Donkey Calf Raises

Benefits of This Unique Exercise & 3 Ways to Do It

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: September 6, 2021

When it comes to training calves, you might feel like you’re doing the same exercises over and over. This can lead to boredom and you probably won’t get the calf development you’re after.

But donkey calf raises definitely stand out from other calf exercises. Adding some much-needed variety to your lower leg training and hitting your muscles in a new way.

In this article, I explain what makes this exercise unique and beneficial. As well as how to do donkey calf raises with whatever gym equipment you have available.

Donkey Calf Raises With Dip Belt

What Are Donkey Calf Raises?

Donkey calf raises are a variation of standing calf raise where your upper body is bent over during the exercise. The idea is to change the loading on the calves to make them respond differently compared to other calf raises.

Even Arnold Schwarzenegger used donkey calf raises to build his calves. But back in the early days of bodybuilding, there was no special equipment. So Arnold used his lifting partners as resistance!

Donkey Calf Raises Arnold Schwarzenegger

Donkey Calf Raises Muscles Worked

Like other standing calf exercises, donkey calf raises work two different muscles that make up the back of the lower leg. These muscles are called the gastrocnemius and soleus.

The soleus is the narrow muscle that makes up your lower calf. While the gastrocnemius is the wider muscle of up the upper calf.

Any calf raise performed with your legs relatively straight works more of the gastrocnemius muscle. Therefore, donkey calf raises primarily target the upper calf.

Donkey Calf Raises Muscles Worked

Donkey Calf Raises vs Standing Calf Raises

So why not just do standing calf raises to target your upper calves? Well, holding the weight on your shoulders in an upright position requires you to use your glutes to balance the load.

Whereas the bent-over position of donkey calf raises eliminates glute involvement and isolates the calves more. Also, it pre-stretches the hamstrings and calves. So you’ll feel it more at the bottom of the range of motion.

Donkey Calf Raise Benefits & Limitations


  • Eliminates glutes from the exercise
  • Puts more emphasis on the stretched position
  • Can be done with or without a machine


  • Sometimes hard to add enough resistance to make it challenging

Donkey Calf Raise Machine

Nowadays, you don’t have to have your friends sit on your back to do donkey calf raises. Some gyms actually have special machines dedicated to this exercise.

A donkey calf raise machine has a foot platform and an armrest. As well as a back pad on a lever attached to a weight stack to provide the resistance.

Donkey Calf Raise Machine

Unfortunately, most gyms don’t have a donkey calf raise machine. In fact, I’ve only used this machine once in my 20+ years of lifting. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do donkey calf raises.

Donkey Calf Raises Without A Machine

There are a couple of different ways to do donkey calf raises without a machine. In this section, I’ll show you how to do donkey calf raises with a dip belt or a Smith machine.

Dip Belt

A dip belt is a specialized weight belt designed to hold weight plates or dumbbells. It consists of a padded back section with a chain that connects the weight to the belt.

If you don’t have a dip belt, you can pick one up on Amazon for $30 or less. I’ve been using a dip belt from Hawk Fitness for a few years and it gets the job done for only $15.99.

How To Do Donkey Calf Raises With A Dip Belt

To set up for this exercise, you’ll need a platform to stand on and a bench or box to lean on. Before you begin, set the weight plates or dumbbell in front of the platform.

Next, put on the dip belt and secure the weight to the chain. Then stand with your feet on the edge of the platform and rest your hands on the bench or box.

From this starting position, lower your heels until you feel a stretch in your calves. Then push up through the balls of your feet and squeeze your calves at the top.

Donkey Calf Raises With Dip Belt Video

Donkey Calf Raises On Smith Machine

Another option is to do donkey calf raises on a Smith machine. While this is still a type of machine, it’s extremely common and found in almost every commercial gym.

To do donkey calf raises on a Smith machine, place the foot platform and bench or box inside the machine. Then adjust the bar height so it’s at about hip level when you’re on the platform.

Place the desired amount of weight on the machine. Then climb into the machine with your feet on the platform and hands resting on the bench or box.

Also, you may want to put a pad around the bar to make it more comfortable. Put the bar on your lower back and push up slightly to rotate the bar off the safety stops.

Now lower your heels until you feel a stretch in your calves. Push up through the balls of your feet and squeeze your calves at the top.

Smith Machine Calf Raises Video

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Donkey Calf Raises Form

In the videos above, you can see a good example of strict form. But here are some additional pointers to help you get the most calf activation from this exercise.

  • Keep your legs relatively straight throughout the exercise
  • Do not bounce or push with your legs
  • Lower your heels as far as possible at the bottom
  • Raise your heels as high as possible at the top
  • Squeeze your calves for about 1 second at the top

Donkey Calf Raise Alternative

Donkey calf raises are great, but you should still mix it up with other exercises. Here are some good alternatives.

Standing Calf Raises

Standing calf raises are probably the most popular calf exercise. Many gyms have machines specifically for standing calf raises.

But you can also do standing calf raises at home simply by holding a weight in each hand or even with resistance bands. In the video below, I demonstrate standing barbell calf raises.

Standing Smith Machine Calf Raises

Another variation of standing calf raises can be done on the Smith machine. First, adjust the height of the bar and safety stops as well as placing a platform where you want your feet to go.

Then perform the calf raise exercise as demonstrated in the video below. Click here for more Smith machine calf raise tips.

Seated Donkey Calf Raises

Some gyms have a seated calf extension machine where your upper body is about 90 degrees to your legs. When you do this exercise with your legs relatively straight, it’s pretty similar to a donkey calf raise.

Leg Press Calf Raises

Lastly, calf raises done on a leg press can also be a good alternative to donkey calf raises. As with the machine, the key is to keep your legs relatively straight throughout the movement.

7 Tips For Better Calves

Training your calves with donkey calf raises or alternatives is a good start to building better legs. But calves are a stubborn muscle group. So I’ve put together a list of tips and tricks to help you get results faster.

Click here to see 7 calf exercises and tips for better calves.

Calf Exercises Cover

With this information, you’re well on your way to getting rid of skinny calves. If you found this article useful, be sure to check out my other related posts below!

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By |September 6, 2021|Workouts|0 Comments
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