Barbell Calf Raises Exercise Guide

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: June 11, 2023

If you want to develop stronger calves, standing calf raises are a great exercise to include in your routine. However, you may not have access to a standing calf raise machine.

Luckily, you can do standing calf raises with a regular barbell. In this guide, I will demonstrate how to perform standing barbell calf raises and explain how this can help you achieve bigger, stronger calves.

In addition, I’ll provide an additional growth technique and several standing calf raise variations to help you add variety to your workouts.

Smith Machine Calf Raises

What Are Standing Calf Raises?

The standing calf raise is a strength training exercise that primarily targets the calf muscles. It involves standing with the balls of your feet on an elevated surface, such as a step or platform, while holding a weight, like a barbell, for resistance.

During this exercise, your legs remain relatively straight while raising and lowering your heels. And this body position helps target specific parts of your calf muscles.

Standing Barbell Calf Raises Muscles Worked

It’s important to understand that the calf is comprised of two different muscles that make up the back of the lower leg. These muscles are called the gastrocnemius and soleus.

The gastrocnemius is the wider muscle of the upper calf. At the same time, the soleus is the narrow muscle that makes up your lower calf, and it runs beneath the gastrocnemius.

Any calf raise performed with your legs relatively straight primarily targets the gastrocnemius. Therefore, standing barbell calf raises are excellent for working the upper calf.

In addition, pointing your toes out works more inner calf, while toes in works more outer calf. And keeping your toes pointed straight ahead works both the inner and outer calf.

Barbell Calf Raises Muscles Worked
Barbell Calf Raise Foot Position

Barbell Calf Raise Benefits & Limitations

When building up your calf muscles, free weight exercises offer greater control over your body and foot positioning than calf raise machines. With a barbell, you can gradually increase the weight to work up to heavier loads, aiding in stubborn calf growth.

However, it’s important to note that barbell calf raises engage stabilizer muscles to balance your body and the weight. And this balancing act can make it challenging to isolate the calves, particularly for those new to the exercise.

Pros

  • More control over foot position and body position
  • Able to work up to more weight than most calf raise machines
  • Improves balance and stability

Cons

  • More challenging to isolate the calf muscles

How to Do Calf Raises With Barbell

Next, I will walk you through how to do barbell calf raises effectively for muscle growth. From setting up the equipment to tips for proper form, you’ll be an expert at the end of this section.

I’ve also included some pictures and a short video to help you see exactly how to do this exercise. And you get my bonus tip for maximizing the calf pump.

Equipment Set-Up

To do barbell calf raises, you’ll have to set up the equipment. First, adjust the bar to about shoulder level, as you would for barbell squats. Alternatively, you can set the safety stops just below shoulder height.

Next, place a platform or sturdy object on the floor to stand on. For example, you could use a couple of weight plates or even a scrap 2×4. Anything that elevates your toes at least 1 inch off the floor and that won’t tip.

I use a Motion Molds wedge block in this tutorial because it’s sturdy yet soft enough to use without shoes. Also, the top of the wedge is flat, which provides the perfect base for the ball of your feet.

Step-by-Step Exercise Guide

To begin, place the barbell on your upper back and position yourself with the balls of your feet resting on the platform’s edge. Maintain a hip-width stance and ensure your toes are pointed forward or slightly outward.

Remember to engage your core and maintain a straight back while doing the exercise. This will ensure proper alignment and prevent undue strain on your lower back.

From the starting position, extend your ankles and push through the balls of your feet to lift your heels. Keep your legs straight and rise as high as you can. Also, hold the position briefly and squeeze your calf muscles at the top of the movement.

Slowly lower your heels by flexing your ankles, and descend until you feel a stretch in your calf muscles or your heels touch the floor. Aim for at least 10 good repetitions to start, and gradually increase the weight and reps as you get stronger.

To recap, here are the steps of how to do barbell calf raises:

  1. Place the bar on your shoulders with your feet on the edge of a platform
  2. Raise your heels by extending your ankles and pushing through the balls of your feet
  3. Slowly lower your heels as far as you can and feel a stretch in your calves
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps and place the barbell back on the rack

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Barbell Calf Raises Form

Here are some additional tips to help you execute the standing calf raise properly.

  • Really feel your calves stretch at the bottom and come to a complete stop
  • Focus on driving the weight up through your ankle, do not push through your knees
  • Squeeze your calves as hard as you can for about a second at the top
  • Do not perform the reps with a fast tempo or “bounce” the weight
Barbell Calf Raises Form Bottom
Barbell Calf Raises Form Top

Bonus Calf Growth Hack

For some people, doing calf raises correctly and consistently still doesn’t result in noticeable calf growth. And calves are notoriously stubborn because they are used to working hard whenever we’re on our feet.

Therefore, you might benefit from trying some additional tricks to increase the intensity of your calf workouts. One example of this is called blood flow restriction or occlusion training.

This technique involves reducing blood flow to the working muscle by wrapping a band around the top of the limb, in this case, the base of your knee. Check out the short video below to see how to use blood flow restriction during barbell calf raises.

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Barbell Calf Raise Alternatives

The barbell standing calf raise is excellent, but it’s a good idea to rotate calf exercises so your muscles don’t adapt to the movement. So here are some calf raise exercises you can use as a substitute or alternative.

Standing Smith Machine Calf Raises

Doing calf raises on the Smith machine is like a cross between the barbell and machine calf raise. On one hand, you can customize the setup like the barbell version. But you also have a fixed movement path like a machine.

Therefore, Smith machine calf raises offer the best of both worlds and they’re one of my favorite exercises for isolating and loading the gastrocnemius.

Donkey Calf Raises

A donkey calf raise is a variation where you perform the exercise bent over with the weight on your lower back. When done this way, you will feel more of a stretch through your lower hamstrings and upper calves.

While there are machines specifically designed for donkey calf raises, they are uncommon at gyms. So I’ve come up with a way to do this exercise with free weights, as demonstrated below.

Alternative: Smith Machine Donkey Calf Raise

Leg Press Calf Raises

Lastly, the leg press offers another straight leg calf raise exercise that closely replicates the standing barbell version. To do leg press calf raises, place the balls of your feet at the bottom edge of the platform.

Next, extend your legs to lift the sled but keep the safety stops engaged. Now you can perform calf raises while keeping your legs relatively straight.

More Exercises & Calf Workout Tips

Now you know how to do calf raises with a barbell as well as some other straight-leg calf raise variations. With this exercise, you can target your upper calves and shock them into growth.

For more great exercise tips and workout routines, check out the related articles below!

Seated Calf Raises for Targeting the Soleus

Complete Landmine Leg Workout with Calf Raises

7 Tips for Building Better Calves

Quick Abs, Calves, and Forearms Workout

If you have a handle on calf training, feel free to switch gears and check out any of my other content below. You’ll find practical nutrition tips, supplement guides, and general bodybuilding news.

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By |June 11, 2023|Workouts|Comments Off on How to Do Standing Barbell Calf Raises – Guide & Video
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