Smith Machine Calf Raises

Trainer’s Top Tips for Growing Stubborn Calves

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: July 26, 2021

Standing calf raises are the best exercise to make stubborn calves grow. But you might not have access to a standing calf raise machine. And even if you do, it has its limitations.

On the other hand, almost every gym has a Smith machine. So I’m going to show you how to use it to do standing calf raises. And how Smith machine calf raises can help you build bigger stronger calves.

Also, if you don’t have a Smith machine, I’ve got you covered. I’ll show you 3 standing calf raise variations you can do without any machines.

Smith Machine Calf Raises

What Are Smith Machine Calf Raises?

Smith machine calf raises are a variation of standing calf raises where you place a fixed barbell on your back to provide resistance. One feature of the Smith machine bar is that it moves on guide rails. So you don’t have to balance the weight.

In addition to the Smith machine, you’ll need a platform or sturdy object to lift your feet a few inches off the ground. This enables your heels to drop and reach the full range of motion on calf raises.

Smith Machine Calf Raises Muscles Worked

Like any standing calf raise, Smith machine 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. Therefore, standing Smith machine calf raises primarily target the upper calf.

Smith Machine Calf Raises Muscles Worked

Calf Raise Foot Position

In addition, the angle of your feet can change the loading on your calf muscle from inner to outer. For example, toes pointed out works more of the inner calf. And toes pointed in, works more of the outer calf.

Whereas keeping your toes pointed straight ahead works both the inner and outer calf.

Standing Smith Machine Calf Raise Foot Position

Smith Machine Calf Raise Benefits

As I mentioned in the intro, Smith machine calf raises have some benefits over other machines and free weights.

Compared to single-purpose machines, you have more control over your foot and body position. And you can work up to a lot more weight on a Smith machine, which helps stubborn calves grow.

At the same time, the guide rails reduce the need to use stabilizer muscles like you would with free weights. This means more of the force gets transferred directly to the calves!


  • More control over foot position and body position
  • Safety stops will catch the weight if you slip
  • Able to add much more weight compared to calf raise machine


  • Must have a Smith machine and a platform/box

Set Up For Smith Machine Calf Raises

To do Smith machine calf raises, you’ll first have to set up the equipment. This involves adjusting the height of the bar and safety stops as well as placing a platform where you want your feet to go.

I recommend placing the back edge of the platform in line with the guide rails. This way your feet will be directly below the bar. In the example below, I’m using an aerobics step platform.

Smith Machine Calf Raises Setup

How To Do Calf Raises On A Smith Machine

With the machine set up, you’re ready to perform the exercise:

  1. Place the bar on your shoulders as you would for a squat and stand with your toes on the back edge of the foot platform
  2. Unhook the bar from the stops
  3. Slowly lower your heels as far as you can without sliding off the platform
  4. Push down powerfully through the balls of your feet to raise your heels as high as you can
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps and hook the bar back on the stops

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 of the range of motion
  • 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 of the range of motion
  • Do not perform the reps with a fast tempo or “bounce” the weight, momentum takes the load off the calves

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Variations & Alternatives To Smith Machine Calf Raises

If you’re using a Smith machine, there are a couple of other calf raise variations you can try. And if you don’t have a Smith machine or you can’t get on it for whatever reason, I’ve included 3 alternative standing calf raise exercises.

Single Leg Smith Machine Calf Raises

A single-leg calf raise is the exact same movement as a standing calf raise. The only difference is that you do it with one leg at a time.

This makes the exercise much more challenging, so use a lower weight. And it allows you to concentrate on one muscle at a time to really feel the contraction.

Smith Machine 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 you can use the much more common Smith machine instead.

All you do is place a bench in front of you to support your upper body in the bent-over position. Next, place the bar on your lower back and perform calf raises as shown below. Tip: adding a pad to the bar makes it more comfortable.

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Now if you don’t have access to a Smith machine, you can still do standing calf raises as long as you have free weights or resistance bands.

Barbell Standing Calf Raises

For barbell standing calf raises, you perform the exercise exactly how you would on the Smith machine. The only difference is that the bar is not on rails. So you will need to be a bit more careful to balance the weight on your shoulders.

Dumbbell Standing Calf Raises

Another way to do free-weight standing calf raises is with dumbbells or kettlebells. Anything heavy will do, really. Just hold a weight in each hand and perform the calf raise movement while standing on the edge of a platform.

Resistance Band Calf Raises

Lastly, if you don’t have free weights, you can use resistance bands to perform calf raises. Either stand on the center of the band or anchor it at the bottom of a doorway.

Then hold the ends of the band up by your shoulders and perform the calf raise as demonstrated below. Although I recommend having your heels elevated so you get the full range of motion.


Now you know how to do calf raises on a Smith machine as well as some other standing 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!

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By |July 26, 2021|Workouts|0 Comments
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