Daily Dose of Coach #291: Are Calf Raises Worth Doing?

"Should I be doing more calf raises?"

This is a question I get a lot from general population clients and even athletes from time to time.

The question poses a different answer for both.

For the athlete, calf raises are great for building a base level of strength. However, because the gastrocnemius (major superficial muscle of calf) is primarily fast twitch muscle, it needs to be trained that way.

Compound strength training exercises, sprinting, jump rope, hops are all great ways to train the calves functionally. Anything movement produces limited ground contact time through the foot and ankle are the best choices.

If I have athletes perform isolated calf raises, I have them do it for high repetitions at a rapid pace. Like all training with athlete's this exercise must be done with intent to get the results we're looking for.

As for general population, most people desire to do calf raises because they think their ankles are small or skinny, or some people think it will improve their cankles.

Though I do add some isolated calf work in some of my higher level strength programs, I use it more as an active rest than anything else.

The calves are ridiculously hard to increase in size. Unless you can dedicate hours to the gym doing 1000's of reps, changing the size and structure of your calves will be difficult.

However, I do tell my general population clients that sprinting, jump rope, ladder drills, barefoot training, compound exercises and plyo movements can help improve the overall shape and function of their legs.

Let's be real. Anytime you've been on a calf raise machine or done calf raises on a leg press; it doesn't feel like this is how the calves work in function. That's because they don't. The gastroc and soleus are not just two muscles that get us to our tiptoes. They are muscles that act as "a spring tensioner for the nearby Achilles tendon" according to PT Greg Dea.

Back to the question: Are calf raises worth doing? The answer is, they aren't going to hurt you if you're looking build base strength in your lower legs. But it's not going to be the best use of your time. Compound exercises, sprinting, jump rope, ladder drills, hopping, dancing, jumping, and barefoot training are all better bang for your buck options to improve your calf shape and function.