconds. 
  4. Lift your left foot off the ground and lower your heel back down. 
  5. Continue alternating feet each time. 
  6. If you’re using a step, hold for 2 seconds at the bottom of the calf raise. 
  7. Aim for 4 sets of 12-15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you're trying to build strength then you'll want to hold onto something for stability. If you are rehabbing or wanting to challenge balance then do this unsupported. 

6. Explosive Calf Raises 

Man Doing Explosive Calf Raises

Explosive calf raises are a fantastic exercise for growing your calf muscles.

While concentric movements are a potent way to increase muscle mass, you’ll have to do twice as many reps to achieve the same results as you would if you did a combined eccentric and concentric workout.[2]

For this reason, we’d recommend using a step to do this exercise. This way, you’ll combine both movements.

If you have access to either a standing calf raise machine or a Smith machine, add weights for a more intense workout. 


  • Significantly improves jumping ability. 
  • Improves running ability. 
  • Helps prevent injuries. 

How To Do An Explosive Calf Raise:

  1. Stand shoulder-width apart with your knees bent. 
  2. Drive your body upward into a standing calf raise position and hold for 2 seconds. 
  3. Lower feet down slowly, bringing your heels below the step. Hold for 2 seconds. 
  4. Bending your knees, power up into a standing calf raise again. 
  5. Repeat 4 sets of 12-15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Imagine a string on top of your head and it's pulling you up to the ceiling. This should help you rise vertically and not forward or back. 

7. Seated Dumbbell Calf Raises 

Man Doing Seated Dumbbell Calf Raises

Seated calf raises using dumbbells is as close to a seated calf raise machine as you can get (without having the machine). Like with the seated calf raise machine, you’ll be primarily working the soleus muscle.

For this exercise, you’ll need a bench to sit on, a step for your feet, and a set of dumbbells of your desired weight. To make it more challenging, work one leg at a time.

If you don't have a bench, you can try to make a homemade weight bench using materials like foam padding and durable fabric to create a stable surface for your workouts.

This DIY option can be a cost-effective solution to ensure you have a suitable bench for various exercises and training routines.


  • Lower intensity than a standing variation so good for beginners or injuries.
  • Effective in creating strong calves
  • Reduces joint injuries. 

How To Do A Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise:

  1. Sit on a bench with your feet placed on a step. 
  2. With a dumbbell in each hand, rest the weights on each thigh. 
  3. Drive your heels up, holding for 2 seconds. 
  4. In a slow, controlled movement, lower your heels down below the step. Hold for 2 seconds. 
  5. Aim for 4 sets of 12-15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

When doing seated calf raises, don't let your heel touch the floor as it lowers as this will take then tension out of the calf.

Suggested Equipment - Best Budget Adjustable Dumbbells

8. Box Jumps 

Woman Doing Box Jumps

The box jump is an excellent plyometric exercise that primarily targets the gastrocnemius muscle.[3

When performed correctly, the box jump causes your calf muscles to stretch and contract repeatedly. This leads to increased power and explosiveness.

If you can't perform box jumps due to limited space or safety concerns, there are box jump alternative exercises you can incorporate into your workout routine

Not only does this exercise work your calves, but your quads, glutes, and hamstrings are targeted too. Box jumps can be modified to suit your skill and confidence level by adjusting the height of the plyometric box. 

If you don't already have a plyo box, you can make a diy plyo box one yourself using plywood.


  • One of the most effective lower body explosive exercises.
  • Improves vertical jumping capacity. 
  • Builds muscular endurance.

How To Do A Box Jump:

  1. Ensure that the box is on a flat and stable surface. 
  2. Stand with your toes facing the box, with enough space to bend your knees without touching the box. 
  3. Bring your hands out in front of you and bend your knees. 
  4. Shift your weight onto the balls of your feet. 
  5. Jump onto the box, aiming to land on the center of the box. 
  6. Once you get the hang of the method, keep your heels up when jumping and land on the balls of your feet. 
  7. Aim for 4 sets of 12-15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

The height of the box depends on your fitness level, jumping ability and your height. When starting out with this movement it is better to start smaller and work your way up. 

9. Ankle jumps 

Woman Doing Ankle Jumps Exercise

Ankle jumps (also called ankle bounces) are another effective plyometric exercise for working the calf muscles.

Calf jumps are often used as a warm-up exercise in martial arts and are a perfect finishing exercise for your calf training routine. To make them more challenging, you can jump on one leg at a time or hold dumbbells. 

This exercise is a great alternative to jump rope if you don’t have a rope on hand. 


  • Increases aerobic fitness. 
  • Improves your ability to push off the ground when running.
  • Improves reactive strength in your calf muscles. 

How To Do An Ankle Jump:

  1. Stand with your feet together. 
  2. Bend your knees and lift your heels off the ground. 
  3. Jump 3-6 inches off the ground. 
  4. As soon as you land, before your heels have touched the ground, jump up again. 
  5. Ensure that your heels remain lifted for the duration of the workout. 
  6. Continue this motion for 40-60 seconds.

Tips From A Trainer!

Keep your arms by your sides and focus on jumping as high as you can whilst maintaining a vertical torso.  

10. Jump Rope 

Woman Jumping Rope

Jump rope engages your calf muscles in a dynamic way that standard weightlifting won't do.

Requiring just a traditional jump rope, this exercise is simple yet versatile. Adjusting the rope length to suit your skill level will help you get the most out of rope jumps.

A shorter rope will require more skill but will allow you to jump faster. Additionally, doing a single-leg jump will further increase the intensity of the exercise. 


  • Builds strength in the calfs and ankles.
  • Provides a full body workout that improves strength and cardiovascular fitness. 
  • Improves athletic performance. 

How To Do Jump Rope:

  1. Holding the jump rope, ensure that the rope is positioned at your heels. 
  2. Stand with your feet together, bend your knees, and raise your heels off the ground. 
  3. Using your wrists only, swing the rope over your body. 
  4. As the rope reaches your feet, jump up to allow the rope to pass through under your feet. 
  5. Continue this motion without stopping, ensuring that your heels remain elevated for the duration of the workout. 
  6. Aim for 40-60 seconds.

Tips From A Trainer!

Keep your jumps low and try to land softly. A slightly bent knee will help absorb impact and protect your joints. 

Muscles Worked With Seated Calf Raise Alternatives

The calf consists of two muscles, known collectively as the triceps surae. Individually, they consist of the gastrocnemius muscle and the soleus muscle. Both muscles are responsible for pulling your heel up when walking and running, which allows you to move forward.

The gastrocnemius muscle is also responsible for bending your knee. While the gastrocnemius is the visible muscle, working the soleus muscle is just as important for bulking up your calves. 


The gastrocnemius lies on top of the soleus muscle and is what gives your calf its rounded shape. Its main function is to plantarflex your ankle. Considered a two-joint muscle, the gastrocnemius also assists in the movement of your knee joint.

The gastrocnemius has two muscle bellies, and each can be targeted by positioning your feet either inward or outwardly. Calf exercises that involve speed, power, and acceleration (like sprinting or jumping) will work these muscles best. This is because the gastrocnemius is made up of around 50% slow twitch fibers.[4 


The soleus muscle is a broad and flat muscle that lies beneath the gastrocnemius muscle. Regarded as one of the strongest muscles in the body, the soleus muscle can pull with the greatest force.[5]

When your knee is bent, the soleus muscle takes over from the gastrocnemius muscle as an ankle plantar flexor.

The soleus is a powerful muscle that is active with almost all types of weight-bearing exercises. Additionally, it has a higher proportion of slow twitch fibers (around 70%) which makes it highly resistant to fatigue. This means high rep exercises will target the soleus muscle better.  

Do You Need To Do Seated Calf Raise Substitute Exercises?

Seated calf raise substitute exercises are best suited toward people who don't have access to a seated calf raise machine. They're also great for those looking for a more dynamic workout.

The advantages of these exercises include training your calves from your home without needing any machines. Additionally, you're able to target both calf muscles instead of a soleus-focused exercise (which is what the seated calf raise machine targets). 

The best way to improve muscle mass and strength when training calves is to go slowly, with a full range of motion. If you load up too much weight, powering through your workout at a fast pace - your Achilles tendon is doing all the work instead of your calf muscles.  

Even though the seated calf raise machine targets the soleus muscle, the gastrocnemius muscle is what gives the most visual growth. Therefore, you should train both muscles to get the most growth possible from your calves. To do this, aim to balance your workout with both seated and standing calf raise alternative exercises. 

Common Seated Calf Raise Questions

What is the difference between seated vs standing calf raises? 

The main difference between seated vs standing calf raises is that they target different muscles. When doing seated calf raises, your knees are bent, which means the soleus muscle is worked more. However, when doing standing calf raises, your knees are straight, which means the gastrocnemius muscle is worked more.

Can bodyweight calf raises build muscle? 

Yes, bodyweight calf raises can build muscle! Have you ever noticed how overweight people tend to have large calves? To get the best results from using your bodyweight alone, you’ll want to aim for high reps and opt for single-calf workouts.

How many seated calf raises should I do? 

Depending on the weight used, you should aim for 4 sets of around 10 to 15 reps per set. If this feels too challenging, lower the weight load. However, if this feels too easy, first add an additional set before adding weight. When it comes to training calves, lower weight with higher reps is best.

How many times a week should you work calves? 

For the best results, you should train your calves two to three times per week. However, it’s important to ensure that you allow two full days of recovery between each workout. This only applies to calf-targeted workouts and not cardio exercises like walking or running, etc.

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

The most common mistake people make when doing calf raise alternatives include not contracting their calf muscles enough. Many people only contact up to half of the range and miss out on the full range of motion. The calf muscle needs to fully stretch and contract to achieve optimal muscle growth.


That wraps up my comprehensive guide to the best seated calf raise alternative exercises.

Now that you have ten substitutes that don’t require a machine, you’ll be able to grow your calves and build your strength - no matter where you train! 







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